Tips for feather fills

Fran Ritchie and Julia Sybalsky

Abstract

Preserved bird skins are notoriously thin and delicious to pests, making taxidermy bird mounts particularly vulnerable to feather loss. With few established techniques for replacing lost feathers, there is ample room for creative problem solving by conservators working in this area. Treatments of two pieces of bird taxidermy will be discussed: one, an historic emperor penguin that had suffered a probable pencil stab to the chest; the other, a bald eagle that lost its iconic white head feathers after a botched “restoration.” The case studies will illustrate two fill techniques – one involving the use of real, purchased feathers, and the other the fabrication of “conservation feathers.” Although there were pros and cons to both techniques, one resulted in a more successful treatment for both birds. The tips provided in making these feather fills are useful for those charged with caring for natural science collections as well as ethnographic and historic collections that include feather clothing, ceremonial blankets, and other bird-related objects.