A MANUAL OF INSTRUCTION TO THE AMATEUR
IN COLLECTING, PRESERVING, AND
SETTING UP NATURAL HISTORY SPECIMENS OF ALL KINDS.
TO WHICH IS ADDED A CHAPTER UPON
THE PICTORIAL ARRANGEMENT OF MUSEUMS.
MONTAGU BROWNE, F.Z.S, etc.
Curator, Town Museum, Leicester.
Revised and considerably Enlarged,
With additional Instructions in Modelling and Artistic Taxidermy.
1. UPCOTT GILL, BAZAAR BUILDINGS, DRURY LANE, W.C.
(FORMERLY OF 170, STRAND).
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS, 153-157, FIFTH AVENUE.
Plate I Peregrine Falcon on Flight
Showing Method of Binding etc.
Frontispiece—see chapter V
1. UPCOTT GILL, LONDON AND COUNTY PRINTING WORKS,
BAZAAR BUILDINGS. W.C.
PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION.
THE First Edition of "Practical Taxidermy" having now run through the press—with, I venture to hope, some profit to students of the art, if I may judge from the many hundreds Of letters I have from time to time received—the publishers have invited me to revise such parts of the work as may be expedient, and also to add many technical methods of modelling animals an artistic manner.
I do this the more readily because of the narrow way in which most professional Taxidermists bolster up their art in a secret and entirely unnecessary manner—unnecessary because amateur can, but by the severest application, possibly compete with the experience of the technical or professional worker. No pictorial artist ever pretends he has a special brush or colours with which he can paint landscapes or sea pieces at will; he knows that only thorough mastery of the technicalities of his art—supplemented by wide experience and close application—enables him to succeed as he does, and to delight people who, seeing his facility of handling, may imagine that picture painting is very easy and could be readily acquired—perhaps from books. So it is with the Taxidermist. Those, therefore, who procure this book, thinking to do all attempted to be explained therein without long study and without a knowledge of anatomy, form, arrangement, and colour, may put it on one side as useless. These pages are merely an introduction to a delightful art, which must be wooed with patient determination and loving pains until technical skill invests it with beauty.
If I can be of any assistance to my readers, I invite them to write to me if at any time they are puzzled or temporarily disheartened; merely asking them to remember:
(1)—That, not being in business, I cannot of course answer purely business communications; and (2)—Not being a man of infinite leisure, it must also be remembered that a properly directed envelope for return to the inquirer is of consequence when minutes are precious. Unlike the Prime Minister, I do not like post-cards, and never answer them if from unknown correspondents.
I may here mention that this edition is not only considerably enlarged, but has several woodcuts and four plates added, three of which latter have been engraved from photographs specially taken for this work.
I say now, in conclusion, work hard, study hard, and look to good modellers and painters—and not to bird-stuffers—for conceptions of form, arrangement, and colour, and in the end, believe me, you will achieve a better success than attends the labours of those who follow in the old paths of careless or inartistic Taxidermy.
THE RISE AND PROGRESS of TAXIDERMY.
TAXIDERMY, which is derived from two Greek words, a literal translation of which would signify the "arrangement of skins," appears to have been practised in a limited degree ages ago, for may we not say without doubt that the first taxidermists were the ancient Egyptians, who, despite the fact that they seldom or never appear to have removed the skin as a whole, as in our modern methods, yet, taking into consideration the excellent manner in which they preserved their human or other bodies for thousands of years by the aid of injections, spices, essential oils, or what not, they may, I think, be fairly placed in the front rank as the first taxidermists the world has known. For an account, of the arts used in embalming see Herodotus, who says:
In Egypt certain persons are appointed by law to exercise this art (embalming) as their peculiar business; and when a dead body is brought them they produce patterns of mummies in wood imitated in painting, the most elaborate of which are said to be of him (Osiris) whose name I do not think it right to mention on this occasion. The second which they show is simpler and less costly; the third is the cheapest. Having exhibited them all, they inquire of the persons who have applied to them which method they wish to be adopted, and this being settled, and the price agreed upon, the parties return, leaving the body with the embalmers.
In preparing it according to the first method, they commence by extracting the brain from the nostrils with a curved iron probe, partly clearing the head by this means, and partly by pouring in certain drugs; then, making an incision in the side with a sharp Ethiopian stone, they draw out the intestines through the aperture. Having cleansed and washed them with palm wine they cover them with pounded aromatics, and afterwards filling the cavity with powder of pure, myrrh, cassia, and other fragrant substances, frankincense excepted, they sew it up again. This being done, they salt the body, keeping it in natron seventy days, to which period they are strictly confined. When the seventy days are over they wash the body and wrap it up entirely in bands of fine linen smeared on their inner side with gum, which the Egyptians generally use instead of glue. The relatives then take away the body, and have a wooden ease made in the form of a man, in which they deposit it, and, when fastened up, they keep it in a room in their house, placing it upright against the wall. This is the most costly method of embalming.
For those who choose the middle-kind, on account of the expense, they prepare the body as follows: They fill syringes with oil of cedar, and inject this into the abdomen, without making any incision or removing the bowels, and, taking care that the liquid shall not escape, they keep it in salt during the specified number of days. The cedar oil is then taken out, and such is its strength, that it brings with it the bowels and all the inside in a state of dissolution. The natron also dissolves the flesh, so that nothing remains but the skin and bones. This process being over, they restore the body without any further operation.
The third kind of embalming is only adopted for the poor. In this they merely cleanse the body, by an injection of syrmoea, and salt it during seventy days, after which it is returned to the friends who brought it.
The account given by Diodorus is similar, if we except the cost and time of embalming. The most expensive way of embalming costs a talent of silver (about 250 pounds sterling); the second, twenty-two minae (60 pounds); and the third is extremely cheap. The persons who embalm the bodies are artists who have learnt this secret from their ancestors. They present to the friends of the deceased who apply to them an estimate of the funeral expenses, and ask them in what manner they wish it to be performed, which being agreed upon, they deliver the body to the proper persona appointed to that office. First, one who is denominated the scribe, marks upon the left side of the body, as it lies on the ground, the extent of the incision which is to be made; then another, who is called the dissector, cuts open as much of the flesh as the law permits with a sharp Ethiopian stone, and immediately runs away, pursued by those who are present throwing stones at him, amidst bitter execrations, as if to cast upon him all the odium of this necessary act, for they look upon everyone who has offered violence to, or inflicted b wound or any other injury upon a human body to be hateful; but the embalmers, on the contrary, are held in the greatest consideration and respect, being the associates of the priests, and permitted free access to e temples as sacred persons.
As soon as they have met together to embalm the body thus prepared them, one introduces his band through the aperture into the abdomen, and takes everything out except the kidneys and heart, another cleanses each of the viscera with palm wine and aromatic substances; lastly, having applied oil of cedar and other things to the whole body for wards of thirty days, they add myrrh, cinnamon, and those drugs which have not only the power of preserving the body for a length of time, but of imparting to it a fragrant odour. It is then restored to the friends of the deceased; and so perfectly are all the members preserved even the hair of the eyelids and eyebrows remains undisturbed, and the whole appearance of the person is so unaltered that every feature may be recognised.
Sir J. Gardener Wilkinson ("Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians") from whom I have quoted, says that:
"The extraction of the brain by the nostrils is proved by the appearance of the mummies found in the tombs; and some of the crooked instruments (always of bronze) supposed to have been used for this purpose have been discovered at Thebes." The preservatives appear to have been of two classes, bituminous and saline, consisting, in the first class, of gums, resins, asphaltum, and pure bitumen, with, doubtless, some astringent barks powders, etc. rubbed in. Mummies prepared in this is way are known by their dry, yet flexible skins, retracted and adherent to the bones; features, and hair, well preserved and life-like. Those mummies filled with bitumen, have black skins, hard and shining as if varnished, but with the features perfect, having been prepared with great care, and even after ages have elapsed, are but little susceptible to exposure.
Of the mummies of the second class (also filled with resins and asphaltum), we must assume that their skins and flesh have been subjected to sodaic or saline products; for Boitard, in a work published at Paris in 1825, says that an injection is made with oil of cedar and common salt, also, that they wash the corpse with nitre and leave it to steep for seventy days, at the end of which time they remove the intestines, which the injection has corroded, and replace their loss by filling the cavity of the abdomen with nitre. This is also borne out by Wilkinson, who says:
"On exposure to air they (the mummies) become covered with efflorescence of sulphate of soda, and also readily absorb moisture from the atmosphere."
It appears, also, that after the period of preparation (thirty, forty, or seventy days, as fixed by various authors), the corpse was relieved, in the first-class ones, of all the old saline, nitrous, or resinous products, and re-filled with costly resins, aromatic spices, and bitumen; which, says Monsieur Rouyer:
"Having styptic, absorbent, and balsamic qualities, would produce a kind of tanning operation on the body, which would also, no doubt, be heightened by the washing with palm wine."
