Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Barred Owl taxidermy: part III

This is my final installment of the Barred Owl taxidermy project I’ve been blogging about. Yesterday I left off with the Owl being wrapped in damp paper towels and being left in the refrigerator in the Taxidermy Lab until I could return to finish it.

Here are the links for Part I and Part II.

Taxidermy is a very TIME CONSUMING thing to under take. I’ve had very little experience with taxidermy, but I can say with authority that it is an art form, and a good taxidermist requires talent! Now, I’m not sure where I fall into this as a “taxidermist”, but I don’t think I did too badly.

Owl skin, foam body form, and fake
skull with painted beak and glass eyes attached.
Once I was able to get back into the lab, I had to deal with the Owl….seen at right. The wings and legs were all twisted so I had to sort of orient all the body parts being careful not to pull on feathers or poke holes in the skin. The body is just a foam piece, but even though I purchased it and it was listed as a “Barred Owl” it was WAY too big. Not all Owls are of the same size, but this was for a gargantuan Owl. I had to shave it down a bit and put it in the skin to get an idea of what size it needed to be. If I do this again, I’ll be SURE to take measurements of chest width and body length before I even make the first cut.

Barred Owl legs ready to be wired.
Before I inserted the body and head though, I had to attach wires to the legs and wings, so that I could position them.

An interesting find: the legs as seen above, I had to sever them right at the hip area. As you can see, they are not the same. One appears to be deformed, right? Here’s the scenario I came up with. This leg had been broken, but was not the cause of death. This break likely happened early in the Owl’s life, maybe even in the nest, and it appeared to heal. I don’t believe this deformity really affected the Owl’s quality of life, and grew to adulthood. Until it’s untimely unknown death.
Interesting to see though!

Also, the little bits of “stuff” stuck to the legs is sawdust. It’s probably left over from the tumbler, and didn’t get all blown off with the compressed air. But that’s ok, it soaks up moisture, which is a good thing!

Legs ready to be tied…”broken” leg on the right.
To wire the legs, I took a sharp pointy tool in my dissection kit (yep, technical terms here in this blog!) and poked a hole in the bottom of the foot, kind of on the heel. Sorry, I thought I had a picture of that! I then took a length of thin, but sturdy wire, and threaded it through the hole and up the back of the leg, careful to stay inside the skin.

Once it was threaded all the way in, and the tip of the wire JUST disappeared inside the foot, I began wrapping the wire to the bone to hold it all in place. I mounted my Owl in a flying position. BUT, if I was going to mount it on a branch, where it was standing, I’d leave several inches of wire sticking out of the foot, to use as a way to secure the bird to the stand.

Owl leg being reinforced with wire.
I did this for both legs, and similarly for both wings. The Owl then looked like this: Edward Scissorhands/roadkill.


Fake Owl skull and neck
made out of wire and foam
Next, I took a bit larger gauge length of wire, and used a different piece of foam to create the neck. I had to drill a hole into the skull to attach it.

A few drops of super glue in the hole helped keep it all together!
I positioned the fake skull in the space where it should be, and CAREFULLY threaded the wire down the neck. The skin is so delicate, and I had to keep wetting it to keep in pliable. With all the fat removed, it gets very papery when dry. Easy to rip.

I took the body piece next, and positioned the neck wire to insert into the foam.

Before I even began this project, I had to find an image of what I wanted my final product to resemble. I chose to do a flying Owl. So, the positioning of the neck was very important. If I had drilled the hole in the bottom of the skull, the bird would have been upright. But I needed to drill it in the back, so the “spine” would be straight. Below is the image I chose to mimic.

Photo credit:
The next three images are a progression of placing the foam body piece, wrapping the skin around it (like you might dress a doll…I know…morbid comparison), and then securing the wire ends.

Excess wire was trimmed, then bent over using pliers. I pounded them flush with the foam with a hammer, and then laid a THICK layer of hot glue over it all. This created a nice padding/buffer between the wire and the skin.

I was in the home stretch now…I just had to stitch my Owl up! Then I had a ton of positioning and preening to do. But the major WORK was almost done!

I must mention a very important step that I didn’t photo document. I DUMPED Borax in the bird before I stitched it up. And I mean dumped. Borax, for whatever reason, is really good at preserving the skin. And I dumped in probably a full cup of it, and shook it around in there, trying to coat all surfaces. The excess just stayed in there!

On the left I just began stitching the Owl, and on the right I’m almost done!
Once that bird was sewn up, I was out of there! I was able to take it home with me to put the finishing touches on it. Altogether I think I worked on it for 12 solid hours. I think that was fairly quick though. I skinned and cleaned it very quickly, and worked very efficiently. Just be aware, if you were to take on a project like this, it’s quite time consuming. It’s totally do-able though, for an at-home project! As long as you are legally allowed to possess the animal, taxidermy is a really fun hobby.

Blow drying a dead Owl…yet another thing I never thought I’d ever be doing!
When I first brought the Owl home, it was looking pret-ty bedraggled. Birds are not meant to get wet…and we should all be glad haha! This majestic bird looked ANYTHING but! Blow drying really helped bring life back to the feathers.

Fully preened, hung, fluffy, and looking majestic: my final project!
Here’s my Barred Owl finished! I hope you enjoyed my semi “step by step” taxidermy tutorial. I never EVER though I’d enjoy skinning out and manipulating a dead animal. But it was very cool. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think I did this bird justice. He or she will now “live” out the rest of his days on display in the SUNY Cobleskill museum of specimens. Hopefully I did a good enough job of preserving it, so that it doesn’t deteriorate!

Thanks for following along!



  1. Quite an amazing transformation! :D

  2. That is awesome! The final product looks great to me. Congrats on a fine job!



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