So you want to prepare bird skins

As I looked for information on the matter of bird skin preparation for Natural History Collections, I found out that I am not the only one trying to find tutorials on-line on how to stuff bird skins. However, I am not looking for instructions on how to make taxidermy mounts. In this respect, there are a couple of things I want to make clear to people thinking about keeping that beautiful bird they found dead on their driveway, or the first duck they shoot, which is still in the freezer. If that is the reason why you are trying to learn how to prepare bird skins, I would say to you: don’t do it.

First, there is a huge difference between the two given examples and preparing study skins. If you shoot ducks I assume you have permits to do so. In South Carolina you need to get a hunting license from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), and a migratory bird permit. If you hunt, you are probably familiar with the regulations and the only reason you are looking for instructions on how to prepare bird skins is because you don’t want to spend the “exorbitant” prices that local taxidermists ask for preparing a bird mount of your trophy. I am using quotes because it is not that expensive when you think about the knowledge and experience taxidermists have. So if you really want to keep a beautiful memory of your first hunt, think about it as an investment. In Florence, South Carolina, you could get a duck mounted by Distinguished Wildlife Creations LLC for $225. There is no way in this world you can produce a mount that will compare to the final product a professional taxidermist can do. Think about it.

mallard-on-custom-base
A beautiful mallard. An example of the bird skin preparation we don’t do when preparing bird skins for study. Photo credit: Distinguished Wildlife Creations, LLC.

At this point you may be wondering, how come I am writing about preparing bird skins then. Well, I work at an educational institution and, at my university, we have a collection permit issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. We, the faculty, as members of such educational institution need to apply for permits every year. The birds that are being prepared are mostly window strikes, and at the end of each year a report has to be prepared and presented to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in order to request a renewal of the permit that allows us to preserve dead birds found in the area.

With that said, I will write about the experience of setting up a facility where bird skins can be prepared for study. The experience I will write about is possible thanks to the generous support of Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina, through a Ready to Experience Applied Learning (REAL) grant. This experience in particular is offered to students in the Biology Department as a Special Studies course (BIOL497), which started in January 2017. The course is called Beyond Taxidermy.