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Artifical Bird Heads

Discussion in 'Bird Taxidermy' started by pir^2h, Feb 24, 2021.

  1. pir^2h

    pir^2h Retrievers give you the bird

    Probably a very elementary question but I have never used an artificial head and I am thinking of trying it. So here goes, when cutting the skin off the skull, do you do invert the skin over the skull first or cut the skin before and just pull it off the skull?
  2. Not a bad question at all actually!
    You cut the skin from the outside where feathers meet the bill flesh. Small cuts! I use a 10 and 11 scalpel. As you release the skin from the bill area, you begin to roll it back like a sock. Some areas, depending on the bird's skin toughness, can be simply slid away using a fingernail or tool.
    Now, here's an option for you. If you're going to cast your own head, make sure to be precise with your cuts, and open the mouth while skinning around the gapes of the mouth. If you're going to buy heads already cast, you can make cuts that leave the gape, and even some bill flesh on the skin. This gives your skin a harder edge, and the ability to flesh without being as careful not to tear it.
    When the skin is away from the skull, and you reach the neck, then make your cut, separating the two. Then you can pull the neck out as you invert the neck/bird to begin fleshing.
    **Also, keep moving around the skull with your cuts as you skin. Your hand/body temperature can overheat the skin if you're not moving fast enough, and that's never good.
    Good luck!
    GotHonks, socalmountainman and pir^2h like this.

  3. 3bears

    3bears Well-Known Member

    Yep, do as Tazman says. start at the bill. I like to start on the underside of the bill and then cut and skin up along the bill on each side while holding the bill open. Carefully skinning towards back of head being extra careful around the eyes and don't forget the ear holes, they are actually indented in the skull and if you aren't careful you will cut a big hole there, which isn't the end of the world but it's better not to.
  4. 3 bears...amen. good catch on the ear holes. I get way down in there like you do. The eyes too. Take it slow and easy.
    BrookeSFD16, pir^2h and 3bears like this.
  5. pir^2h

    pir^2h Retrievers give you the bird

    Thanks Tazman and 3 Bears! I appreciate the advice. I plan to buy the head. Being the first time ever trying this it is understandable why someone would be a bit nervous and want all the information they can find on the subject before attempting it. This is going to be a mount like I never tried before; the artificial head and leg to leg incision. You will never get any better at taxidermy if you don't try new things once in a while! Wish me luck!
    bucksnort10, BrookeSFD16 and 3bears like this.
  6. pir^2h

    pir^2h Retrievers give you the bird

    Forgot to ask this as it just came to mind. Do you think stop rot would help with the protecting the skin given the situation of possible overheating the skin?
  7. I use powdered borax, but perhaps preservative will help you more. I like to work on them cold. If its heating up, toss it back into the fridge for a bit or the freezer for less time.
    Best of luck, and dont hesitate to ask more if you need more help.
    pir^2h likes this.
  8. I forgot to add, you will like the freedom of painting the head free from the body.
    And remember, loose is good. If the artificial head needs to be modified, it is pretty easy to do. Again, it's all about that freedom.
    GotHonks and pir^2h like this.
  9. Tanglewood Taxidermy

    Tanglewood Taxidermy Well-Known Member

    You didn't specify if it is a webfooted bird or an upland, like a pheasant. I have done a couple of pheasants with artificial heads the same way as described above.
    pir^2h likes this.
  10. pir^2h

    pir^2h Retrievers give you the bird

    Waterfowl. I hadn't even entertained a pheasant as of yet. Just wanting to experiment with it first to see if it is something I will continue to do or stick to my old method of skin inversion.
  11. socalmountainman

    socalmountainman Northwestern School of Taxidermy - Class of '73

    You will be cutting close to the eyeball to free the eyelids from the head. Once the head and neck are pulled out you have excess skin membrane around the eyelids. Like animals, its a double layer and needs to be cleaned off. I use a fresh blade and some Optical Scissors or Iris Scissors. That extra fleshy skin will shrink and pull away at the eyelids, just be extra careful so as not to cut holes in the skin. Your artificial heads will have a spot for the ear skin. When mounting, use a pin to taxi the ear skin to this ear hole. That will greatly improve the skin position and eye holes in the right spot. I use cast heads on all my ducks and geese and have cast my own for some, like parrots.
    pir^2h likes this.
  12. Wildthings

    Wildthings Well-Known Member

    So have you done a few ducks already? All of them inverting the skin of some sort? Did you skin them all the way to the bill? Over the ear holes and over the eyes? You left it connected to the bill only? YEP! Well then you know how to do all that previous posted have told you about! You are just going to do it from a different direction.

