One fateful Monday morning, nearly three weeks ago, I pried off the back of a Seagull’s skull with a pair of scissors, a hammer and a hacksaw. Then scooped out it’s brains. Y’know, the usual. Above is the Seagull in question. Alex has named it Chips.
If you fancy some music to accompany this blog post I created a playlist on Spotify just for the occasion. ‘Songs to Scoop Brains To‘ includes all the songs we played whilst doing this.
Before you freak out and leave a bunch of angry comments: This bird was found dead on the side of the road. We did not hurt any animals. Also, we didn’t have much idea of what we are doing, it was pretty much trial and error, so I wouldn’t recommend using this as a tutorial. There are much better resources out there. If you are interested in taxidermy and natural history i’d suggest checking out The Brain Scoop on YouTube. I don’t think I would have been anywhere near as up for this if I hadn’t got into their videos. The whole process was recorded and will be posted on Alex’s YouTube sometime in the next few weeks.
There are more pictures below this and here’s your warning; it’s pretty nasty. Only continue if you are okay with skinning/disembodied eyes/inside out bits of bird. But don’t worry, I was too busy to get any pictures of the brain scooping. You have been saved from that bit of ick.
To get the ball rolling Alex cut in a straight line down the chest and started separating the skin from the muscle with a scalpel. Seagulls are a pretty weird shape so it looked a bit awkward to do. That and the fact this was Alex’s first attempt at skinning meant that it took quite a long time to make much progress. The videos will give you a better idea of the actual technique
There was one hell of a lot of ewwing during the first half an hour or so, the fact that neither of us cook or eat meat didn’t help getting used to being so hands-on with muscle and skin.
Once most of the chest was exposed she detached the legs, tail and wings from the main body. They all stay attached to the skin and can be posed whilst drying out. The tutorials she had read said that breaking the bones by hand was the easiest way, so she sawed part of the way then snapped them; the sharp crack of bone filled our kitchen as Alex looked increasingly grossed out by what she was doing.
By this point the carcass looks a lot less like a bird and a lot more like a feathery glove puppet. Whenever it got moved the legs and wings flopped around in directions you do not normally see bird legs go and you could easily bend the whole thing in half.
Once the skin is off it was just like a pinker chicken with no legs and a huge neck. Then this kind of deflated bird skin that looked a little bit like Uncle Boneless from Cow and Chicken. We had initially been worried about bleeding and decomposition since we assumed the seagull died by being struck or flying into something, but the damage was minimal and easy enough to work around.
The only thing left attaching the innards to the skin was the neck: muscles, bone and esophagus. This was unceremoniously hacked at with a scalpel and then the saw to get the bulk off and expose the back of the skull for brain scooping.
You should probably be thankful that my hands were busy for the next part so there aren’t any pictures… Scooping brains is not as easy as you might imagine. Especially when the brains in question have the consistency of lumpy uncooked egg (or ‘pink sneeze’ as Alex put it) and you don’t have the proper tools to deal with it. Luckily birds have small skulls so there wasn’t too much to get rid of. The initial idea was to tweezer out chunks of brain but the soupy consistency got in the way of that, so we resorted to a mixture of scraping with the head of a nail and swabbing with cotton buds. Cotton buds worked surprisingly well.
The next bit of gross after brain scooping was eye removal. Pretty much as bad as it sounds. Seagulls eyes, and i assume a lot of other bird eyes, are huge and sort of bony around the iris. Initially we weren’t sure whether we were supposed to cut around the iris or around the whole, moveable, eye bit, but after stabbing it in the pupil for a while and not making much progress we went the whole hog and gouged the damn thing out.
Unfortunately all the jabbing meant that it leaked eye goop everywhere whilst we tried to get around the back with scalpels and scissors. The second eye went a lot better since Alex managed to keep it intact (she is much better at all this stuff than I am) and pulled it out in one chunk.
At this point we had been at it for hours and all the main bits had been done. The bird was a hollow shell, it’s face turned the right way around again after the eye removal. I wandered off for a break, coming back downstairs later to find Alex sewing the skin around a bundle of straw-like stuff and fixing the eyes inside the skull with clay and pins. Her video footage will cover the details of these parts and will also show Chips in his final, glorious form. It is still drying out at the moment, currently on the top of a bookshelf outside of my bedroom door.
The smell was probably the worst part. It would have been a lot easier to deal with without the overpowering stench of death. It felt like there was dead seagull smell in my brain for hours afterwards. I am a lot more open to being involved in similar projects in the future, but maybe not for a little while longer…