I searched for a song about “dirty birds” prior to writing this and I discovered that there is not only a song by that name, but a dance to go with it! OH, Atlanta, you slay me. I got a kick out of the video; there are some hilarious background folk featured throughout.
Anyway, the video and that brief preamble are to serve as a slight buffer between you and the visual content of this post, as it’s a little dirty. I figured I’ve got enough street cred as a taxidermist to have earned your trust, so I feel OK writing about the less glamorous aspects of this craft that make so many people queasy. If you cannot stand the site of flesh or bone, then please abort now. But if you’re feeling brave, take my hand baby birds, I’ll feed your head for a minute.
I had two hunters drop off birds last week. One was what I initially identified as a female Bufflehead but upon closer inspection actually turned out to be a female Blue Wing Teal. The other bird was a white pheasant.
Two gorgeous specimen, although you wouldn’t know that from the insides of them.
Let’s start with the duck. Ducks are notoriously fatty. There is an odor to them that tends to hang on for a few weeks even after they’re tanned, dried and mounted. I have no qualms with the odor, but the fattyness can get quite tiresome. You see, I don’t yet possess a fleshing wheel, so I have to cut all the fat off by hand. Being someone who actually finds solace in mundane repetitive tasks, I usually don’t mind this but I’ve been pushing my poor paws to the limit lately and there is a soreness creeping in that only people who work with their hands could begin to understand.
Whining aside, I do like trimming fat. I marvel at it. I mean, this is what flavor comes from. But my first instinct is to recoil in disgust if it gets all over my hands or my face. Why is it gross to touch this substance that is so completely universal-I have it, you have it, all your dogs and cats have it, trust me they do- and it’s the common denominator of all things delicious? This fat is the real deal. It’s not oleo or some bogus hydro corn science project, its bona fide, warmth providing, lifesaving fat. I am getting better at embracing the stuff however; it doesn’t hurt that after handling it I’ve got smooth Palmolive hands for hours, even after scrubbing with soap!
As you can see from my very official chart above, duck skin is tricky. It’s simple to see where trimming needs to be done, but the actual skin is like a thin film of tissue paper underneath all that fat. It’s extremely easy to cut too far and make “duck doilies”. Needless to say, I’ll have quite a bit of sewing to do on this skin before I mount it.
The spoils of duck lipo:
After that, its into the tanning solution and a quick rinse. Whenever I pull birds out of the water, I’m just a tad dubious that I’ll be able to turn such a sad looking rag into something as beautiful as its original form, but it always works out.
Onto the pheasant. As is often the case with game foul, this guy was just riddled with bird shot. Both legs were all but shattered.
Lots of holes:
It’s not just a matter of holes but picking the shot out of the flesh, since I feed these birds to my animals and I don’t want my little babies choking on lead. The feathers kind of clump together around the shot, some still with quills in the skin, some buried in the meat. It’s not unlike pulling weeds:
Here’s one leg. The bone was totally broken, which can be hazardous for little taxidermist fingers working flesh off of them. I have the scrapes to prove it. The other leg was completely obliterated. This means more work down the line when it comes time to mount, but this all comes with the territory.
Post bath, also looking like a wet rag, albeit one covered in beautiful feathers.
Like I said, I use this meat to feed my cats. If a hunter just wants a trophy mount and doesn’t care to eat what he catches, I will gladly play vulture and use whatever meat I can for my four-legged brood at home. Obviously this applies to game and not roadkill. In this case, I cut off what I could and placed it all in the crock pot with some chicken stock. A few hours in there and presto! Warm cozy Sunday dinner was served to my little ones:
And that’s the word, Bird.