He here broaches the ingenious and highly probable theory, that the corpse, during its mummification, was placed in stoves of a certain temperature, where the heat gradually and closely united the various preservative agents before mentioned. They were then swathed in linen bandages of great length, and enclosed in beautifully painted and gilded cartonages; the faces were heavily gilded and the eyes imitated in enamel; they were then inclosed in three or four cases, also richly gilded and painted, and finally "mounted" in a sarcophagus.
Common people appear in some cases to have been merely salted and plunged in liquid pitch, others were simply salted and dried. Mummies prepared by these methods freely attract moisture—are ill preserved, and, therefore, as a matter of course, fall to pieces easily on contact with external air.
In summing up the process of embalming, as described by the authors just quoted, we find a few problems of more or less difficulty, and which none of them appear inclined to solve; and I do not wonder at this, as the attempt, in my own case, in one or two instances, has involved days of study and references to dozens of medical and other works with but a meagre result. However, to take them seriatim, we can assume, I think, with some show of evidence, that the Ethiopian stone, mentioned as being used to make the first incision in the corpse, might have been a piece of obsidian or basalt, but most probably was merely an ordinary sharp flint of a dark colour.
The first chemical used in embalming is the hardest nut of all to crack, and on which I have most exercised my intellectual teeth—and that is natron. Now, what is natron? [Footnote: Natrium is the old Latin term for the metal or base we now call sodium. The old names for some of its salts were: Natron Carbonicum—or Bicarbonate of Soda; Natron Vitriolatum—or Sulphate of Soda; discovered or re-discovered about 1670. Nitrum =Carbonate of soda.] Ordinary dictionaries and authors tell us, as a matter of course—carbonate of soda. In support of this theory M. Rouyer writes:
"The natron would be used just as it was got from many of the lakes of Egypt, where it is found abundantly in the form of carbonate of soda."
Pereira, in "Materia Medica," though intimating that natron is not to be confounded with nitre, says, in speaking of carbonate of soda:
"This salt was probably known to the ancients under the term of Nitron."
Now, as Nitron is more likely, from its etymology, to be translated "nitre," we are landed into another difficulty, if by nitre we mean saltpetre, for that will, as we all know, preserve animal tissue for a certain time; however, I do not think we can translate natron as being nitre (saltpetre), for in former days many salts were included under the general term nitre; for instance, our common soda and potash, the chemical composition of which was unknown until Davy, in 1807, extracted the metals sodium and potassium from those salts. Boitard expressly states:
"Il parait que ce natrum etait un alkali fixe, et pas du tout du nitre comme quelques auteurs l'ont pense; ce qui semblerait appuyer cette opinion, c'est que lea femmes egyptiennes se servaient de natrum pour faire leur lessive, comme on as sert aujourd'hui de la soude."
In Peru the soil may be said to be impregnated with nitre, but that is nitrate of soda, and not really saltpetre (nitrate of potassium), as many people imagine who hear it called simply nitre.
Mr. Thos. W. Baker, who has most obligingly unearthed several old works for me, says:
"Now I think of it, natron is perfectly familiar to me as apparently a mixture of broken soda crystals and a brown earth which is sold in the bazaars of India, under the name of 'sootjee moogee,' for domestic purposes; and I know, from experience, that unless it is washed off paint work directly it is passed over it with a cloth all the paint comes off bare, sometimes to the wood."
Again, he says:
"In Bayley's Dictionary, circa 1730, I find the following: 'Natron; or, a Natron, from Gr. Natron (?), a kind of black greyish salt, taken out of a lake of stagnant water in the territory of Terrana, in Egypt."
Also see "Penny Cyclopaedia," vol. xvi, p. 105, "Natron, native sesquicarbonate of soda (see 'Sodium'):"
"The Natron Lakes, which are six in number, are situated in a valley bordering upon Lower Egypt, and are remarkable for the great quantity of salt which they produce. The crystallisations are both of muriate of soda (or common salt) and of carbonate of soda. ... The 'Natron' is collected once a year, and is used both in Egypt and Syria, as also in Europe, for manufacturing glass and soap, and for bleaching linen."
Turning to "Sodium" for the sesquicarbonate, which is found native in Hungary, and also near Fezzan, in Africa:
'By the natives it is called "Trona." It is found in hard striated crystalline masses, and is not altered by exposure to the air, but is readily soluble in water. This salt appears to be formed when a solution of the carbonate of soda is heated with carbonate of ammonia, and probably also when a solution of the bicarbonate is heated. Its taste is less alkaline than that of the carbonate, into which it is converted when strongly heated by losing one-third of its carbonic acid.'
That it was one of the products of soda cannot reasonably be doubted. Biborate of soda (with which I have been experimenting lately) has certainly wonderfully preservative powers, especially in conjunction with common salt, or saltpetre; but then it has not the caustic properties of natron. May not natron have been a fixed alkali, or has the native carbonate of soda more caustic and antiseptic properties than the usual carbonate of soda of commerce, which plainly cannot be intended?
We have here a most interesting subject to solve as to the component parts of the ancient natron; my suspicion is that natron, as used by the Egyptians, was a mixture of biborate of soda, caustic soda, and muriate of soda. [Footnote: The following report appeared in the California Alta, 24th June. 1874:
"AN INTERESTING DISCOVERY.—Several weeks ago we mentioned the departure of Mr. Arthur Robottom, Birmingham, England, on a search for borax in the southern part of California. He has now returned, bringing news of an interesting and valuable discovery. Beyond the Sierra Nevada, in the Enclosed Basin of North America, about 140 miles in a north-eastward direction from Bakersfield, there is the bed of a dry lake filled over an area of fifteen miles long by six wide with saline crystals to a depth of about six or eight feet. The appearance of the surrounding country clearly indicates that water once stood sixty feet deep here over a large area, the ancient beach being distinctly traceable. The most remarkable fact about this-saline deposit is that in its middle there is a tract, five miles long and two wide, of common salt, while on the outside there is a deposit of borate of soda, three feet thick, and under this a lower stratum composed of sulphate of soda and tincal mixed together, from one to three feet thick. These minerals are all in crystals, the sulphate of soda and tincal forming a solid mass, almost like stone in its hardness. The borate of soda is of a dirty hue, but the salt, which lies above the level of the entire deposit, in some places to a depth of seven feet, is white as snow. The report of natural deposits thus situated will appear very improbable to scientific men, for there is nothing to account for the separation of the salt from the borates, or for the accumulation of salt above the level of other crystalline deposits. We have Mr. Robottom for authority, and the country is open for those who wish to examine for themselves. The place can easily be found. It is known as the Borax Fields in the Slate Range, and will be examined carefully by many competent men, since the tincal—a crude borate of soda—is a valuable mineral, and can be separated, at little expense, from the sulphate of soda."]
The next chemical agent we have to notice (which should, however, have appeared prior to natron), is palm wine, used in the first process of cleansing the intestines; this would doubtless act as an astringent, and would, of course, tend to coagulate the liquid albumen contained in the body (in a similar manner to our ordinary spirits of wine), which, if followed by a caustic alkali (such as natron may have been), to dissolve the solid albumen, fibrin and gelatine, ought certainly to have exercised a decidedly tanning influence.
Following this is oil of cedar. The present oil of cedar (ol cedrat of commerce) cannot be intended, as that is made from the citron, and being merely an essential oil can have little of the antiseptic or corrosive qualities imputed to the ancient oil of cedars. May it not have been a product distilled from the actual cedar tree (one of the coniferae) similar to our oil or spirit of turpentine? I have, however, been unable to discover any writings in certain support of this theory; "Encyclopaedia Britannica" merely mentions it as "a certain oily liquor extracted from the cedar;" while Boitard boldly says, "... Sans doute l'essence de terebenthine." [Footnote: The Detroit Review of Medicine and Pharmacy for July, 1876. gives a report of a case of poisoning through an overdose of oil of red cedar (oleum juniper virginianae) which supports my theory as to there being extracted an oil from the Lebanon (or other) cedars partaking of the nature of turpentine and totally distinct from ol cedrat.]
Whatever may have been the composition of—and manner of applying—the foregoing agents, it is certain that they had the effect intended, for Diodorus writes fully within bounds when mentioning the life-like appearance of the features in mummies, as we know by later discoveries, for there are some well-known specimens still in existence of which the eyelids, lashes, eyebrows, and hair are still in their natural state, and this after an interval of thousands of years. In some mummies, for instance, the contour of the features is plainly discernible, and surely this is scientific "preparation of specimens" not to be excelled in the present day.
