BIRDS – and other things! Print
Friday, 25 March 2016 19:52

Part forty-three: Birds and Bits

You can't have too many stories about birds I always say. At least I have said it a lot since I started writing these small articles for our Newsletter.

Now, however, I believe that it is time for me to broaden the subject matter and include more of the 'other things' on a regular basis – depending on editor and executive approval, of course! I do not want my readers to feel that I am giving a lecture, but if I know or come across interesting facts, I would really like to share them with you, so I will start off with a recent re-visit to the MAGNT (the Darwin Museum).

Paying particular attention to the bird exhibits, I was amazed at how life-like many avian specimens were, and I pondered on the skill of the taxidermist. Every feather or talon correctly placed, the precise angle of the head, or an eye with exact pupil location, or delicately balanced on one leg with an outstretched wing: all of these things in harmony with real-life body movement and attention to detail.

The expertise of the taxidermist comes with many years' study, and I really appreciate their art. But did you know that although they preserve and tan the skins of animals, they utilise ready-made 'mannequins' on which to mount the skins? When/if complete skeletons are not available, the stability of standing or even seated animals is paramount. In the absence of bones to use for the purpose of rigidity or reality on otherwise unsupported extensions, these substitute 'internals' are essential. The 'insides' were once moulded from wire and papier-mâché on site, but now specialised factories produce polyurethane foam arms, legs, ears, tongues, bodies and so on in many different sizes, shapes, poses and moveable joints.

The taxidermist simply selects and orders the essential parts of the specific animal from a catalogue and, voilà, the manufacturer delivers. Of course it may still have to be shaved, shaped, padded or otherwise adapted and modified to fit the skin, but just think how much easier it is now to stuff an elephant!

I guess 'progress' had to catch up even in the taxidermy profession.

Hope you all enjoyed St Pat's and had a Happy Easter.

Gayle Carroll