ossamenta: Picture of an owl from a Medieval manuscript (Medieval owl)
I'm not quite sure if I had any particular plans for this Friday evening, but when my colleague came in with a robin that he had found dead outside (probably the first casualty of the windows of the new enviromental processing shed), I knew any plans would be cancelled. Skeletal preparation is not my favourite activity, but beggars can't be choosers, particularly if they aren't rich enough to buy their specimens, nor in possession of a garden to bury carcasses in.

This was the smallest animal I've prepped, and I can't say I'd love to do it again. Well, plucking the feathers was very quickly done, but as for the rest: fragile, tiny bones that I really didn't want to damage when I was removing flesh and guts. It's halfway done now: most of the meat on the limbs are gone, tendons remaining. The spine and the head are a pain in the neck to get clean (small and fragile) and the kidneys are fiddly to remove from the synsacrum. Hopefully an overnight soak will make it easier. I really don't want to spend too much of the weekend cleaning teeny tiny bones.
ossamenta: Picture of an owl from a Medieval manuscript (Medieval owl)
A weekend in the middle of game bird season with no plans, and forecasted day-long rain? Time to add to the reference collection! Last weekend, when I passed the butcher, lots of pheasants hung in the window, so I thought a pheasant would be a good idea. If nothing else, it’s good to have a chicken-sized alternative in your brain, particularly since the introduction and spread of pheasant in Britain is still uncertain due to small dataset. However, when I came to the butcher’s, it turned out someone had come in when they opened and bought the whole lot… But they had partridge, which would be a decent substitute. Always good to be able to differentiate small chickens from partridge, quail and other small wild galliformes.

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Left to right: bag for waste, bag for meat, pot for the bones, partridge, scalpel, gloves.


Luckily, before I had plucked the whole bird, I recalled that there are two partridge species in Britain. Off to the internet to check what they look like! Unfortunately it turned out I had got a red-legged partridge (Alectorious rufa) which is a post-medieval introduction from France and not the native grey partridge (Perdix perdix). But even if it’s of little use for most of my analyses, at least it will be good to have for post-medieval assemblages.

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I believe I looked a bit like this when I realised I had got the "wrong" bird species.


After removing the meat and the innards (into two separate bags), I separated the carcass into smaller bits and put them in the pot. The pot goes on the lowest setting on the cooker until the remains of the meat and tendons have come off the bones (with some help from fingers or a scapel when necessary). A bay leaf or two may not work wonders, but certainly can’t hurt.

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The drawback of butchering game bird carcasses and steeping their bones is the pervasive smell which sticks to your nose and your fingers (I find fingers to be the best tool for doing the final defleshing of the bones). I recommend planning in advance an easy to cook vegetarian dinner.

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August 2017

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