Last year I did my first DIY bird mounts on some chukar, and was thrilled with the result! Since then, I have done many different birds for my own home as well as for friends and family. My favorite so far have to be pheasant though, due to the colors and variance in feathers.
My “mounts” are a flat-mounted bird that have been skinned out and dried with borax prior to mounting. It is reasonably simple to do, it just takes some time and a steady hand. It is best done with birds that have little damage on them, as a more damaged bird’s skin may rip easily.
The skinning process takes an average of one to two hours per bird depending on your speed, and then you need some time to lay it out properly for drying, so be prepared to set aside 3 hours or so per bird for the initial stage of this project.
I have written out a detailed “how-to” below; this is not a light reading, but rather a detailed guide on how to create your own flat DIY bird mounts!
- Newspaper or Paper towels – To lay the bird on so it contains the mess and doesn’t slide
- Sharp fillet knife or exacto knife – I got my exacto knife kit at Wal-Mart
- Borax – One box for every two birds (pheasant sized)
- Diagonal cutting pliers, or dikes
- Cardboard box – Slightly larger than your bird
- Trash bag – To cover the cardboard box
- Styrofoam Ball – Optional; only needed if you are doing the full 3-D head appearance
- Wood board – To mount the bird on
- Gorilla Glue hot glue sticks
- Hot glue gun.
- Small nails with a flat head – Not brad nails
- Mounting hardware
Start with your bird thawed out and a clean working surface. I set up a folding plastic table with a bar stool to sit on and then cover the table with newspaper or paper towels.
The first cut I make is to cut a circle around the knee joint. Once you cut a circle around it you can typically snap the knee joint fairly easily it to reveal the tendons between the two bones; if you cut these tendons you can remove the legs at the knee joint cleanly without any bone fragments.
When I was skinning the pheasant, since the back is the prettiest I sliced down the belly side so that the back will be displayed; choose whichever side you think is prettiest and cut down the opposite side. Set the bird on it’s back and slice from under the beak/chin down its neck, belly, etc. skin deep so you can just see the muscle/meat. You’ll know you are the correct depth of just through the skin if you can slide your fingers between the skin and the meat and start peeling the skin back.
After I make the belly cut, I peel the skin completely away from the neck and begin the head section first. This is the most tedious part and is why I like the exacto knives. You need to cut very carefully. I pull it away from the bone and meat and cut so that I keep the eye holes and ear holes in tact, and cut right along the edge of the beak. I love how it looks with the whole head displayed.
There are some options for different types of birds. It is your preference.
- You can cute carefully, leaving the eye holes and ear holes and drying it so the head has a 3D appearance like my pheasant above.
- You can do just a body mount without the neck/head, so you would cut at the base of the head.
- You can do a rounded head much like my mallard duck shown below. You will still want to carefully cut around the beak and eyes, but prior to drying you would just trim up the head skin to the shape of your liking.
Once the skin has been completely removed from the skull and neck, you will continue peeling down the back. The wing joints will still be connected at this point, but you can slide your fingers between the back and the skin until the entire skin has been pulled away except the wing joints, legs, and tail. When you get to the legs, you will essentially turn the skin inside out to peel it off the leg bone like a glove. Once peeled off, you can turn it right side out.
With the tail, you want to be very careful where you cut so the feathers are still connected, so cut a little bit higher up than you would think. Don’t worry–if the tail feathers start falling out because you accidentally cut the piece holding them on, you can glue them back on the mount later with no one ever knowing! You do need to make sure you remove the smelly yellow gland completely from your tail feather area once you make your cut though. I use a pair of diagonal cutting pliers, or dikes, for removing this.
Now everything should be disconnected except for the two wings. You will begin by peeling the skin off the top portion (think upper arm) to at least the joint that would be considered the elbow. I cut there on the small birds like Chukar and removed as much meat as I could from it. For the larger birds such as Pheasant or Duck, you will need to peel further and cut the bone (with cutting pliers or dikes again) where you are able to if there is a lot of meat. Be careful here as you can rip the skin easily. Repeat on the other side.
After completing this last step, you should now have the bird out of its skin! Make sure to remove any extra bits of flesh on the skin side, paying extra attention to the wing section as well as the tail area. You can use a spoon if you need to scrape the skin (will be necessary with ducks), but be very gentle as to not rip through the skin.
