Friday, May 3, 2013

My SECOND experience with taxidermy: part I.

Back in February, for my first experience with taxidermy, I had to prepare a museum specimen mount of a European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) as a project for my ornithology course I’m currently in. I did not grow up in a hunting household, so I was not desensitized to blood and gore as a child. I’m not ANTI hunting, I just don’t partake in it. So cutting open the Starling and removing all it’s innards was a challenge. I was faced with doing another taxidermy project…or “something else”. The something else was a project that I would have to come up with, and it would have to equal the amount of time spent preparing a bird mount. Plus a written paper. I mentally could not handle that at the time of the semester, trying to be creative and come up with a really GOOD project to rival beautiful birds mounted by other students. And, I was morbidly (well maybe not morbidly) interested in pushing myself to cut into another bird.

By the way, I should mention again and clarify how SUNY Cobleskill comes in possession of these birds. European Starlings are an invasive species that were brought over from…Europe, go figure. Having no natural predators here, their populations exploded and they often compete with and out-compete other native birds for food, shelter, etc. It’s not a good thing. Although they are pretty to look at, many consider their large flocks to be a nuisance. A lot of noise, and a lot of poop.
For this second taxidermy project that I completed, I was fortunate enough to work on a Barred Owl (Strix varia). Other birds I could have chosen from included: falcons, hawks, waterfowl, songbirds, and other owls. I chose the Barred because he is so handsome. I have fond memories as a child listening to them sing “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you- alllllllllll?” from the trees. Listen here. And more recently I was very fortunate to get one landing in front of my camera trap- if only for a few moments.

They are a very common Owl, but because they are nocturnal, we don’t get to often observe them. Anytime I’m given the chance to handle a wild animal- dead or alive- I take the opportunity. So this Owl likely was hit by a car, or hit a glass window, or something like that. He was not hunted and killed by me or anyone, for the purpose of this project. And that goes for the rest of the birds that I could have chosen from. Many of these birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (1918), which is federal protection.
The Act prohibits, without a specific permit:
-attempting any of the aforementioned,
-possessing any part of a migratory bird or it’s egg,
-selling/offer for sale,
-purchasing/offering to purchase,
-shipping/delivering for shipment,
-transporting/delivering for transport,
-or any other cause to be carried or transported
of migratory birds as listed here: Birds Protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Permits can be issued in specific cases for: scientific research, captive propagation, incidental taking, or education. SUNY Cobleskill has the correct permits in place to allow the collection of protected species, and for students to learn from them. The way I look at it, these birds, who likely died by the indirect cause of humans, will not have died in vain if students like myself can learn from them post mortem.

Alright, enough of the boring and onto a few pictures!
My chosen Barred Owl, back and front PRE-taxidermy.

The Owls have a ‘zygodactyl’ toe arrangement: 2 toes in the front, 2 toes in the back. They also have the special ability to rotate their fourth digit to the front. This helps the owl perch, hold its food, and grab its prey.

For now, that’s all I can share. The next entry will include the first cut into the bird, skinning it, and cleaning the skin. It’s an arduous process, but well worth the effort. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Taxidermy is something I have no experience with, but I agree that handling dead animals and learning from them is necessary in the field of wildlife biology. I avoid touching dead animals, always have. Its something I know I need to work on because sometimes in the field we do need to handle bodies in order to determine the reason they died, for instance. What tends to trouble me is the disrespect (for example, playing with the body like its a doll, while making jokes) I see for the animal, which I have witnessed. I'm glad to see that isn't the case here. I squeamishly look forward to the next post.


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