The First Digital Bird Lands

img_0374Collin Moret and I installed our first digital bird model into the Connecticut Bird Hall, a non-breeding Baird’s Sandpiper. The CT Bird Hall is an exhibit of taxidermied bird specimens found on the official CT bird list. We have been installing carved bird models to fill in missing birds so we don’t have to collect and taxidermy new birds that are hard to find and not good for Peabody Public Relations if we shoot birds locally. We scanned a taxidermy mount of a breeding Baird’s sandpiper from the CT Bird Hall to make the print. We are exploring the 3D technology to see if we can produce a more accurate bird model rather than sculpting one from scratch. We are lucky to have very good taxidermy mounts from which to work. Most of the birds in the CT Bird Hall were produced by David Parsons in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Parsons was an extraordinary taxidermist and artist who went to great lengths with his taxidermy to replicate living birds. The 3D methods we are employing are dependent on having a good taxidermy specimen to scan. Currently, we have 24 missing birds to add to the CT Bird Hall. Most of the missing birds are rare or have unusual plumage, but  we also hope to produce some of the extinct birds from Connecticut as well.

The method we have developed starts with scanning the taxidermy bird. (See my earlier blog entry from December 24, 2016 for details and photos of the scanning process.) The scan file is uploaded to the Dremel Printer and printed.


Our first print of the Baird’s Sandpiper

The printer isn’t fine enough to create a model that can be painted as is. The printer lays down layers of filament, row-by-row, which creates visible contours. I tried to sand the contours smooth, but the plastic is difficult to work and tends to melt when using high-speed sanding tools. So, we resorted to dipping the models into hot carving wax to get rid of the contours.img_0292

Care must be taken not to get too much wax on the surface or accuracy will be sacrificed. The Baird’s Sandpiper was printed at 100% and I am quite confident that the wing measurements are accurate and that the feather groupings like scapular feathers and coverts are in their correct place. When sculpting from scratch, getting these details right is a painstaking and time consuming process.

Glass eyes are inserted into the head using epoxy modeling putty. A beak is cast in epoxy from the taxidermy bird or study skin and inserted into the head.


Dental alginate is used as a mold material to cast the beak from the taxidermy mount.

Sometimes I cast the feet from the taxidermy mount with dental alginate, but in the case of the sandpipers, the feet are so small that casting them would have been difficult. My co-worker, Maishe Dickman, is very skilled at silver soldering and he produced eight feet for the small sandpipers in brass.


Maishe’s handiwork. Note, an epoxy cast of the intertarsal joint on one of the legs.

The feet are epoxied into the model and the feathers are carved into the wax to heighten the realism.IMG_0331With this model, I thought the beak was pointing down too far, so I took it over to the band saw and cut off the head. I used epoxy to glue it back together with the beak raised. I filled the in the neck with carving wax and blended it into the rest of the model. This kind of flexibility is important.

Collin then painted it. Collin uses acrylic paint from a company called Vallejo. They are highly pigmented and designed specifically for individuals working with scale models. It’s important that the color is correct and the field marks are accurate. A study skin of the exact bird in the specific plumage is acquired from the Ornithology collection and Collin matches the color. Sibley’s Bird Guide is consulted to make sure the field marks are clearly shown. Each finished bird model is critiqued by the Ornithologist before being included in the Bird Hall.


Note the field guide and the study skin (in the box) as painting reference

This method is giving us very good bird models in about a quarter of the time it would take to produce from scratch, AND I know they will measure out accurately.


Baird’s Sandpiper installed!

We have used the same scan to produce three more smaller sandpiper models. All we had to do is print them at smaller percentages.


Semipalmated, Western, and White-rumped Sandpiper models printed to scale and waxed.

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