Drying Wings

Submitted by leeduet on 7/9/01. ( )

I'm having trouble drying the underneath of the wings on ducks. They are drying but the feathers always split and it doesnt have that smooth look as the tops of the wings do.The rest of the duck drys perfect,and it doesnt show most of the time, except for a duck coming in to land. Im using an air compressor and then a blow drier to dry the duck.Would a tumbler work better or not?

thank you

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This response submitted by The Taxidermologist on 7/9/01. ( stephen.rogers@home.com )

Without seeing your exact proceedure of washing and drying, I can only speculate on the cause of the feather vanes splitting, but using a drum would not help in my opinion.

I have addressed this a bit in the archives but will revisit the subject again. One of the critical steps in washing a bird to perfection is the choice of a cleaner in the form of detergent. Enough has been written on this site about the fact that organic solvents like mineral spirits, white gas, benzine, acetone, etc. do not degrease the fat from the inside of the bird, and as a result, I assume that you are using some form of detergent - either a commercial product like those sold by Newton Supply, Knobloch, Larry Bolman, Van Dyke, or using a dish detergent like dawn, ivory liquid, or woolite.
The choice of the detergent you use and the concentration may be actually splitting the vanes of the undersides of your duck wings. The pH of the typical cleanser can be on the basic or acidic side, and as a result, the feathers actually begin to dissolve in the solution over a period of time. This may seem contrary to your thought process, but hand soap actually dissolves away the surface of your hands when you scrub with it, soap being composed of a strong hydroxide and a fat surfactant.
If you go to one of the best references bird references " Lucas and Stettenhein 1972 two volume work on Avain Anatomy, Integument, US Dept of Agriculture Handbook 362" you can read large discussions on feather anatomy as well as feather tracts, muscle anotomy etc., but on page 240 in the diagram of a typical feather, each vane on either side of the rachis is held together by proximal and distal barbules. When you use too harsh a product, or one in too strong a concentration, those barbules actually become dissolved and can not be made to zip back together. The larger the vane the larger the barbules, and the underwing feathers are significantly thinner than those on the dorsal side of the wing, and thus are more likely to dissolve in the detergent. Secondly, when feathers are tested for strength, those containing melanin (pigment) are much stronger. If you examine a wing of a bird near the end of a molt cycle where the edges of the primaries of the wings alternate between a white vs. a dark color, you will see an uneven edge because of the differential strength and thus differential wear.

The only way to test to see if the detergent you are using is actually causing the splitting of the feathers on the underwing feathers is to pluck out a few of the white larger post humeral coverts and experiment on them. Take 5 identical feathers, soak in 4 different concentrations of the detergent you use for the length of time you soak your specimen. Gently agitate as you would in washing a skin. After the period of time is up, rince in water as normal, and fluff very gently with a hair drier on low. You may actually prove to yourself that the detergent is actually splitting the feathers, even before you begin to dry it.

I did a series of studies on feather washing many years ago the summaries which appeared in Taxidermy Today Summer and Fall 1990.

Drying with compressed air could also cause the splitting of the feathers, or the strenth of your blow drier. I can't tell if you are splitting the feathers in this proceedure or not, but if the air column is too strong this also could be a possible culprit.

I would suggest that you test whatever product you are using to see if it is causing the splitting.

A note to Steve Steinbring in relation to his epogrip detergent that is being used by a number of taxidermists, and advocated by George and others. I have never tried it so cannot reccomend it, but congratualtions on the results of the conservation lab at the Smithsonian. Three people from the Museum attended the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Specimens in San Francisco last week and heard a paper presented by the Conservation Testing Lab of the Smithsonian in Suitland, Maryland concerning your epogrip product. The abstract I saw said that the product imparted no known by-products to the natural history specimen when used, and that its concentration was ten times higher than normal proprietary products. Skip Skidmore was the only Taxidermist I saw on the roster of those attending the meeting. He may have talked with the presenter at length. Much less of the epogrip solvent would be needed to bring enough suds to clean the bird, assuming it is washed.

Mr. Leeduet,
Good luck on trying to attain perfection in your birds. Always strive to improve.

One more note

This response submitted by CUR on 7/9/01. ( WILDART@prodigy.net )

There is one more possibility that Steve may have left out of the previous thread. That is how you are cleaning and preparing the underside of the wing? Are you cleaning the radius and ulna properly and thouroughly? Do you insure that all tissue is removed from that area, and that you are careful not to damage the covert feathers in the process? I would suggest dusting that area thouroughly with borax, prior to washing the skin.