The skinning process takes me about an hour total after having done a few, so prepare for a little longer for your first time. It’s not hard as much as its time-consuming.
Next, I grab the borax and lightly coat the sticky skin side so I can work with it more easily since its no longer sticking together.
I typically prepare some sort of medium sized box and cut it down so it has 2″ lip all the way around, and then just put it in a plastic trash bag like a sleeve, so I have a plastic lined “tray” to put the bird in to cure.
In your new tray, put a good layer of borax down. Set your bird on the borax and start making sure you pack borax into the leg holes, wing sections, etc.; basically, you want it anywhere there is exposed flesh you need to dry out.
Once it’s no longer sticking to itself, I finger brush the feathers smooth and make sure everything looks nice and the way I want it. Be sure you have the borax a consistent 1/2″ to 1″ deep in the tray and set the bird down, feather side up, and start smoothing it out. If you have any feathers ruffled, they will dry like that so be careful with it! Make sure it looks exactly the way you want it to. Lift the wing and put a further pile of borax on top of the sides of the belly between the wing. It’s good to put a little pile of borax on top of each wing joint and the tail also, as you may have some meat on this side that also needs to be dried out.
Once you have it laid out how you’d like it, you can begin to pin or tape it; while I did not use pins, I think it would be much easier than the tape method I used, as the tape got borax on it and did not want to stick. You could use little sewing-type push pins to keep it in place while drying (it won’t shrink or anything so no need to worry about that); alternatively you can do what I did and tape the wings.
The pins or tape are required so that you can spread your wings and tail the way you want them to dry; I fan out both the wings and tails on my birds. Remember, it will dry as you have it displayed. If you are doing the entire 3-D head look, you can put a piece of carved foam (with plenty of borax) to retain the shape for drying. Also, pheasant roosters have “horns” that stick up; if you wish, you can tape these up so they dry visible. I do this on my personal mounts and love the effect it brings.
Let the bird dry for a couple days (2-5) out of reach in a dry spot; I did spare bedroom and closed the door so the dogs couldn’t get to it. After a couple of days you will want to flip it over feather side down (nicely smooth the feathers so they don’t get messed up when you lay it down). Then pack a bunch of borax on the visible skin, wings, tail, in the head, etc. again and let sit for 2-3 weeks to fully dry/cure.
After this amount of time has passed, it’s essentially done and you can brush it off with your hands, a dry paint brush, etc. The wings aren’t quite stiff at the joint since the bone was removed, so they are floppy on the bird. Don’t worry; we will pin the wings into position when mounting it.
I was lazy and bought a wood board for all my projects from Wal-Mart for $10-15. I KNOW, I know… I have tons of tools and wood and didn’t take the time to make my own? The horror! But the convenience of buying already-made, consistently stained, matching boards was just too much temptation for me, and I don’t regret it one bit! 🙂
Be sure you put any necessary mounting brackets on the back of the board prior to mounting or you may regret it afterward.
I used a bunch of Gorilla Glue hot glue sticks as well as small nails to stick the bird skin to the board (thanks for the tips on the glue and board, Rena Sneed!). I glued it by securing the head/neck first and slowly rolling it into the board as I glued inch by inch. *Be sure your bird is straight because there is no going back.*
If you are doing a 3-D head, you can take your carved foam and if you’d like, paint it to match the bird (I honestly used black sharpie for my pheasant head foam). Glue the foam into the head and then glue that onto the board.
After gluing, I took the really small nails to further secure the wings and certain heavier sections of the bird. The nail head ends up covered by the feathers so there is no need to worry about them. If you really wanted to, you could sharpie the nail head black after to remove the silver shine.
Now, after all YOUR OWN hard work, you have a stunning new bird mount to hang on your walls! If you do follow these instructions, I’d LOVE to see them, so please message me or tag me on Instagram if you do!
Also, if you need further explanation on any of the steps, feel free to reach out to me and I’d be happy to help! I didn’t put all the images on here, as the process is quite graphic for those who have never skinned a bird, and I didn’t want to dissuade interested parties from reading.
My own DIY Bird Mounts hung above my messy bed: two chukar, a pheasant, and a mallard!
A Word of Thanks
Thank you to Rena Sneed for her conversations and guidance early on in my adventure of DIY mounts! You can see her own on her Instagram page at https://www.instagram.com/rena.sneed/.