The preservation of the skins of animals and stuffing them so as to preserve their natural appearance, is an art requiring considerable skill and taste. It is also of great utility in the study of natural history, as well as a very pleasing pursuit for amateur collectors. We are requested by several correspondents to give some information upon the skinning and stuffing of birds. While no amount of verbal instruction can give practical skill and artistic taste in the preparation and mounting of specimens, what we may say will perhaps be useful as a guide to those who have just begun to exercise this instructive and amusing art. It is more difficult to properly prepare and mount bird skins than those of other animals, as the preservation of the plumage in an unruffled and unsoiled state, is the point to be aimed at, and feathers, if broken, are very hard to re-adjust properly. In killing birds with shot the feathers are very apt to be more or less damaged and soiled with blood, which, if it be permitted to dry on the plumage, will be difficult to remove without some permanent disorder in its arrangement. These evils may be in a great measure avoided if the sportsman will attend to the following directions : He should take the field provided with a small box of cotton wool, a bottle of water, and a small shallow dish of some kind to hold a small portion of water at need. He should also be equipped with some small sable brushes, such as are used in water color painting, and a short piece of Stiff wire with the end rounded. As soon as he has shot a bird he should aim to get it in hand as soon as possible, and plug the shot holes with cotton to prevent further bleeding. In doing this he will find the wire above alluded to a very useful instrument. When the bleeding is stopped, he should next cleanse the feathers from the blood which has already flown, by using the water which he carries for the purpose and the brushes. If the blood is thus removed before it dries, it can be so completely washed off as to leave no stain even on the whitest feathers, and at the same time their texture may be preserved from damage. Should any of the feathers become so much bent as to be difficult to straighten, they may be restored measurably by soaking in hot water. Before skinning, the principal dimensions of the bird should be taken and noted down for reference in mounting. The first incision should be made longitudinally backward from the lower point of the breastbone. From the beginning of the operation to the conclusion, all fluids should be constantly absorbed by cotton wool, the greatest care being taken that they do not flow out and soil the feathers. As fast as the skin is separated from the body a thin layer of cotton should be inserted to prevent its adhering to the flesh and for purposes of absorption. Through the incision made as directed the entire process of skinning must in general be performed. When the skin is stripped down from the muscular portions of the legs, they must be cut off on the inside of the skin with scissors or a knife so as to leave the feet attached to the skin. The tail is likewise cut off on the inside at its attachment to the back. The body can then be suspended from a hook and the skinning proceed toward the head by turning the skin inside out. When the wings are reached the skin should, if possible, be removed as far as the joint constituting the elbow, but if it is found difficult to do this without tearing the skin, the bone may be severed as low down as practicable, by use of cutting pliers or strong scissors. Great care will be needed to avoid breaking the delicate membrane which constitutes the external ear upon the heads of birds which are nearly or quite bald. Care is also required in manipulating the eyes, the external membrane of which ought, if possible, to remain unbroken. The brain is removed from the skull through incisions made well back through the roof of the mouth. All loose flesh and fat about the neck, tail, and legs, should be removed from the skin. For this purpose the skin on the wings may be cut through on the inside, when it covers those parts from which the bone and flesh could not be removed. The parts liable to decompose may then be rubbed over on the inside with arsenic, or arsenical soap, which will effectually prevent decay. The skin is now ready to be stuffed, which although it seems simple in description, requires considerable skill. If glass is not used for the eyes their orbits should first be stuffed through the mouth with cotton. Next the upper parts of the throat should be filled with the same material. A roll of cotton should now be inserted through the first incision, and pushed up through the neck to the base of the skull. Then the body should be filled, during which process the wires for supporting the bird when mounted should be inserted into the legs, neck, and wings. This completes the process so far as it can be described in words, with the exception of sewing up the opening through which the stuffing has been performed. This requires no special skill to be performed neatly. Some slight variations in the method are requisite, according to the character of the bird. For instance, a very large bird may require to have the neck cut off when the skull is reached, and the skinning of the head to be performed by an incision from the outside down the back of the skull. In mounting birds there is room for considerable display of taste in the adjuncts. A branch of the tree which the bird most affects, with artificial leaves, may be used with good effect as a support for the feet. The natural beauty of the plumage may be enhanced by suitable contrasts of color in the lining of the case where they are kept. An aquatic bird may be shown holding a fish in its mouth, such as it commonly obtains for its food, and many other fancies will suggest themselves to those who wish to excel in the art. The directions we have given will, if observed, enable any ingenious person after a little practice to skin, stuff, and mount a bird creditably.
This article was originally published with the title "Skinning and Stuffing Birds" in Scientific American 20, 17, 266 (April 1869)