When shooting on the sea coast, if the ornithologist is not provided with these requisities for absorbing the oil, which flows quickly from any wounds of the skin, he will find dry sand a tolerable substitute.
If, however, after every precaution, the oily matter should get on the feathers, the sooner it is removed the better, as, in birds where the plumage is white, if it is allowed to become hardened it will produce a very disagreeable appearance; and, besides, render that part particularly liable to the attack of insects. There are several effectual methods of removing the greasy stains; the first, safest, and best is, by taking a quantity of diluted ox-gall - or, where it cannot be commanded, sheep's-gall, or that of any other animal - mix it with about double the quantity of water, and apply it with a sponge to the place which the fatty matter has touched, when it will immediately remove it. The next is by using a solution of salts of tartar, or potash, or soda. This must be made very weak, not exceeding half a teaspoonful to a cup of water, which will have the same effect as the gall. "Whichever of these are used, the place must be immediately afterwards washed in pure water, so as to leave none of the gall or alkaline substance remaining. The gall has a gummy tendency, and will glue together the fibers of the feathers, and, besides, it has a great attraction for moisture, and, in humid weather, will become damp, and therefore produce mould; the other alkaline substances must also be used with much caution and quickness, because they have the power of changing the colors of the plumage, so that they are most useful in white plumage, and therefore should only be used on colored feathers, where gall cannot be procured.
One general observation applies to the preservation of all animal skins, which is, they must be made perfectly dry, so that the sooner they are exposed to a free current of air the better; and unless they are speedily and thoroughly dried, the skin will become putrid and rotten, and the hair or feathers will consequently fall off. If a skin is properly dried, soon after it is killed, it will keep a considerable time without any preservative whatever, only it will be the more liable to be attacked by insects afterwards.
The following excellent general directions for skinning are given by Mr. "Waterton: - "While dissecting, it will be of use to keep in mind, that in taking off the skin from the body, by means of your fingers and little knife, you must try to shove it, in lieu of pulling it, lest you stretch it.
"That you must press as lightly as possible on the bird, and every now and then take a view of it, to see that the feathers, etc., are all right.
"That when you come to the head, you must take care that the body of the skin rest on your knee, for if you allow it to dangle from your hand, its own weight will stretch it too much.
"That, throughout the whole operation, as fast as you detach the skin from the body, you must put cotton immediately betwixt the body and it, and this will effectually prevent any fat, blood, or moisture, from coming in contact with the plumage.
"As you can seldom get a bird without shooting it, a line or two on this head will be necessary. If the bird be still alive, press it hard with your finger and thumb, just behind the wings, and it will soon expire. Carry it by the legs, and then, the body being reversed, the blood cannot escape down the plumage and through the shot-holes. As blood will have often issued out, before you have laid hold of the bird, find out the shot-holes, by dividing the feathers with your fingers, and blowing on them; and then, with your pen-knife, or the leaf of a tree, carefully remove the clotted blood, and put a little cotton on the hole. If, after all, the plumage has not escaped the marks of blood, or if it has imbibed slime from the ground, wash the part in water, without soap, and keep gently agitating the feathers with your fingers, till they are quite dry. Were you to wash them, and leave them dry by themselves, they would have a very mean and shriveled appearance.
"In the act of skinning a bird, you must either have it upon a table, or upon your knee; probably you will prefer your knee, because, when you cross one knee over the other, and have the bird upon the uppermost, you can raise it to your eye, or lower it, at pleasure, by means of the foot on the ground ; and then your knee will always move in unison with your body, by which much stooping will be avoided, and lassitude prevented."
Stuffing Birds. The first thing to be done in stuffing is to replace the skull, after it has been well anointed with the arsenical soap, and washed with the solution of corrosive sublimate inside. The thread, with which the beak is tied, is taken hold of by the left hand, and the head is repassed into the neck with the forefinger of the right hand, while the thread is pulled on the opposite side; and we are careful that the feathers, at the margin of the opening, do not enter with the edges of the skin. The bird is now laid on the table with the head turned towards the left hand, and the legs and wings adjusted to their proper situation. A flat piece of lead, about a pound in weight, is laid on the tail, while the feathers of the margins of the opening are raised by the forefinger and thumb of the left hand, to prevent their being soiled. The inside of the neck is now coated with the arsenical soap; flax is stuffed into it, but not too tightly. The back and rump are anointed, and the body should then be stuffed with tow, to about a third of the thickness required, so that the wire may have a sort of cushion to rest on.
Four pieces of wire are then prepared, of the thickness proportionate to the size of the bird to be stuffed. The centerpiece should be somewhat longer than the body of the bird. At about a fourth of its length a small ring is formed, by the assistance of the round pincers or plyers, and the other end is pointed with a file. This wire is oiled and introduced across the skull, and passed into the neck, through the center of the flax or tow with which it is stuffed, the ring being situated toward the anterior part of the skull, for the purpose of receiving the points of each of the wires that are passed through the feet and thighs.