The Egyptian mode of embalming was imitated occasionally by the Jews, Greeks, Romans, and other nations, and has sometimes been adopted in modern times, but never to the same extent or perfection as they attained. The only other method which is known to have been adopted as a national custom was that practised by the Guanches, the ancient inhabitants of the Canary Isles. Their mummies are particularly described by M. Bortj de St. Vincent, in his 'Essai sur les Isles Fortunees.' Numerous and vast catacombs are filled with them in each of the thirteen islands, but the best known is one in Teneriffe, which contained upwards of a thousand bodies. The mummies are sewn up in goat or sheep skins, and five or six are commonly found together, the skin over the head of one being stitched to that over the feet of another; but those of the great are contained in cases hollowed out of a piece of savin wood. The bodies are not bandaged, and are dry, light tan-coloured, and slightly aromatic. Several of them are completely preserved with distinct, though distorted, features.
The method of embalming adopted by the Guanches consisted in removing the viscera in either of the same ways as the Egyptians practised, then filling the cavities with aromatic powders, frequently washing and anointing the surface, and, lastly, drying the body very carefully for fifteen or sixteen days in the sun or by a stove.
[Footnote: My friend, the late Thos. Baker, wrote me, some time before his sad death by shipwreck: "In an old work which I have, 'A General Collection of Voyages,' I find the following relating to the 'Guanches' in vol. i, book ii, chap. i, page 184, 'The Voyage of Juan Rejon to the Canary Islands, AD. 1491': 'When any person died, they preserved the body in this manner: First, they carried it to a cave and stretched it on a fiat stone, where they opened it and took out the bowels; then, twice a day, they washed the porous parts of the body, viz, the arm-pits, behind the ears, the groin, between the fingers, and the neck, with cold water. After washing it sufficiently they anointed those parts with sheep's butter (?), and sprinkled them with a powder made of the dust of decayed pine trees, and a sort of brushwood which the Spaniards call Brefsos, together with the powder of pumice stone. Then they let the body remain till it was perfectly dry, when the relatives of the deceased came and swaddled it in sheep or goat skins dressed. Girding all tight with long leather thongs, they put it in the cave which had been set apart by the deceased for his burying place, without any covering. There were particular persons set apart for this office of embalming, each sex performing it for those of their own. During the process they watched the bodies very carefully to prevent the ravens from devouring them, the relations of the deceased bringing them victuals and waiting on them during the time of their watching.'"]
So complete is the desiccation of these mummies, that a whole body, which Blumenbach possessed, weighed only 7.5 lb, though the dried skeleton of a body of the same size, as usually prepared, weighs at least 9 lb.
In some situations the conditions of the soil and atmosphere, by the rapidity with which they permit the drying of the animal tissues to be effected, are alone sufficient for the preservation of the body in the form of a mummy; this is the case in some parts of Peru, especially at Arica, where considerable numbers of bodies have been found quite dry in pits dug in a saline dry soil. There is an excellent specimen of a mummy of this kind in the Museum of the College of Surgeons, which was brought from Caxamarca by General Paroissien—like most of them, it is in a sitting posture, with the knees almost touching the chin, and the hands by the sides of the face. It is quite dry and hard; the features are distorted, but nearly perfect, and the hair has fallen off. The Peruvian mummies do not appear to have been subjected to any particular preparation, the dry and absorbent earth in which they are placed being sufficient to prevent them from putrefying. M. Humboldt found the bodies of many Spaniards and Peruvians lying on former fields of battle dried and preserved in the open air. In the deserts of Africa the preservation of the body is secured by burying it in the hot sand; and even in Europe soils are sometimes met with in which the bodies undergo a slow process of drying, and then remain almost unalterable even on exposure to the air and moisture. There is a vault at Toulouse in which a vast number of bodies that have been buried were found, after many years, dry and without a trace of the effects of putrefaction; and in the vaults of St. Michael's Church, Dublin, the bodies are similarly preserved. In both cases putrefaction is prevented by the constant absorption of the moisture from the atmosphere, and through its medium from the body by the calcareous soil in which the vaults are dug.—Penny Cyclopaedia, vol. xv, p. 477."
Having now given a brief sketch of the best-known methods of preserving Nature's greatest handiwork—Man—I may mention that the Egyptians also devoted their energies to the preservation of those things more intimately connected with our theme, namely, mammals, birds, etc. A people who knew how to preserve and arrest from decay the carcase of so immense an animal as the hippopotamus (a mummy of which was discovered at Thebes), or the various bulls, cows, dogs, cats, mice, ichneumons, hawks, ibises, fishes, serpents, crocodiles, and other sacred animals (mummies of which have been and are constantly found), must have had some glimmerings of taxidermy; many of the subjects are preserved in so beautiful a manner that mummied ibises, hawks, etc, are occasionally discovered even in a good state of preservation, and Cuvier actually found in the intestines of a mummied ibis (Ibis religiosa, a species still found, though rarely, in Egypt) the partly-digested skin and scales of a snake!
From this period of the world's history I can discover but few links to the chain of Practical Taxidermy.
True it is that the Greeks, Romans, and the tribes which inhabited ancient Britain must have had some knowledge of preserving Skins of animals slaughtered by them in the chase, for we everywhere read of the skins of lions, tigers, wolves, etc, being used for purposes of necessity, as in the case of those barbarians who clothed themselves with skins as a protection from the inclemency of the weather, and also in the case of the luxurious Greeks and Romans, who used skins in the adornment of their persons or homes. In fact, the conversion of skins into leather must be of the highest antiquity, for, in the Leeds mummy described in 1828, there was found on the bandages of the head and face a thong composed of three straps of leather, and many of the Egyptian divinities are represented with a lion or leopard skin as a covering for the throne, etc.; and do we not read in many places in Holy Writ of leather and of tanners?—a notable instance, to wit, in Simon, the tanner—in fact, the ancient history of all nations teems with the records of leather and of furs; but of the actual setting up of animals as specimens I can find no trace.
I doubt, however, if we can carry taxidermy proper farther back than to about 150 years ago, at which date naturalists appear to have had some idea of the proper preservation and mounting of natural history specimens; but Reaumur, more than a century and a quarter ago, published a treatise on the preservation of skins of birds; however, as his plan was simply setting up with wires birds which had previously been steeped in spirits of wine, his method did not find much favour. It appears that, just after that time, the system was tried of skinning birds in their fresh state, and also of cutting the skins longitudinally in two halves, and filling the one half with plaster; then the skin was fixed to a backboard, an eye was inserted, and the beak and legs were imitated by painting: and this was then fixed in a sort of framework of glass. This system is still followed to a certain extent; for, fifteen years ago, when I was in one of the Greek islands, a German came round the town selling birds mounted in the same way, and also mounted feather by feather.
To quote now from the translation of a French work, published by Longman, Rees, and Co, in London, in 1820, we find that "A work appeared at Lyons in 1758, entitled 'Instructions on the Manner of Collecting and Preparing the Different Curiosities of Natural History.'" [Footnote: The sixth edition, twenty-three years later, has this title, "Taxidermy, or the Art of Preparing and Mounting Objects of Natural History for the use of Museums and Travellers, by Mrs. R. Lee, formerly Mrs. J. Edward Bowdich. Sixth edition, 1843. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longman."]
The author was the first who submitted some useful principles for taxidermy. He ornamented his book with many plates, more than half of which are in all respects foreign to his subject, as they simply represent shells, and other marine productions, with their descriptions.
In 1786, the Abbe Manesse published a volume under the title of "Treatise on the Manner of Stuffing and Preserving Animals and Skins." He presented his work to the Academy, who made a favourable report of it.
Mauduyt has given a memoir on the manner of preparing dead birds for forming collections. (See la 5eme "Livraison de l'Encyclopedie, Methodique, Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux," t. i, deuxieme partie, p. 435.) By studying his method we may, with perseverance, be able to mount birds well, although he had never prepared them himself, for he has composed his memoir from the notes which Lerot furnished him, who mounted them very well, and who merited the confidence which Mauduyt had accorded him in all the preparations which his fine collection required.
An old sculptor, living at Lahaye, devoted himself to the practice of taxidermy, and in a short time surpassed all those who had employed themselves in mounting animals, especially large mammalia.
It seems that neither the English nor the Dutch have published any work which treats of the method of mounting animals according to system.