    Everywhere the feathered edge touches the bill skin will be cut loose causing you to "circle" the bill with an incision. Then start removing the skin from the head the same way you would but from the other direction. I use my thumbnail alot around the bill itself to release the skin. When you get the skin peeled back where the head is completely free of skin and down the neck a little, cut the head off at the neck junction.

    The skin the bird as normal. Next we all we guide you in the role of installing an artificial head. But you ain't there yet.

    Even if I use the real skull I remove them this way first to clean and prep them.

    Actually I've just repeated what everyone else has said!!
    GotHonks, pir^2h and Jim McNamara like this.
  13. BrookeSFD16

    BrookeSFD16 Well-Known Member

    If it's a Widgeon or Gadwall it's gonna be tight. Once you cut the skin away from the bill on those, I take a hammer and lay a rag on the head and break the skull and the lower jaw at the hinge. Will keep you from ripping them at the gape when pulling the skin over.
    pir^2h likes this.
  14. pir^2h

    pir^2h Retrievers give you the bird

    Wildthings - I have done lots of ducks. This is just something new I am trying. Like anything, when you try something new you want all the information you can get to help you be successful! Thank you everyone for the suggestions. Appreciate it.
    BrookeSFD16 likes this.
  15. Wildthings

    Wildthings Well-Known Member

    That's exactly why I replied. I was pretty sure you were experienced in skinning them out. Just cut around the bill and skin back toward the neck. Sure there are tricks to help around the bill. Like opening the mouth wide open when skinning around back of the mouth. Another trick is to wet the feather with soapy water and stroke the feathers, lightly, away from the bill to see the incision area better.

    Follow Brooke's advice on widgeons and gadwalls. Also when installing widgeons and gadwalls head I cut a slight relief incision to help the skin over the head. I then use super glue to close that small incision if at all.

    Be sure to post up pictures!!
    BrookeSFD16 and pir^2h like this.
  16. GotHonks

    GotHonks Well-Known Member

    After you do a couple , it gets easy ... I can't believe I used to go through a lot of trouble when I started out with the neck incision and real skull .. PITA ... I still use the real skull and Bill on occasion to save time and money ... I clean them and make them just like an artificial before I use them ... Skinning the head takes a little practice and as noted be careful with eyelids and ear holes ... Take your time , if there is a lot of blood wash it off so you can see what your doing ..
    Good luck
    pir^2h likes this.
  17. BrookeSFD16

    BrookeSFD16 Well-Known Member

    Instead of making a relief cut, try sanding down the head then backfilling with caulk. I usually just take some off the bottom .
  18. GotHonks

    GotHonks Well-Known Member

    Personally I don't know why anyone would want to use the real head over an artificial after they see the benefits of using the artificial it's less work and much easier .... Only time I use the real skull is it I know there aren't many size options in artificals ( Canada's ) or I'm trying to save some money (my personal stuff for the most part) other than that artificial is the way to go ...
    I like to use a pretty heavy mix of Dawn and h20 in a spray bottle before I skin all my birds .. I soak the feathers along where I plan on making the incision down the breast and pretty much soak the head , the soap is much better than using just water to part feathers as the water alone beads up and rolls off the feathers , the soap helps wet the feathers so they part easy ... I've never had a problem skinning heads on any ducks or geese unless they were freezer burned , probably ripped one of two when learning but none as of a long time (knock on wood) I have a much tougher time keeping the neck and leg holes from shrinking up during blow dry stage ... Don't have these issues when I put a pc of neck material in the neck and whatever I find that fits in leg holes ...
    pir^2h likes this.
  19. byrdman

    byrdman Well-Known Member

    very few fakes are ready to use without a ton of sanding grinding so the time for that plus the cost you can slit throat mount and sew up in way less time....and if done right you will have little to no shrinkage... also most fakes show a poor skin to bill junction by most taxidermists only very skilled can pull it off...plus the ridiculous weight. only 3 ducks that you cant turn head thru
  20. joeym

    joeym Old Murphey

    On small bill, large neck ducks, such as mergansers, you can make your incisions around the bill first. The skull easily slips through the neck when skinning. The opening on a merganser would be difficult to invert back over the head, IMO. I actually continue to use the real head on mergansers, leaving the skull attached to the skin.