I have never "soaked" a bird skin in detergent. I use Dawn, and not any detergent with lanolin or other "lotions" like those in some other leading brands. The dawn solution need not be highly concentrated to remove the oils and dissolved fat in the feathers and on the skin. Wash the skin in dawn gently, but thoroughly, then rinse several times in clean water and then wash a second time. Do not soak the skin. After the second rinse, I toss my skins into the washing machine and run the spin dry cycle. That takes all excess moisture out of the skin and causes no harm to the feathers.

Lose the air compressor. Dry gently with the hair dryer, AFTER the skin is on the form and the wires in place and incisions sewn shut. Dry the bird with short strokes of the dryer, and do not concentrate on any one area. Use a pair of needles stuck into a dowel or a tri needle arrangement to preen the feathers gently into position. Use your fingers only to arrange groups of feathers and the primary and secondary flight feathers and the tail fan. Keep the hair dryer set on low. Do the underside of the wing last, since water will drain down from above as you work, and that area will remain damp. (Unless you are working the bird upside down.) When you dry the underside of the wing, use the needles paralell with the wing bones, lifting the coverts in tiers and layering them as they lie on a living bird.

Everything Stephen told you about process is fact, or as I understand it to be fact. The only reason I added to his fine post, is that he approached the problem as though all else had been done the way he would have during preparation.

Dish Detergent! Thanks Mr. Gaither for explaining further.

This response submitted by The Taxidermologist on 7/10/01. ( )

I meant Dish Detergent. Never use a harsh clothes detergent like tide or Cheer. I have been partial to Ivory liquid, though I would estimate that 90% of those using dish detergent use Dawn. And in soaking, I meant a soak of twenty minutes inside out side, invert to plumage out and soak for another 10-15 minutes, then rince thoroughly.

Among other things I did not address was organic solvents. I never use them BUT they do not cause any splitting of the feathers. An individual feather can be stored for three months in organic solvents like trichloroethethylene, white gas, mineral spirits etc. with absolutely no splitting of the feathers. I am sure three months might be extremely bad for a whole skin though as fat would permeate the entire pelage, but the individual feather test proved to me that organic solvents did not damage to feather structure (pigment-yes, but not structure).

another view

This response submitted by Nancy M. on 7/10/01. ( )

Hi Lee.
Stephen and Bill have totally covered the soap issue, so I don't have much to add in that area. I have also had occasional problems with the under-wing coverts becoming split.
Here are my observations: The under coverts are VERY fragile. Even a TINY amount of oil or soap residue is all it takes to clog up the barbules enough that they won't "zip" back together. I think they are clogged up or coated rather than partly dissolved, at least most of the time, because I have had extra-stubborn cases which were cured by a very thorough re-washing. Blood stains can leave a residue which you can't see, but it will clog up the barbules. Or maybe they are matted down. ['don't have a microscope] Either way, they don't zip. Therefore, the first thing to address is cleanliness. Due to their fragility, the under-wing coverts are good "indicator" feathers. If they don't act right, there is a good chance that the whole skin needs rewashed. If you use solvents to speed up the drying process be aware that they can't be re-used indefinitely. Old solvent can have enough dissolved crud in it to leave a coating on the feathers.
If you use the incision under the wing, you will almost certainly have problems unless you sew it closed before washing and drying. Even then, if moisture seeps out of the incision it will make the feathers split even if they were perfect before.
As for tumbling... oddly enough it doesn't seem to cause much damage. That is until you go to blow out the excess sawdust. One blast of air against the grain is all it takes. The difference is that feathers "blown" apart can be preened back together. It is tedious and time-consuming, but possible. It will teach you very quickly to be careful with that air nozzle!
Hmmm. Lastly, pay attention to shot holes under the wing. They will seep moisture also, like a wing incision.
That's all I can think of. 'Hope it helps.
Nancy M.

Not an expert like above but...

This response submitted by Dave on 7/10/01. ( )

I am in the process of mounting turkeys for this year.(My first year to do this commercially.)I ran into a similar problem also.I soaked the skins in a dawn & kemal-4 solution rinsed and repeated, and then soaked in mineral spirits.while I was drying the feathers I had some of the primaries do this up by the feather base because I was blowing against the lie of the feathers.I no longer do this. I now only blow (with a shop vac)with the lie of the feathers and have not encountered this again.With some grooming I was able to correct the problem. Just adding my two cents worth-Hope it helps.


This response submitted by Jim P. on 7/12/01. ( )

This is some of the best discussion yet. It's guys like you and others on this forum who take the time to explain in detail the things that help me with my taxidermy education like nothing else can. I understand why so many respond with a "check the archives" when the same questions are asked and answered over and over again. I think this is some of the best discussion on feather preservation/care I have ever read and doubt I could have found this much detail doing a search. Many thanks.

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