Sponsored by the

Museum of Natural Science, Louisiana State University

Description: LSUtowerlogo




Date: Tue, 23 Oct 2001 09:02:22 -0400
From: "Rogers, Steve" <RogersS CARNEGIEMUSEUMS.ORG>
Reply-To: Bulletin Board for Bird Collections and Curators
To: AVECOL-L listserv.lsu.edu
Subject: Re: [AVECOL-L] relaxing skins

Relaxing large dried skins to get passable study skins is not always possible. If the bird was not dried under ideal circumstances, it would be liable to slip the instant it would be submerged into water as suggested by a number of respondents to this question. If the humidity was higher when prepared, the skin probably decomposed as it was drying, especially if the skin was not opened to the atmosphere i.e. skin on skin contact. Without having injected some solution of formalin or antibacterial agent into the feet, if the humidity was medium to high, I can assure that there will be scale slipping if total immersion is used. The condition of dry salted birds from Africa is much different. I have relaxed quite a number of older study skins but primarily for taxidermy mounts for exhibit (including a Dusky Seaside Sparrow and Carolina parakeet) aging from roughly 100 years ago to those I had prepared circa 15 years earlier. Unfortunately, I have not done any as large as a vulture. The procedures that I would recommend would be to use a humidity chamber and incrementally relax the bird. If the skin was not properly scoured of meat, those portions retaining some meat over the feather tracts would take much longer to relax, as would all the tendons in the wing and legs. Full immersion could be used if the bird must be washed, but only after a stepwise relaxing of the harder portions to relax. I have constructed humidity chambers out of large Tupperware containers as Mr. Schmidt mentioned, and had a plastic suspended rack above a saturated sand mix on the bottom containing one of the commercially available taxidermy bactericides or phenol/Lysol. On day one I took a syringe containing water with bactericide and a slight amount of detergent for a surfactant, and injected around the feet as best I could, wrapped them with saturated cotton, then surrounded them with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. I also injected at the joints of the wing without wrapping, and around the head and bill (I was relaxing a study skin - an inverted skin you could simply paint water/bact/soap onto the stiffer portions of the skin, i.e. the wing tendons, main feather tracts, around the head and skull.) On day two, I unwrapped the feet and re-injected the areas of the feet, wings and head, and attempted to move them about to get them flexible, re-wrapped them and placed them back in the humidity chamber. Depending on the bird size by the third day the bird would be relaxed enough to remove the body stuffing with cracking the skin, or without wetting the plumage. By pulling out the cotton/excelsior/or whatever was inside, finally a good look can be had at the inside skin. Often antique study skins were prepped in an extremely fast manner and because of fat retained on the skin, if it would be soaked directly, it would fall to pieces instantly. However, if you only relax the inside of the skin to the point of flexibility like a slightly stiff leather, then a taxidermy mount can still be made from an extinct bird poorly prepared. If the inside of the bird is in good shape, then I often remove the body and place saturated cotton inside the bird first on stiffer areas and later on apteria. A paint brush and syringe is helpful in applying the fluid. Eventually a mountable skin can be made. As mentioned above, my primary goal was a taxidermy specimen. I usually made the artificial body for the birds out of balsa wood, and had no difficulty relaxing the feet to get the supporting leg wire up into the body. I mainly used pinning strips to hold down the feather tracts for drying and put the eyes in from the inside and simply packed cotton behind them to hold them in place before the mount dried. Much has been written on relaxing and mounting or remaking study skins. If you need any citations on the subject I will forward a list.

Charles, I am not sure if the above has helped you, but I would use caution in relaxing the birds.

One last note, The powder you observed could be quite a number of noxious chemicals. If you knew who the preparator was, or what school he was taught from, someone on Avecol could perhaps tell you what material the person used. It could be a powdered insecticide and not Mag. Carb. Pond. or a Borax or Borax/Alum mixture.

Good Luck!

Stephen P. Rogers
*Former (But still active) Professional Bird Skinner*
Currently Collection Manager
Section of Amphibians and Reptiles
Carnegie Museum of Natural History


Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2001 09:27:47 -0400
From: "Rogers, Steve" <RogersS CARNEGIEMUSEUMS.ORG>
Reply-To: Bulletin Board for Bird Collections and Curators
<AVECOL-L listserv.lsu.edu>
Subject: Re: [AVECOL-L] anti-molding agents

The exact bactericide used in a humidity chamber can vary. While I have seen discussed on various message boards that phenol has been removed from Lysol in the old standby, I have also heard that it is still present. There are a number of commercial products specifically designed (or modified) for the Taxidermy industry that are designed to be a bactericide for soaking. Since the bird sits above the sand/water layer it doesn't contact it, unless a small amount of solution is added during the wash/soak, which will prevent bacterial growth - a practice common in taxidermy. In the humidity chamber something as simple as salt water can be used to keep the bacteria from growing on the bottom - it won't volatilize and corrupt the specimen. I have even used ethanol in the sand mixture. The actual reason sand is used, as I understand it, is to have as much surface area as possible to allow water to be fully saturating the chamber. Inert cloth or paper products would do the same.

Two commercial products sold as bactericides are listed below, but there are others

Bactericide by Authentic Supply sold by McKensie

Bactericide Bruce Rittel


As far as chemicals to wipe down mounted specimens or study skins Kevin, I know of only two companies who sell said products. I don't know what is in them, but they sell themselves to do what you ask. I remember a story Ken Parkes told of the Philippine bird skin collection being trotted outside in the sun on an annual basis with surfaces wiped with solution (phenol?). I actually wonder if you could modify a gamma ray fruit sterilizer to hold study skins. They supposedly can zap fruit and extend its' shelf life immensely.

The wipe down products:

Wasco product to wipe on birds to prevent moth damage/dermestid damage

Knobloch Protex mount care products