In 1801 we were not more advanced than they were. What we possessed of this kind appeared insufficient to amateurs. Notwithstanding, many derived advantage from the memoir of Mauduyt, but being inserted in the "Encyclopedie Methodique," it was not always easy to procure it. There was, besides, only the work of Abbe Manesse, and the tediousness of the means which he pointed out frightened all those who desired to learn taxidermy. The professors of natural history to the central schools of the departments felt more than ever the want of a work which furnished the method of preserving and augmenting their zoological collections. In 1802 their wishes were nearly accomplished, for there appeared almost at the same time two works on taxidermy, the one by M. Nicholas, a chemist, the other by M. Henon. M. Nicholas makes an analysis of all that had been said before on the preparation of animals. This view comprehends nearly half the volume.
Becoeur, of Metz, was the best apothecary in that city. He mounted fresh birds in the greatest perfection, and by a little practice one is sure to succeed with his method. He opened his birds in the usual manner, that is to say, by the middle of the belly. He easily took out the body by this opening without cutting any of the extremities; he then removed the flesh by the aid of a scalpel, taking the precaution to preserve all the ligaments; he anointed the skin, and put the skeleton in its place, carefully dispersing the feathers on each side. He ran the head through with an iron wire, in which he had formed a little ring at nearly the third of its length; the smallest side passed into the rump in such a manner that 'the ring of the iron wire was under the sternum. He then passed a wire into each claw, so that the extremities of the wire united to pass into the little ring; he bent these extremities within, and fixed them with a string to the iron in the middle of the vertebral column. He replaced the flesh by flax, or chopped cotton, sewed up the bird, placed it on a foot or support of wood, and gave it a suitable attitude, of which he was always sure—for a bird thus mounted could only bend in its natural posture (?). He prepared quadrupeds in the same manner.
It remains for us to speak of a little work published by Henon and Mouton Fontenelle. They had at first no other object than to read their manuscript to the Athenaeum at Lyons, of which they were members. They were earnestly solicited to print it, and published it in 1802. The authors speak of birds only. They describe an infinity of methods practised by others, and compare them to their own, which, without doubt, are preferable, but too slow to satisfy the impatience of ornithologists.
The book from which I have just quoted seems to have been the only reliable text book known at that period, and with the exception of certain modern improvements in modelling and mounting, contains a mass of—for that day—valuable elementary information. In fact, the French and German taxidermists were then far in advance of us, a stigma which we did not succeed in wiping off until after the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Although, as I have just said, the French and Germans excelled us in the setting up of specimens, yet their collections did not, in all cases, exceed ours in point of interest or magnitude, for the old taxidermists had been at work prior to 1725, at which date it is recorded that the museum of Sir Hans Sloane (the nucleus of our British Museum collection) contained the following number of specimens: Mammals, 1194; birds, 753; reptiles, 345; fishes, 1007. A gradual increase appeared by 1753, when the figures stood: Mammals, 1886; birds, 1172; reptiles, 521; fishes, 1555. A great proportion of these were, however, not stuffed specimens, but simply bones and preparations of fleshy parts in spirits. Nothing shows the gradual rise and progress of taxidermy better than the history of the British Museum, which, under the then name of Montagu House, was opened to the public by special ticket on Jan. 15, 1759.
Soon after its opening the natural history collections appear to have claimed more interest from the public, for in 1765 we had a very good collection of butterflies, and in 1769 the trustees acquired, by purchase, a considerable collection of stuffed birds from Holland. The restrictions on visitors were, however, vexatious, people of all classes being hurried through the rooms at a tremendous speed—vide Hutton, the Birmingham historian, who visited it in 1784, and relates how he would fain have spent hours looking at things for which only minutes were allowed. From this period up to 1816 (at which date the valuable ornithological collection of Col. Montagu was purchased for the nation at a cost of L11,000) the additions to the natural history galleries were not many, probably owing to the troublous times; however, when we had succeeded in breaking the power of Napoleon and restored peace to Europe, naturalists and taxidermists found that the public had then time and inclination to devote themselves to their collections or works.
Accordingly, during the next twenty years many works (including those before noted) were written on taxidermy, the most notable being by Swainson, Brown, and that eccentric genius Waterton, whom we may call the pioneer of our present system of mounting, and who, in his usual caustic style, pointed out the very inferior way in which specimens were then mounted.
At the end of his "Wanderings in South America" appeared a treatise on Taxidermy, but, as he decried the use of arsenical preparations, and mounted his birds without wires in a fashion peculiar to himself, his system did not find favour in the eyes of the school of rigid stuffing, who had not then worked out the present happy compromise between his style and theirs. His patience must have been inexhaustible; indeed, the Rev. J. G. Wood, who knew him well, has told me of many instances in which he spent days in scraping out the hands and feet of the larger apes until he got them as thin as paper, and also of his delight when he invented the kid-glove substitute for a peacock's face much to the astonishment of the reverend gentleman. Of course; all these works on the preservation of natural history objects and the labours of collectors directed the public mind to the contemplation of natural history.
The British Museum at this time also—relieved of a few of the restrictions on admission—became more popular, and in 1836 we find the natural history collections were as follow: Mammals, species 405; birds, species 2400; constituting altogether in specimens the sum total of 4659. Of reptiles we could boast—species 600, specimens 1300; fish 1000 specimens. These figures did not contrast favourably with the Paris Museum as in the days of old for now Paris stood: Mammals, species 500; birds, species 2300; grand total of specimens 6000. Of fish the French had four times as many as we (and beat us, proportionately, in other sections), while we were far in advance in this class of the Vienna and Berlin Museums. In shells (not fossils), London and Paris were equal and much superior to Berlin and Leyden. In 1848 an extraordinary increase (marking the great interest taken in taxidermical science) had taken place; we now had added to the British Museum since 1836, 29,595 specimens, comprising 5797 mammals, 13,414 birds, 4112 reptiles, 6272 fish.
In mammals and birds we held the proud position of having the finest and most extensive collection in the world, while in reptiles and fish we were again beaten by Paris. In proof of the growing interest taken in natural history, we find that in 1860 the number of visitors to the natural history department was greatly in excess of all the other departments; and at the present time the attendance has greatly increased, as also the objects exhibited, a fact patent to all who will take the trouble to visit the British Museum, or to inspect the official catalogues published from time to time, a synopsis of which cannot at present be given owing to their extent and variety; but we can assume, I think, that we have as complete a natural history collection as is to be found in any of the museums of the world. [Footnote: Some idea of the extent of the National Natural History Collections may be gathered from the pages of the recently-published British Museum "Catalogues" 1874-82, where, in many instances, the number of specimens of a certain order of birds contained in the Museum falls very little short of the ascertained number of species for the whole of the world.]
Though taxidermy flourished, as we see, for some years previous to the Great Exhibition of 1851, yet that decidedly gave a considerable impetus to the more correct and artistic delineation of animals, especially in what may be called the grotesque school instituted by the Germans, which, though it may perhaps be decried on the score of misrepresenting nature in the most natural way possible, yet teaches a special lesson by the increased care necessary to more perfectly render the fine points required in giving animals that serio-comic and half-human expression which was so intensely ridiculous and yet admirable in the studies of the groups illustrating the fable of "Reinecke the Fox," which were in the Wurtemburgh Court, class XXX. and were executed by H. Ploucquet, of Stuttgart. These groups, or similar ones, are now to be seen in the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.
In nearly all of these groups the modelling and the varied expressions of hope, fear, love, and rage, were an immense step in advance of the old wooden school of taxidermy; specimens of which are still to be found in museums—stiff, gaunt, erect, and angular. Copies of those early outrages on nature may still be seen in the dreary plates of the anything but "animated" work of "poor Goldie," who, as Boswell said, "loved to shine" in what was least understood.
16 PRACTICAL TAXIDERMY.
From this era the English artists, having had their eyes opened by the teachings of the foreign exhibits of 1851, steadily gained ground, and the Wards having the sense to employ, in the first instance, foreign artistic workmen, rapidly pushed to the front, until the finest animal study of ancient or modern times was achieved by one of them—the "Lion and Tiger Struggle," exhibited at Paris, and afterwards at the Sydenham Crystal Palace. This, and one or two analogous works, carried the English to the foremost ranks of zoological artists; and now that we embellish our taxidermic studies with natural grasses, ferns, etc. and with representations of scenery and rockwork, in the endeavour to carry the eye and mind to the actual localities in which the various species of animals are found—an advance in art not dreamed of fifty years ago—and also correctly model the heads and limbs of animals, we still hold our own, and are as far advanced in taxidermy as any other nation.
DECOYING AND TRAPPING ANIMALS.
