(Note: no animals were harmed for the making of this Instructable, nor is such a thing even remotely condoned)
Now we get down to the skinny. Or the skinning as the case may be.
Our group had a variety of roadkill to work with: two squirrels, a fawn, a fox, and a quail. I was given the quail because it was the easiest for a newbie to work on.
Now, as organizer of said workshop, I’m going to chronicle the ‘take-away’ knowledge of the process here. This to say, dear Instructablees, I am no pro. This is an (ahem) bare bones Instructable on how to skin a quail. I’m going to include some links to other skinning/taxidermy related projects at the end for those who want to take it to the next step.
First. Materials. You will need:
an animal to skin (roadkill is the easiest way to get this, although pet shops sell dead mice as snake fodder that also work well)
plastic gloves/aprons (cleanliness is next to...well, cleanliness is still important, even if God is dead)
tray (for animal and anatomical detritus)
clips (these are for stretching and drying skins, which we didn't in fact get to)
borax and salt (used to dry out the skin and disinfect)
Step 1: The First Incision
(Again, I will be talking about a quail for this Instructable, although most of this process will also apply to all animals)
The first incision is made in the centre of the thorax. Make it big enough to fit your finger in but not too big that your skin goes flailing about and everything falls out. You want a modest cut that you will sew together at the end and cover up with feathers.
The main organs will be removed first, followed by the muscle in the legs and the wings, with the head following up at the end.
Step 2: The Organs
You will quickly realize that we animals are very well organized on the inside. There was barely any blood in my whole skinning process, because of course the blood is tucked away within the vasculature of the bird: if you don't cut into any veins/arteries, you won't get any blood.
Use your fingers and carefully inch your way around the organs, separating them from the skin from front to back. You should be able to grab a hold of them as one interconnected set of innards, leaving the remaining skin an empty vessel.*
Basically the order of the day is scrape and pick matter away the skin. The goal is to remove muscle, flesh, tendons, and tissue, anything that could still rot and attract insects.
(*Once you have removed the core organs etc. of the bird, you will want to hold onto it to have a prototype of the bird's shape, from which you will create either your stuffed internal model or (in my case) 3D model of the bird's belly.)
Step 3: The Legs and Wings
When you have separated the main organs from the outer skin of the body, you can get to work on the muscle and flesh in the legs. Do this by grasping the leg of the quail (on the outside) and pushing the bone up into the diaphragm of the bird. The bone will come through, and you can scrape flesh and muscle off of it, as well as any clinging to the skin on the top of the legs.
This same process applies to the wings of the bird, or rather, the 'arm-like' attachments from whence the wings grow, which contain a small amount of flesh which needs to be removed so it does not rot and make your bird smelly.
Step 4: The Head and Neck
Once the legs and wings have been scraped clean and the organs have been removed, you are ready to progress to the head. This is the point where you realize just how much the skin of an animal is its costume: basically you need to turn the bird's skin (literally) inside out, remove the eyes and flesh of the head, and then turn it back right side out.
The skull is very useful in this inside-out process, as it gives you something to grasp as you are pulling the skin over the head. Unfortunately my quail's skull was already broken, so this did not work in my case, and made the process that much more tricky.
Suffice it to say though: care and patience is the name of the game here, folks. Skin rips easily.
Step 5: Cover Skin in Borax/salt
Once you have taken out all of the flesh and organic bits, you basically dry the rest out by filling the skin with borax and/or salt, and letting it sit and dry out.
This will also kill any germs still living on the skin (although that said, I would suggest not using the skin of your animal as food decoration or children's playthings. Hygiene, people. We live and die by it.)
At this juncture I am also including photos of my quail skin freshly emptied. He is a little, um, scary looking. Luckily I had a pro at my side to constantly remind me that my first adventure in skinning was not going to yield a masterpiece, so I am passing on evidence of that to you, dear instructablees. Be careful with your skin, but don't be precious, or you will be scared away from the task at hand (and very possibly from your accomplishment at the end as well.)
Step 6: Stuffing
We all met for a second day to finish off the skinning and to do a bit of stuffing This is where you can get innovative, people. Usually pillow stuffing is used, but I took my bird innards and used 123D Catch to make myself a 3D model, which I cleaned up and printed out in the hopes of creating a hollow bird to hide things in out of my quail. Unfortunately, the skin was already a bit too dry to be stretched around the model so I ended up using stuffing after all and sewing it together.
Step 7: Your Final Bird!
So here's my final, bless him. I have yet to figure out an adequate replacement for his still missing eyes,
And here's a pro tip for getting stuffed animals through US and German customs: wrapped in bubble wrap (for safety and anonymity), tucked into a ziplock bag, and placed right at the top of your carry-on luggage. Not one raised eyebrow from anyone, even when I took him out to remove my laptop for inspection.