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Newbie Bird Taxidermy - The head??

Discussion in 'Beginners' started by jimmy101, May 22, 2011.

  1. Hi all,

    I have been watching various tutorials in preperation for trying my first bird mount. I have seen quite a few (some good, some not so good) but am still a little confused about the skull? Some show just taking the brain out and leaving the skull where it is, some show taking the skin off completely, cleaning the skull removing and replacing eyes and reusing the skull and other replace the skull completely?

    I have searched for tutorials on here but am struggling to use the search function and just end up with pages of results that are not really relevant! I've also been through pages in the tutorial section.

    I just wondered what, as a newbie, would be the best thing for me to do with the skull? I presume that the real beak is normall used?

    Any help or lilnks much appreciated :)

    Thank you
  2. Basically, you can use a real or an artificial head.

    If you use an artificial head, you skin the head out by cutting around the beak and skinning back over the skull, removing the real head completely. Then when everything's clean and ready to mount, you glue the skin to the artificial head with superglue (or some use a small dot of hide paste for more working time).

    If you use the real head, you must remove all the soft tissue, not just the brain! Otherwise the remaining stuff will rot. After all the tissue is gone, you rebuild it with clay. You can access the real head in a variety of ways. One is to remove it completely just like you would when using an artificial head and rebuild it and paint the beak while it's detached, as Redwolf's tutorial shows. If you don't want to remove the skull completely, you can either invert the head (which only works on some species) or make an incision to access the skull. In both cases you would skin down to the beak and remove all the soft tissue.

    The method you choose depends partly on what species you're dealing with. Most people use the real head on gamebirds, since their hard beak doesn't shrink much. Ducks are often mounted with an artificial head since they do tend to shrink, though you can avoid the worst of this by cleaning out the inside of the bill and packing it with 2-part epoxy or clay like in Redwolf's tutorial.

    It also depends on what you can deal with. Here's a quick list of pros and cons that I came up with off the top of my head.

    Artificial head
    No shrinkage (if a good quality head)
    No worry of rot or bugs
    Minimal clay work needed, all the muscles etc are already built for you (though you should set your own eyes)
    No incision to sew
    Can paint bill without worrying about getting paint on feathers

    Must buy head (money, waiting for it to arrive) or spend time casting one
    Head may not fit
    May have defects in cast
    Must carefully glue skin down, natural look may be difficult to achieve

    Real head
    Will always fit
    No extra cost or waiting for shipping
    Rebuilding head teaches you more about proper anatomy
    No casting defects (eg lamellae (the comblike structures on the sides of a duck's bill) will not be clogged, as they are in some casts)

    Time spent cleaning and rebuilding head
    Rebuilt head may not be accurate for beginner
    Damage to bill may require repair

    And specific to methods of using real head:

    Removing entirely:
    Can paint bill without getting paint on feathers

    Must attach to skin with glue, which may cause its own problems

    Inverting the head:
    No sewing or gluing
    No seam line where beak joins skin

    Only works on some species (eg pheasants, large-necked ducks such as mergansers)
    If skin is too tight, may ruin clay work while re-inverting head
    May get paint on feathers while painting

    May give easier access to head than inverting
    Won't crush clay work
    Can allow "gathering" of throat skin for low-headed poses
    No seam line where beak joins skin

    Must be sewn up again which requires care to hide the seam
    Seam may make use of caulk difficult
    Must choose location of incision carefully for best effect
    May get paint on feathers

    A good taxidermist can use any of these methods, and all of them have their place. As for what would be best for you to use, that depends on the bird you're working on and what you're comfortable doing. Got a pheasant? Inverting completely and using the real skull is probably the way to go. Have a mallard and hate sewing? Use an artificial or detach the skull completely and rebuild. Working on a pintail and are good at sewing but not with superglue? Try an incision and the real head.

    Hope this helps. If I was unclear or you have more questions, ask away.

  3. wow, thank you for such an indepth response. all the information is really useful and i can practice with each method until i find what works for me.

    I will be starting with british birds eg jay/crow/magpie and if possible would like to use the real skulls as you say learning about anatomy is important. In time i would like to rebuild a bird skeleton also so would be good to practice cleaning the skull/bones.

    The only real worry i had was reconnecting the skin without it looking messy but this will come with practice. I had seen a tutorial where they just cut the back of the skull and emptied the brain but did not mention anything about the other tissue which worried me as i do not want a rotting smelly bird on my wall!

    Thank you again for this and will let you all know how i get on.
  4. huntsheds

    huntsheds New Member

    Great response Hawk! Thankyou for your useful information. It will give some of us beginners some more options.
  5. Glad I could help. More info on all of these methods can be found in the forum archives if you can take a bit of time to look.