THE decoying and trapping of birds, etc, is a somewhat delicate subject to handle, lest we degenerate into giving instruction in amateur poaching; but the application of my direction I must leave to the reader's own sense of fitness of time and scene, and object to be snared. And now, before launching into my subject, one word in season. Observe as a golden rule—never to be broken—this: Do not snare, shoot, nor kill any more birds or animals than you absolutely want—in fine, do not kill for killing's sake, or snare in wantonness. Let all you do have reference to some object to be attained, either to procure specimens wanted for a collection, or, in cases of necessity, for food. Bear this in mind, for, without sympathy with creatures fashioned in as complex and beautiful a manner as ourselves, we can never hope to be true naturalists, or to feel a thrill of exquisite pleasure run through us when a new specimen falls to our prowess. How can we admire its beauty when alive, or feel a mournful satisfaction at its death, if we are constantly killing the same species of bird for sport alone?
Another thing: kill a wounded bird as quickly and humanely as possible, which you may always do by pressing its breast just under the wings with your finger and thumb, bearing the whole weight of the palm of the hand on the sternum or breast-bone, and gradually increasing the pressure until life is extinct. This plan suffices for even the larger birds, provided you can find a means of holding them firmly while you employ both hands in the manner previously indicated.
Again: if collecting eggs, be content with half the sitting of a nest, and if you know of a very rare nest of eggs, do not take them all in your acquisitive greed. If you see a rare bird, on common land, you may as well secure him as let "Jack Smith" make him up in a sparrow pie; but if the bird is on preserved land, or in a retired spot where no one is likely to harry it, do think a minute before pulling trigger, and ask yourself three questions:
1. Will this bird be likely to stay if unmolested?
2. Is it likely to have a mate?
3. Will it nest here?
If you can answer any of these questions in the affirmative, why, "don't shoot, colonel;" for think of the aid to science, and your own satisfaction, if you can discover anything new in its habits, or verify any doubtful point. Many rare birds would nest here if undisturbed, and come again with additions. The Hoopoe, or golden oriole, for instance, and many other rare birds, would nest, and, indeed, do nest here when allowed.
An interesting account of the appearance of the great bustard in Norfolk, and the pains taken through the kindness of Lord Lilford to provide it with a mate, appeared in the Field of April 8, 1876. But alas! everyone is not so considerate, and we have but a select few of such self-sacrificing people.
I presume no notice is required how to set the first trap on our list —I mean our boyhood's old favourite, the brick trap, or the sieve and string, both very well in their way in hard weather; but a notice may be required as to the uses to which the next simplest trap, or springe (the horsehair noose), may be applied. For the very few people who do not know how to set it, I will, in the manner of Col. Hawker, who did everything at the time which he wished to explain in writing, proceed to make one.
Fig. 1—Loop in wire.
Here, then, I have a black horsehair about two feet long; I double it, holding it between the right-hand finger and thumb, leaving a little loose loop of about half an inch long; from this point I proceed by an overhand motion of the thumb to twist it up; on reaching the bottom I make a small knot to prevent its unrolling; then, pushing the knotted end through the eye of the loop, I thus form a loose noose. I then attach a piece of wire to the free end by a twisted loop (see Fig. 1).
With about half a dozen of these springes coiled in an oval tin box I am ready to snare any small bird whose haunt I may discover. Birds which are nesting can easily be caught by placing one noose in the nest and others round the edge or mouth, making fast the end wires to any contiguous branch or twigs. Moorhens or water-rails, which swim or run through the constantly frequented tracks which they have made in dense undergrowth or rushes in bogs, may be captured by attaching these nooses to a string stretched across—indeed, a writer in the Field, of July 8, 1876, says, speaking of Turkestan:
"Ducks are caught by rather a clever arrangement with horsehair nooses attached to a string, which is stretched over the ditches and canals used for irrigation, and so close to the water that the ducks are compelled when swimming under the string to stretch out their necks, when they are easily caught in the hanging nooses."
Also a useful plan for catching plovers or snipes, which haunt the edges of streams having a narrow margin between the bank and the water, is described by him as used for catching quails:
"One method is simplicity itself: a hair noose is fastened to a lump of clay well worked together; a number of these appliances are scattered about the lucerne fields, which the quails are fond of frequenting; the bird caught in the noose is prevented from flying away owing to the weight of the lump of clay and its getting easily entangled in the grass."
Wheatears and ortolans are caught by suspending a hair noose between two turves placed on end and touching each other in the form of the roof of a house; to this shelter the birds constantly run on the approach of danger, or even, apparently, through timidity, on the gathering of storm clouds.
With this springe, also, thrushes and similar birds are described as being snared by Mr. Gould (in his "Birds of Great Britain"), who, giving Mr. Box as his authority, says:
The thrush is a great source of amusement to the middle, and of profit to the lower, classes during its autumnal migration. Many families of Liege, Luxemburg, Luneburg, Namur, parts of Hainault, and Brabant choose this season for their period of relaxation from business, and devote themselves to the taking of this bird with horsehair springes. The shopkeeper of Liege and Verviers, whose house in the town is the model of comfort and cleanliness, resorts with his wife and children to one or two rooms in a miserable country village to enjoy the sport he has been preparing with their help during the long evenings of the preceding winter, in the course of which he has made as many as from 5000 to 10,000 horsehair springes and prepared as many pieces of flexible wood, rather thicker than a swan-quill, in and on which to hang the birds. He hires what he calls his 'tenderie,' being from four to five acres of underwood about three to five years old, pays some thirty shillings for permission to place his springes, and his greatest ambition is to retain for several years the same tenderie and the same lodgings, which he improves in comfort from year to year.
The springes being made and the season of migration near, he goes for a day to his intended place of sojourn, and cuts as many twigs, about 18 in. in length, as he intends hanging springes. There are two methods of hanging them—in one the twig is bent into the form of the figure six, the tail end running through a slit out in the upper part of the twig. The other method is to sharpen a twig at both ends, and insert the points into a grower or stem of underwood, thus forming a bow, of which the stem forms the string below the springe; and hanging from the lower part of the bow is placed a small branch, with three or four berries of the mountain ash (there called "sorbier "); this is fixed to the bow by inserting the stalk into a slit in the wood. The hirer of a new tenderie three or four acres in extent is obliged to make zigzag footpaths through it, to out away the boughs which obstruct them, and even to hoe and keep them clean. Having thus prepared himself, he purchases one or two bushels of mountain ash berries, with the stalks to which they grow, picked for the purpose after they are red, but before they are ripe, to prevent falling off: these he lays out on a table in the loft or attic. The collection of these berries is a regular trade, and the demand for them is so great that, although planted expressly by the side of the roads in the Ardennes, they have been sold as high as 2 pounds the bushel; but the general price is 5 francs.
We will now suppose our thrush-catcher arrived at his lodgings in the country—that he has had his footpath cleared by the aid of a labourer, and that he is off for his first day's sport. He is provided with a basket, one compartment of which holds his twigs bent or straight, another his berries; his springes being already attached to the twigs, he very rapidly drives his knife into a lateral branch, and fixes them, taking care that the springe hangs neatly in the middle of the bow, and that the lower part of the springe is about three fingers' breadth from the bottom. By this arrangement the bird alighting on the lower side of the bow, and bending his neck to reach the berries below, places his head in the noose. Finding himself obstructed in his movements, he attempts to fly away; but the treacherous noose tightens round his throat, and he is found by the sportsman hanging by the neck, a victim of misplaced confidence.
The workman, who at this season earns a second harvest by this pursuit, carries on his industry in wilder districts, or he frequently obtains permission from his employer to set springes in his master's woods. In this case he supplies the family with birds, which are highly appreciated as a delicacy, especially when almost covered with butter, with a few juniper berries, and some bacon cut into small dice and baked in a pan. The rest of his take he sells at from 5d. to 10d. per dozen.
No person who has not lived in the country can imagine the excitement among all classes when the "grives" arrive. If the morning be foggy, it is a good day for "grives"; if bright, bad "tenderie"! The reason is obvious. When the birds arrive in a fog they settle at once in the woods; if bright, they fly about, seeking the most propitious place for food.
It appears that redwings and fieldfares are caught by this method also, as well as a few ring-ousels and blackbirds.
"Stonehenge" says that the springe just described was used for snaring woodcocks, in the following mariner:
"It used to be the constant practice on all the hill downs in these parts to place out underwood or furze, about a foot in height, to a very great extent along the ground, in the shape of a letter V, at the apex of which an opening would be left, where a hair noose or springe would be set, which seldom failed to yield the pot-hunter a nightly supply, as the cock would run along the side of the brushwood feeding, not taking the trouble to top over it, until he was led into the snare; but this plan is now, owing to the scarcity of cocks, when compared with former years, very seldom practised."
Ptarmigan are said by Daniels, in his "Rural Sports," to be led up to springes in nearly the same manner, stones being substituted for furze.
