Immediately after a bird is killed the throat and nostrils should be stuffed with tow, cotton or fine rags, and a small quantity wound round the bill, to prevent the blood from staining the plumage; but should any get on the feathers, notwithstanding this precaution, the sooner it is removed the better, which should be effected by a sponge which has been merely moistened in water. Too much dispatch cannot be used in removing the skin, if the bird is shot in a warm climate; but, in temperate regions, the bird may be allowed to cool.
In proceeding to skin the bird it should be laid on its back and the feathers of the breast separated to the right and left, when a broad interval will be discovered, reaching from the top to the bottom of the breast-bone.
A sharp penknife, or scapel, must be inserted at the point of the bone, and cut the outer skin from thence to the vent, taking care not to penetrate so deep as the flesh, or upon the inner skin which covers the intestines. The skin will then easily be separated from the flesh, in larger specimens by the fingers, or in smaller ones by passing a small blunt instrument betwixt the skin and body, such as the end of the scalpel handle; with this you may reach the back. The thighs should now be pressed inwards, as in the common method of skinning a rabbit, and the skin turned back, so far as to enable you to separate the legs from the body at the knee-joint. The skin is then pulled downwards as low as the rump, which is cut close by the insertion of the tail, but in such a manner as not to injure its feathers. The skin is now drawn upwards the length of the wings, the bones of which must also be cut at the shoulder-joints; it is then pulled up till all the back part of the skull is laid bare, when the vertebra of the neck are separated from the head, and the whole body is now separated from the skin. You next proceed to remove the brain, through the opening of the skull, for which purpose it may be enlarged by a hollow chisel, or other iron instrument. The eyes must then be taken out, by breaking the slender bones which separate the orbits from the top of the mouth, in which you may be assisted by pressing the eyes gently inwards, so as not to break them. In skinning the neck, great care must be taken not to enlarge the opening of the ears, and not to injure the eyelids. The whole of the flesh is next to be removed from the under mandible.
Several species will not admit of the skin being thus pulled over their heads, from the smallness of their necks; some woodpeckers, ducks, etc., fall under this description; in which case a longitudinal incision is made under the throat, so as to admit of the head being turned out, which must be neatly sewed up before stuffing. The flesh from the head, wings, legs and rump, must then be carefully removed with a knife, and the cavities of the skull filled with cotton or tow. The whole inside of the skin, head, etc., must be well rubbed with arsenical soap, or preserving powder, or spirits of turpentine, or the solution of corrosive sublimate. When it is wished to stuff the bird, it may now be immediately done, as it will easily dry if in a warm climate; but in low, damp countries, it will require artificial heat to do it effectually.
When the skins are merely wished preserved, the bones of the legs and wings should be wrapped round with cotton or tow, so as to supply the place of the flesh; the skin is then inverted and hung up to dry, after using the arsenical soap, as above directed; before doing which, in larger birds, a thread or small string may be drawn through the rump, and passed up the inside of the neck and drawn through the bill, to prevent the head from stretching too much by its own weight. In larger specimens, where cotton or tow is not easily to be met with, well dried hay may be used.
The incision for removing the skin is frequently made under the wings. This may be done with marine birds to advantage. The penguins and divers may be skinned by making the incision in the back.
The tongue should either be kept in the mouth, or sent home separately with the birds.
The greatest care must be taken to prevent the fat and oily matter, so common to sea-birds, from getting on the feathers: pounded chalk will be found an excellent absorbent for applying to these birds.
In sending home specimens of birds, they should be each wrapped in paper and closely packed in a box; and camphor, preserving powder, and strong aromatics, strewed amongst them, to prevent them from being attacked by insects; and they ought to be kept in a very dry part of the vessel.
It is of the utmost consequence to know the color of the eyes and legs of birds, and these things should be carefully noted the moment they are killed; and it should also be mentioned whether they are male or female; such a memorandum ought to be attached to the birds by a ticket. The season of the year in which the bird is killed, must also be mentioned. It is also of much consequence to have good skeletons, and, for this purpose, the carcases may be sent home in a barrel, either in spirits or a strong solution of salt and water.
Mr. Salt, while in Abyssinia, packed his bird-skins between sheets of paper, in the same manner as a hortus siccus, or herbarium, and they reached England in perfect safety, and made excellent specimens when set up. In warm climates, the boxes should be well closed, and the seams filled with warm pitch on the outside, to prevent the intrusion of insects; and the inside should be supplied with camphor, musk, or tobacco-dust, which will prevent the attacks of the smaller insects.
Till practice has given facility to the operator, it will assist in keeping the feathers clean, if, as he opens the skin of the breast, he pins pieces of paper or linen cloth on the outside; but, after a few trials, this will be unnecessary.
Some of the marine fowls are so fat that there is much trouble in separating it from the skin, and, in warm weather, great attention will be required to prevent it from running on the feathers. As much as possible should be scraped off, in the first place, with a blunt table-knife or palate-knife, and a quantity of powdered chalk applied, to absorb what remains, which, when saturated with the oily matter, should be scraped off, and a fresh supply used ; after which a much larger proportion of the preserving powder should be applied than in other birds which are not fat.