As of February 2016, after 416 posts, and over six and a half years of blogging, I'm taking a break.
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Exhuming the buzzard skeleton


I've written a lot about my badger body recently, but it wasn't the only animal that I had left in Mortuary Wood. Last May one of my friends' granddad brought me a freshly dead buzzard which he found on his farm just outside the village. I left it with the badger, but instead of wrapping it in wire mesh, I used tights so I could keep all the small bones together. I name my skeletons alphabetically, so this one is called Flappy Bird.

The badger body took a very long time to decompose, partly because badgers are tough animals, and also because they have very tough thick skin. I moved the buzzard at the same time as the badger, when the winds blew over trees and exposed my hiding place, but I didn't get a chance to look at it until half term when my mum was at work. I brought in the body, and this is what I found when I opened it up !

The picture on the left is before I left it to rot down and on the right is after it had rotted down. The worrying thing was that it hadn't got visibly smaller, so I wondered how much soft tissue was still on it:

The wire mesh was so no predators could drag it away or tear the tights. It was held together with cable ties. This is me cutting the tights inside after I opened it up.

This didn't look like a good sign for starters. I prefer it when bodies are in nice clean white bones, just like the other buzzard skeleton I found.

The reason the body hadn't reduced much in size was because of the wings, which had retained shape. With a lot of animals, the hooves, claw sheaths and horns remain even after the body is skeletonised, and feathers are made of the same substance (which also makes out hair and fingernails). The feathers kept the original shape they were round the body.

Here were some of the better preserved feathers:

This is the buzzard skull. There wasn't much soft tissue but it wasn't as clean as I would have ideally liked either.

The body was not as bad as it looked. This wasn't really soft tissue, but a mixture of muck and feathers. I just had to feel through with my fingertips.

Here were some claws, still attached by some tendons. And a dead daddy long legs.

I had to be extra careful that I got all the bones out:

I moved the bones over to one side. These would definitely need cleaning.

It was really gross but fun when I was picking apart the body:

I put all of the bones I found in to a tub so I don't lose them:

Anything I thought was not bone I put in a carrier bag to keep just in case it turned out I had missed anything important.

The next stage was going to be cleaning. At the moment I prefer to use a slow-cooker overnight with biological washing powder added. I kept the temperature to just warm, and only added a bit of biological washing powder because I think I damaged my badger skeleton this way.

After the first wash, I filtered the bones out. This was the colour of the water:

Then I laid the bones out to dry on a tray covered with kitchen roll for several days in my room.

One very interesting thing I noticed was this damage to the sternum, which is the bit on the front of the chest cavity. This is how it would be seen from inside the chest cavity, held against the light. The ribs attach along the long sides, but on the right hand side of the sternum (at the top) is rehealed damage, and the top right in the photo is much thicker (darker) than the rest, The hole at the top right is also not there. These were injuries or illness that didn't happen at death, but a long time before.

I've given the buzzard skeleton two slow-cooking sessions with biological washing powder now, but I think I'm going to have to bleach the bones in hydrogen peroxide as well, which I haven't used in absolutely ages.

It was really sad that this buzzard died by being mobbed, but I am really happy that I got this skeleton because it is the only full bird skeleton that I have in my collection. I am also hoping to rearticulate it like this fox and badger. It was really fun project for my and it was fun when I was picking it apart !

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Ric said...

Love the way you do all this stuff on the living room coffee table! Top bloke!

Jo said...

Great post.

I'll be interested to see the bones when you've bleached them. My dad found a mummified fox in his woodshed a while back so I stitched it in a net curtain and left it inside a ceramic sink for two years. I still had to pick through the sludge (again, strangely fun). I'm certain I've got every bone – and even some whiskers – which is satisfying, but the bone colour is a dull yellow. I was thinking of bleaching before articulating.

ps: I picked my fox apart outside – coffee table not big enough!

Jake said...

Ha ! Mum doesn't know I did this yet ! I did it at half term when she was at work ! She would NOT approve.

Jake said...

Cool project !Bones are more yellow than white. Some museums even stain bones (especially fish bones) with tea so they can see details more easily.

Jake said...

Ha ! As far as I know only English versions are out at the moment, but I know the book will be published in at least one foreign language (not sure if I can say yet, I just got sent an email just after my publisher sold the rights !)

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