Another mode of making a springe, which is a capital plan for catching almost any bird, whether it be a percher or a runner, is this: Procure an elastic wand (hazel or osier makes the best) of about 3 ft. 6 in. long, to the top of which tie a piece of twisted horsehair about 3 in. in length; to the free end attach a little piece of wood of 2 in. in length, by the middle, cutting one end to an obtuse point, flattened on the top and underneath. Just underneath this little crosspiece attach two horsehair springes, at right angles; next cut a little fork, or rather angle piece, from a tree, one end of which is to be quite 4 in. long (to drive in the ground), the other end about 0.5 in, measuring from underneath.
To set this trap, push the long wand into the ground until about 3 ft. of it is out; then, at a distance of 2 ft, drive in the fork piece, until only 0.5 in. clears the ground; next bend the wand down in the form of a bow, and bring the pointed end of the crosspiece under the peg, or fork, planted in the ground at the other end. The free end is now a little elevated, while the middle is held very lightly on the point of the catch, and its opposite end rests lightly on the ground. On the "ticklish" setting of this everything depends.
Next place some blades of grass or light moss so as to hide the fork piece at the back and sides, taking care that no small sticks interfere with the proper working of the trap; strew some suitable seed or bait on the grass or moss, and then carefully place one horsehair noose in such a manner as to trap a bird should it merely hop on the crosspiece, and the other noose arrange so as to catch it by the neck should it attempt to seize the bait or to pass. In either case it dislodges the crosspiece, which instantly flies up, suspending the bird by the neck or legs in one or both of the nooses. The appearance of the set trap before the grass or moss is arranged is as represented in Fig. 2, which I have drawn from a trap set for that purpose.
Sometimes this trap (or properly springe) is set with another fork placed at right angles to the other, and sufficiently distant from it to just catch the opposite end of the crosspiece, and though, perhaps, this plan allows it to be set a little finer, it has many disadvantages.
Fig. 2—"SPRINGE," OR SNARE FOR BIRDS.
Yet another modification of the same springe. The wand or spring-stick, crosspiece, and nooses as before, but instead of the simple catch, use a complete bow, with both ends stuck in the ground. At some little distance from this drive in a straight piece of stick; next procure a piece of stick with a complete fork or crutch at one end. To set it, draw down the spring-stick and pull the crosspiece under the bow by the top side farthest from the spring-stick. Now hold it firmly with one hand while you place the forked stick with its crutch pressing against the opposite upright stick, and bring its free end against the lower end of the crosspiece, and adjust both as finely as you can. Finally, arrange the nooses in such a manner that if either of them or the crutched stick is touched the latter falls, and releasing the crosspiece, the spring-stick flies up, and the bird with it.
To see the setting of this at a glance, vide Fig. 3 (showing only one noose, however), which I have "cribbed" from a tail piece of Bewick's, putting it a little out of drawing to show it up.
Fig. 3—"Springe" FOR SNIPE.
The next simple trap to be considered is evidently the pit-fall, used only, however, for large and fierce animals, and varying in construction in different countries. For descriptions of methods of baiting for and catching such animals as lions, leopards, tigers, elephants, etc, consult almost any book on African or Indian field sports.
Of poisons or intoxicants for capturing birds or animals, I do not intend to treat, as they are better left to gamekeepers and poachers.
Dead-falls, such as the "Figure of 4 trap," are easy to make, and useful for killing small animals. The materials required are simply three ordinary pieces of wood, a small piece of string, or, better still, wire, and a large, heavy, flat paving stone, or slate. Having procured three pieces of wood of half an inch square by one foot long, we call one the "upright," which is simply brought to a point at one end, somewhat like a chisel. The second is the "slanting stick," which should be cut to about 8 in. long, having a nick in it about half an inch from one end, about half way through its depth; the other end is brought to a chisel point on its upper surface; the third, which is the "foot" or "bait stick," has a square notch, the thickness of the upright, cut in it, about three inches from one end; the inner end of this notch is relieved a little, so as not to bind on the upright too much. Within half an inch of the other end another notch is cut, but at right angles to the last, that is to say, this last notch is cut on the top, while the other is cut at the side; the outer or top notch also slopes inward. At the inner or side notch end drill a little hole, through which place a piece of pointed wire to receive the bait.
The appearance of the three sticks when set is best explained by Fig 4; A. is the upright, B the slanting stick, and C bait or bottom stick. To set it, take the upright in the left hand, chisel point up, pick up B with the right hand, place it with its notch fitting on the top of A, and keeping the slanting stick pressed down firmly, you hold the two in proper position. This has relieved the left hand entirely, which now is used to pick up c; place the side notch of this on the upright A, slide it up until its end nick is caught by the point of B; a sufficient leverage, as it were, being attained on this, we can hold the whole of the trap now with the right hand. By grasping B with the fingers of the hand in opposition to the palm, while the thumb presses it down on the top, the left hand, being at liberty, is used to drag the stone and to raise one end to fall on the top of B; the weight of the stone now sets the three parts in opposition to each other. An animal touching the bait in the slightest manner is sufficient to destroy the nice balance of the whole affair, and down it comes with a run. The sizes given—from a trap I have just set—are, of course, for small animals only, but it may be enlarged or decreased to any extent, at the pleasure of the operator.
Fig. 4—"FIGURE of 4" TRAP.
As "Stonehenge" and "High Elms" have introduced some improvements, I may as well quote the former:
The Figure of 4 trap is composed of a large square piece of stone or slate propped up in a peculiar manner with three pieces of wood, which are arranged in the shape of a 4.
In examining this figure it will be seen to consist of a perpendicular limb or upright, of a horizontal one or stretcher, and of a short slanting stick, as the third is called. The upright is usually cut about half an inch wide, shaved to a thin edge at top, but "High Elms" recommends it to have a forked foot to keep it from twisting, and a notch in it to prevent the stretcher slipping down. The slanting stick has a notch cut in it half an inch from its upper end to receive the top of the upright, while its lower end is shaved off to fit in a notch in the upper surface of the front of the stretcher. Lastly, the stretcher has this notch in front, and another notch cut in its side by which it is caught by the upright and held in its place.
A bait being tied to the external end of the stretcher, and a stone placed so that it will lie flat on the ground, the whole is ready for setting, which is effected as follows: Raise the stone, and support it by the notched end of the slanting stick held in the left hand, the notch itself looking downwards, then place the upright with one end on the ground and the other in this notch, and let it carry the weight of the stone, which will have a tendency to tilt up the slanting stick still held down by the left hand; finally, hitch the middle notch of the stretcher in the upright, with its front notch facing upwards, then bring the lower end of the slanting stick down to this front notch, drop it in, and the trap is set. Of course, it requires that each part shall be carefully adapted to the others, but when the trap is seen set it will be readily understood, practice being, however, required to set it properly.
I quite agree with "High Elms" that the footed upright is an improvement; but I am inclined to doubt the advantage of the double notch between the upright and the stretcher. I have tried both, and I cannot find that there is any great superiority in his plan; but, perhaps, though I have exactly followed his directions as given in the Field, I may have omitted some point of practical importance. In setting the Figure of 4 trap, the height of the upright and the size and weight of the stone will be proportioned to the animal for which it is set. I do not like the trap myself, as it cannot be concealed so well as the steel trap, and, indeed, has no advantage except in cheapness. Dozens of them may be set in the woods, and if stolen little harm is done, as the cost is barely a penny apiece if made in large numbers. I have also known pheasants caught by the head and killed in them, the flesh with which they are baited being often attractive to tame-bred birds, which usually are fed with more or less of it in their rearing.
Mr. G. S. Purden has informed me that he has succeeded in capturing birds alive with this trap by hollowing out the ground where the stone falls.
Another "deadfall" for taking capercailzie in Norway is described by Mr. Yarnell in his "British Birds":
"Where the trees grow thickly on either side of a footpath, two long pieces of wood are placed across it; one end of these rests on the ground, the other being raised a foot and a half, or somewhat more, from the surface, and supported by a piece communicating with a triangular twig, placed in the centre of the path, and so contrived that on being slightly touched the whole fabric falls; a few stones are usually placed upon the long pieces of wood to increase the rapidity of the drop by the additional weight. Birds running along the footpath attempt to pass beneath the barrier, strike the twig, and are killed by the fall of the trap."
Taking birds by means of bird-lime is my next consideration. Bird-lime is made either from boiled oil or from holly-bark, but the making of it is not "worth the candle," it being so easily bought from any professional bird-catcher.
To those who wish to make their own, I commend the following: Take half a pint of linseed oil and put it into an old pot, or any vessel that will stand the fire without breaking. The vessel should not be more than one-third full. Place it over a slow fire and stir it until it thickens as much as required. This can be ascertained by cooling the stick in water and trying if it will stick to the fingers. When sufficiently boiled, pour into cold water, and it will be found ready for use.
I have submitted the foregoing to a practical birdcatcher and maker of bird-lime, and he has "passed" it as correct, only adding that the oil takes somewhere about four hours to slowly boil before it becomes sufficiently tenacious for use. Holly-bark he does not believe in, as he says it takes too long to make; but that is no reason why we should pass over bird-lime made from this substance. The "Encyclopaedia Britannica" says:
"It is usually prepared by boiling holly-bark ten or twelve hours, and when-the green coat is separated from the other it is covered up for a fortnight in a moist place; then pounded into a rough paste, and washed in a running stream till no motes appear. It is next put up to ferment for four or five days, and repeatedly skimmed. To prepare it for use, a third part of nut oil or thin grease must be incorporated with it over the fire."
Bird-lime can also be made from many other plants, but the best quality is made by either of the two methods mentioned above.
The "Edinburgh Encyclopaedia" says further that:
When bird-lime is about to be applied to use, it should be made hot, and the rods or twigs should be warmed a little before they be dipped in it. Where straws and cords are to be limed it should be very hot, and after they are prepared they should be kept in a leather bag till used. In order to prevent bird-lime from being congealed by cold, it should be mixed with a little oil of petroleum; and, indeed, before the common kind can be used at all, it must be melted over the fire with a third part of nut oil or any thin grease, if that has not been added in the preparation.
The smaller kinds of birds are frequently taken with bird-lime, which is one of the most eligible modes in frost or snow, when all sorts of small birds assemble in flocks, and which may be used in various ways. Put the bird-lime into an earthen dish, with the addition of one ounce of fresh lard to every quarter-pound of bird-lime, and melt the whole gently over the fire. Take a quantity of wheat ears, with a foot of the straw attached to thorn, and, having warmed the lime, that it may spread the thinner, lime about six inches of the straw from the bottom of the ears. Scatter a little chaff and thrashed ears over a compass of twenty yards; stick the limed straws into the ground, with the ears inclining downwards, or even touching the surface; traverse the adjoining places in order to disturb the birds, and make them fly towards the snare, and, by pecking at the ears of corn, they will become so entangled with the limed straw as to be easily taken by the hand.
The lime may also be applied to cords, rods, and twigs, especially when it is intended to entangle the larger birds, such as snipes and fieldfares, and for this purpose the following mode may be adopted: Take the main branch of any bushy tree, with long, straight, and smooth twigs, such as the willow or birch, clear the twigs from every notch and prickle, lime the branches to within four fingers of the bottom, leaving the main bough from which the others rise untouched by the composition, and then place the bush where the birds resort. For small birds two to three hundred single twigs, about the thickness of a rush and three inches in length, may be stuck in sheaves of flag and corn.
In hot and dry weather the twigs may be placed around the rivulets, ditches, and pools to which the birds come for drink, covering the waters at the same time with brushwood, so that they can have no access to quench their thirst, except at the spot where the twigs are fixed. For this purpose the rods or twigs should be about a foot in length, limed to within two inches of the thickest end, which is stuck into the bank in such a manner that they may lie within two fingers' breadth of the ground, and as the birds do not alight at once upon the place where they are to drink, but gradually descend from the higher trees to the lower, thence to the bushes, and lastly to the bank, it is useful to fix a few branches about a fathom from the water in a sloping direction, with a few lime twigs fastened upon them on which the birds will as frequently be caught as on those which are placed nearer to the water. The best time for this sport is from ten to eleven in the forenoon, from two to three in the afternoon, and about an hour before sunset, when the birds come to the watering places in flocks before they retire to roost.
The application of bird-lime is of ancient origin, and is practised in many countries. Pennant gives an account of how to take Small birds by liming twigs around a stuffed or tethered live owl. I have heard of this plan being adopted, but have not tried it myself. From the curious manner in which small birds usually mob an owl, I should fancy it would succeed.
According to Folkard's "Wildfowler:"
"There was also a method much in vogue previously to the invention and discovery of decoys, of taking wild fowl with lime strings made of packthread or string, knotted in various ways and besmeared with birdlime; these were set in rows about fens, moors, and other feeding haunts of the birds, an hour or two before morning or evening twilight. This plan was to procure a number of small stakes, about 2 ft. in length, sharpened to a point at the nether end, and forked at the upper. These were pricked out in rows about a yard or two apart, some being placed in a slanting direction, and each stake siding one with another, within convenient distances of 4 yds. or 5 yds, so as to bear up the strings, which were laid upon the crutches, and placed loosely about 18 in. above the ground. The lime strings were thus drawn from stake to stake in various directions, and lightly placed between the forks at the top of the stakes, some rows being higher than others; and in this manner the whole space occupied by the stakes was covered with lime strings, as if carefully laid in wave-like coils, or placed in different directions, the ends being secured to the stakes with slip-knots, so that upon a light strain the whole of any string which might be touched by the bird became instantly loose, and, sticking to the feathers, the more it struggled to free itself, so much the more the string twisted about it, and thus the bird was quickly entangled, and became an easy prey. In this manner numbers of wild fowl of the largest species were taken at night at the moment of sweeping over the ground at very slow flight, just before alighting; and it would appear that this method of fowling was particularly successful in taking plovers, which generally alight on the ground thickly congregated together.
A similar method was employed for taking wild fowl with lime strings placed over the surface of rivers and ponds frequented by those birds, and apparently with remarkable success. For this purpose it was necessary to procure a waterproof bird-lime wherewith to dress the strings, which were knotted in a similar manner to those employed for taking birds on land. The strings so prepared were in serpentine coils from stake to stake, the stakes being forked at the top, and of similar form to those last described, but of sufficient length to reach the bottom of the water and obtain a firm fixing in the mud. Some of the stakes were placed on the banks of the water or in any manner so that the lime strings could be drawn across and about the surface in different directions, resting here and there on some or other of the stakes or any boughs or overhanging trees, in such a way that the birds, when in the act of alighting on the water at night, might strike against the lime strings and become therein entangled.
The principal secret of success in this and the preceding device was that of placing the lime strings in shaded places over the most assured haunts of the birds; and it was only obtainable on dark nights, or in good shade, for whenever there was sufficient light for the birds to see the least sign of the snare spread for them the fowler had no chance of making any captives. (And be sure to take this caution not to use these strings in moonshine nights, for the shadow of the line will create a jealousy in the fowl, and so frustrate your sport.) And as wildfowl in their descent, just before alighting on the water, diverge from their accustomed angular figure, and spread themselves more in a broad front line, a whole flight sometimes comes swooping into the fowler's snare all at once."
A method of trapping, with the assistance of bird-lime, might, I think, be tried with some chance of success. It is to insert a piece of fish in a cone of paper well smeared with bird-lime, and to throw down a few of these prepared cones in places accessible to gulls, herons, and such birds, who, in attempting to seize the fish, would be effectually hoodwinked, and thus easily secured.
Hawking, by which birds are captured by trained falcons, is of the highest antiquity. Pennant mentions that the Saxon King Ethelbert (who died in 760) sent to Germany for a cast of falcons to fly at cranes (herons?). As this sport has now fallen into disuse, I must refer my readers for particulars to Blaine, Daniel, Freeman, Harting, Captain Dugmore, and to occasional articles by one or two modern falconers in the columns of the Field.
The infinite variety of nets used in the capture of various birds requires almost a chapter by itself; but it will suffice for the present one if we mention those most generally used, or the most striking varieties. First, then, comes the ordinary "clap-net" of the London and provincial bird-catchers. The "Edinburgh Encyclopaedia" says, with regard to clap-nets:
"Birds are also taken with nets during the day, and especially in those seasons of the year when they change their situation; in the month of October, for instance, when the wild birds begin to fly, and in March, when the smaller kinds assemble for pairing. They are chiefly on the wing from daybreak to noon, and always fly against the wind. The birdcatchers, therefore, lay their nets towards that point to which the wind blows. The nets employed in this way are generally 12.5 yds. long and 2.5 yds. wide, and are spread on the ground parallel to each other, in such a manner as to meet when turned over. They are provided with lines, fastened in such a way that, by a sudden pull, the birdcatcher is able to draw them over the birds that may have alighted in the space between those parallel sides. In order to entice the wild birds to alight amongst the nets, call birds are employed, of which there must be one or two of each of the different kinds which are expected to be caught, such as linnets, goldfinches, greenfinches, etc. Besides the call birds there are others denominated flur birds, which are placed upon a moveable perch within the net, called a flur, and which can be raised or depressed at pleasure, and these are secured to the flur by means of a brace or bandage of slender silk strongly fastened round the body of the bird. The call birds are deposited in cages at a little distance from the nets, and as soon as they see or hear the approach of the wild birds, which they perceive long before it can be observed by the birdcatcher, they announce the intelligence from cage to cage with the greatest appearance of joy, and they proceed to invite them to alight by a succession of notes or short jerks, as they are termed by the birdcatcher, which may often be heard at a considerable distance. The moment that the call is heard by the wild birds they stop their flight and descend towards the net, and so great is the ascendancy and fascination of the call birds that they can induce the others to return repeatedly to the nets till every bird in the flock be caught."
Being somewhat afraid that this description would not meet all the practical requirements of the case, and knowing myself but little or nothing of this mode of birdcatching, I thought it advisable to interview a practical man. Having at last succeeded in capturing a specimen of the genus homo, species birdcatcher, I prevailed upon him (through the medium of a tip) to impart his stock of birdcatching lore, and to cut me patterns of play-sticks and pegs, and also to correct my rough sketches when necessary.
The sum and substance of my interview is as follows: The nets, which are of two pieces, are each about twelve yards long by two-and-a-half yards wide, and are made with a three-quarter mesh of what is technically called two-thread. The staves at each end, to which the nets are permanently attached, are made of red deal, ferruled and jointed at the middle, in the manner of a fishing rod, for the convenience of carriage. The length of each when put together is about five feet six inches, being thus shorter than the width of the net. This, it will be readily observed, allows for the bagging of the net—an important particular, as, if the nets were strained tight with no allowance made for bagging, the birds would flutter along the ground until they got out at one end or the other. As it is, they roll themselves up in the meshes, and effectually entangle themselves while attempting to escape.
A strong line, called the top line, made of clock line, passes the whole length of each net, and is protracted some feet past the staves at either end. A similar line runs along the bottom made of three-thread or whip thread. This is called the bottom line. There are then two unattached cords of some strength, called the pull line and the forked line, which latter is attached, when required for use, to the two staves nearest the birdcatcher, at the intersection of the top line.
Eight pegs are used, made of hard wood, generally ash, four of which are called the "chief pegs." The whole of the pegs are notched, for the convenience of attaching a line.
The method of laying the clap-net is best described with the aid of a drawing (vide Fig. 5).
The first thing to be done is to lay down the right-hand net, and to drive in the two chief pegs where shown, namely, at the bottom of the staves, to which they are attached by a loop of strong cord, acting as a hinge. The two end pegs are then driven in the ground at some little distance from and in an exact line to the chief pegs. The bottom line is then made fast at each end, as also the continuation of the top line. The two pegs, lines, and staff thus forma triangle at each end. The other net is then laid in such a manner that when both are pulled over, one net shall overlap the other to the extent of six inches. It is then turned back and pegged down in the same way as the right-hand net. The next operation is to tie the forked line to each top end of the staves, a nick being cut in each for this purpose.
Exactly in the centre of the forked line the pull line is knotted, at the other end of which the birdcatcher stands at varying distances, according to the bird he wishes to catch; for instance, for linnets or goldfinches, thirty to forty yards; for starlings a greater distance is required; or to capture these wary birds a better plan is to place the nets in one field while you retire into another, bringing the pull line through an intervening hedge.
Cages containing birds are dispersed about on the outer edges of the nets, the best, or call birds, being placed farther away; in fact, my informant thinks that if all the cages were placed a moderate distance away from the nets it would be better, as he has found that the usual red or green cages have been the means of "bashing "—i.e. frightening—the wild birds away from the nets.
Fig. 5—PLAN AND METHOD OF SETTING CLAP-NET.
"When doctors differ, who shall decide?"
On mentioning the above to another birdcatcher he gave a huge snort of dissatisfaction, and roundly swore that my man knew "nought about it," for he always set his cages as near the nets as possible; "for don't it stand to reason," quoth he, "that if you set your cages fur away, your 'call birds' will 'tice the wild 'uns down round 'em? an' they won't come near your nets."
An important actor in the performance is the "play-bird," which is a bird braced by a peculiar knot or "brace," as shown in Fig. 6, on an arrangement called the play-stick.
The "play-stick" is resolvable into three parts, Fig. 7 being the ground peg, formed of a piece of hard wood about six inches long, having a round hole bored through close to the top, through which the "play-line" passes. Immediately underneath is a square slot for the reception of a piece of brass tube beaten flat at one end (Fig. 8), while the other end is left open for the reception of the "play-stick" (C, Fig. 9), simply a rough twig or piece of hard wood, upon which the bird is tied by the "brace" (Fig. 6)—which is constructed, as shown in drawing, by doubling a piece of string, tying a knot in the centre and then joining the ends. The head and body of the bird is thrust through, so that a loop catches it on each side and in front of the wings, the legs and tail being thrust through the other, one loop coming on each side of the body behind the wings. A swivel is attached at one of the knots, and, by another piece of string, is made fast to the play-stick near its end. The bird is thus perfectly free so far as the wings and legs are concerned.
Fig. 6, 7 & 8—"Play-stick" parts
The "play-stick," as a whole, is represented in Fig. 9, which shows the bird in repose, with the end of the stick (C) resting on the ground, the play-line passing through a hole in the ground peg (A), while the part marked B works in the slot in the same.
A little food and water are put down by the play-bird's side, to which it addresses itself in its intervals of rest. Directly birds appear, the play-line is smartly pulled, which has the effect of jerking the play-bird upwards, while at the same time it flutters its wings to regain its perch. This motion is mistaken by the wild birds as a natural proceeding; they accordingly alight around the play-bird, to assist it in feeding. The pull-line of the net is then smartly jerked, which causes the forked-line to fly inwards, and, acting on the hinged pegs and top and bottom lines as by a lever, the staves rise from the outside, become perpendicular, and finally fall over, inclosing all within the open space in the nets.
Fig. 9—"FLUR" OR "PLAY-STICK."
The "Play-bird" is always placed on the left hand of the birdcatcher, about two yards into the net. Sometimes more than one play-stick and bird are used; all are, however, played by the same string. The best birds are, however, contrary to my expectations, not used, as the constant pulling up and down, to say nothing of the worry of the falling nets, very soon kills the poor little "play-bird." From Michaelmas to Christmas would appear to be the best times for catching.
Many rare birds not calculated on by the operator, are procured in this way. I allude to hawks, which constantly dash at the call, or play-birds, of the netsman. I remember seeing, taken in a lark net on the racecourse of Corfu—one of the Ionian Isles—a most beautiful male specimen of the hen harrier (Circus cyaneus, Macg.); and here in England I have received, within the last few years, one great grey shrike (Lanus excubitor, 1.), four or five hobby hawks (Falco subbuteo, 1.), a dozen or more merlins (Falco oesalon, Tunstall), and a great number of sparrowhawks, and kestrels, all captured by this method.
Draw-nets are those used by fen-men and others at night for taking lark, snipe, plover, etc, by dragging a long net of a certain construction over the fields and swamps. The actual originator of this method of capture as applied to snipe and such birds, appears to have been Mr. Daniel himself (vide "Rural Sports," vol. 3, p. 179).
Glade nets, which are nets stretched in narrow glades or ridings in woods from tree to tree, are used chiefly for taking night-flying birds, such as woodcocks, or wild ducks. Folkard thus describes their use:
"The proceedings connected with the use of glade nets appear to be very simple. These nets are of lengths and breadths proportioned to the places in which they are suspended. They are simply pieces of fine thread netting, edged with cords adapted to the extent of the lint. The glade net so formed is suspended between two trees, directly in the track of the woodcock's flight. Both the upper and lower corners have each a rope attached to them which, as regards the upper part of the net, is rove through sheaves, iron rings, or thimbles fastened to the trees on either side at the top of the glade at a moderate height, varying from ten to twelve or fifteen feet. The falls of the two upper ropes are joined or so adjusted that they form a bridge, to the central part of which a rope is attached of several yards in length, which the fowler holds in his hand in a place of concealment, and thus commands full power over the net, being able to drop it down suddenly and intercept the flight of any birds which may attempt to escape through the glade; or he can draw it up as suddenly from the ground to a perpendicular position. A stone, of about 5 lb. weight, is attached to each of the lower cords of the net, so that when the fowler lets go his controlling rope the weight of the stones forces the lower part of the net down in an instant with a strong fall, and, at the same time, they draw up the upper part of the net. The fowler having stationed himself in such a position as to command a full view of the glade in which his net is placed, beaters are employed to flush the cocks from their retreats; immediately on one or more flying in the direction of the fowler a signal is given, and just as the bird approaches the net it is suddenly let down or drawn up, when the woodcock, flying forcibly against it, is immediately ensnared. The instant the birds have struck the net the fowler lets go another rope, which is generally looped to a stake within reach of his arm, and the whole net, with the birds entangled, then drops to the ground. In forcing themselves forward in their endeavour to escape they form the net into a sort of bag, which makes their capture more certain."