Bearded Vulture


Bearded Vulture:
Mike Wood shows how to carve this beautiful bird of prey.

Mike Wood shows how to carve this beautiful bird of prey

The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbartus) – sometimes called a lammergeier – can be found in the skies above Europe, Africa and Asia. They love rocky, mountainous regions and flying over the alpine meadows below. Sadly, this majestic bird has been suffering the effects of a variety of man-made environmental hazards, such as poison appearing in their food chain, habitat degradation and reduced food supplies.
The latter includes tortoises, when they can get them, which the lammergeier drops from great heights onto rocks to crack open the shells. It scavenges for food and while mainly feeding on carrion, it will often leave meat in favour of bones, since it thrives on marrow which makes up nearly 90% of its diet. The bird grows to a length of around 1.25m, with a wingspan of up to 3m. It weighs on average about 5.5 – 6.3kg. Unlike many vultures which have bald heads, the lammergeier has a feathered head and the adults are generally coloured dark grey, rust and white.   

Things you will need
• Rotary carving unit
• Handpiece to hold various cutters and sanding units
• Drum sander and abrasives to fit hand unit
• Coarse and medium grit tapered rotary cutter
• Angle grinder with medium grit disc cutter
• Medium grit ball rotary cutter
• Fine grit small ball rotary cutter
• Fine grit pointed ruby rotary cutter
• Fine grade flame/tapered cutter
• Medium sized fine grade ball-ended cutter
• Airbrush/brushes as appropriate
• Coloured artist’s paints
• Eyes
• Two-part epoxy putty or similar to bond the eyes
• PPE  – face mask/goggles, dust mask and extraction
• Pyrography unit, and shading and incising/scalpel-type tips
• Selections of acrylic colours shown in the palette plus black
• Airbrush and/or brushes to apply the colours
• PVA or similar adhesive
• Cyanoacrylate adhesive
• Jelutong (Dyera costulata)
Body: 360mm long x height 160mm width 15cm
Head 120mm long 60mm high 90mm wide
• Plywood to form a stand

Drawings and how to resize them
To enlarge or reduce the size of drawings right click on the image to download it and then go HERE to watch a video on how to use paper with a grid to do exactly that.

1. First cut out the bird shape on a bandsaw, coping saw or similar, following the template. Once cut, mark the main large features on the bird and then rough cut the shape of the body and head to represent the main profile lines of the bird and the main body, wing and tail sections as best you can. Note that I cut a separate head section and join it to the main body

2. For the next stage you need to secure fix and clamp the body so it is secure. Once secure, start to shape the body using a small or large angle grinder. The smaller ones can be used one handed and are relatively gentle to use. The larger 100mm versions are only to be used with two hands. You can of course carve by hand. The power tool method is fast, but you do have noise and dust to deal with, which many people do not want. Shape the top of the bird – your holding method must allow you to angle the wood in various positions so you can shape it effectively and safely

3. Continue shaping until you get to the desired profile all over

4. When your profile looks as you want it to, draw in the wing feather positions. Check your reference material so you get the form right. It really isn’t just a case of putting in a few bits that look like feathers. They need to look right, in respect of texture, the number, the size and the lay of them too

5. With a high-speed rotary carver handpiece and a small point, carve in all the wing feathers, getting the depths right and also start profiling them

6. Now do the same for the other side and continue until you have all the feathers carved in on the back. Once these are done, move to the underside of the bird and create the chest form required, but do note where the wings need to come to and where they touch and how they fit against the breast

7. Now you need to smooth them out to remove the roughness and make them more feather-like in shape. A stump cutter works well for this, but there are numerous ruby, diamond, carbide or HSS cutters that will do the job well

8. Refine the head profile, making sure the beak is correct. Mark and cut the eye sockets and then draw in all feathers on the head. Once the feathers are drawn in, use a small ruby point to carve in all head feathers. To create the beak, the upper beak needs to have a point at the very end. This is a curved shape with a pointed end that needs to be hard and unlikely to fracture. One trick is to insert a small piece of wire into the end of the beak. Once secure, you can use a simple trick of applying cyanoacrylate and baking powder to form a point at the end of the bill. Simply put, soak the end of the bill in superglue then dip it in the baking powder until you get the point you want. This builds up with repeated applications, is hard when set and can be shaped as required

9. Now you need to create the surround for the eyes and and fix them in place. To do this, create a bed of two-part epoxy putty and press the glass eyes into the putty. You will end up creating a ring of epoxy putty around the eye before inserting the eye and epoxy putty mix into the socket. Due to the surrounding area of the eye being red on the finished bird, this helps with the colour scheme. It is worth noting that epoxy putty can be coloured later on, but if you do not need to, then all is good due to your having the right colour mix in the first place. Just a little hint, if you cannot get the colour scheme of the epoxy putty or epoxy resin or other fixative you use right, most of these adhesives and fillers can be coloured using specialist colourants or powder-based dyes. Just remember to make sure you mix enough of the adhesive or filler for all your needs all in one go, as you will not be able to get the exact same tint again if you mix a second batch

10. Fix the eyes in place and sculpt the surrounding epoxy putty to the required shape. Once done, use a pyrography machine with a scalpel edge tip and start burning in the feather shafts on the wings, the back feathers, then carry on burning feathers on the underside and up onto the head around the eye

11. Continue with pyrographing in the head feathers and then back to the main body and burn in the finer details of the feathers. The head is burnt in

12. Create the finer detail in sections, cross-checking your reference material all of the time

13. Once all the feather detail has been burnt in, create your base for the bird to perch on. I chose to laminate layers of plywood sheet together and sculpt them to resemble a rock. You will also need to turn your attention to the feet. You can buy feet from various suppliers or make them yourself. However to get the feet, you need to drill two holes to fit the feet into the bird and the base. The bird rests at the angle you want it to when it is perched on the base. Give the base a coat of grey before bonding the feet in the base section and the bird permanently

14. You need to create a couple of primary feathers to get the end of the wing form correct. You can shape and burn these prior to bonding them in place

15. Once they are bonded in place, coat the bird in white gesso, being careful not to coat the eye and surrounding red area

16. Use a template and airbrush with black, paint all feathers on the back and wings. You can do this by hand painting, but it is a longer process and you need to experiment on waste wood to get the graduations and shapes right before you tackle the colouring on the bird

17. Once the edges and relevant outlines have been created, coat all the back and wing sections with very thin washes of Paynes gray paint to get the desired colour to match your reference material

18. Once you have your desired colouring, use white gesso to paint in all of the shafts

19. Now coat the breast, the head up to the lower eye section and part of the feet with orange

20. Using white gesso and a fine paintbrush, edge all the feathers. Define those on the neck area and the back of the head up to the eyeline. Check your reference material as to what the various sections need to look like

21. Now use very thin washes of the orange on the breast to create a slightly muted effect. After this, define the neck feathers with white if you have inadvertently tinged any section that needs to be white. After this, paint the beak a mid grey and graduate the colour from the mid section to a black tip. NB: the black area around and under the front of the beak. It has whiskery bits and you can stick fine bristles from a very soft hair brush of cotton thread to create this before coating it with paint, which will stiffen the bristles. Paint the areas around the the eyes black, just above the eyes and under the beak. Now, paint black flecks in the area just above the beak and just under and to the rear of the eyes. After the last stage, make sure the top of the head is a pure white. If you have inadvertently coloured a section you should not have, adjust it now

22. Now just finish off the primaries and tail section. I know I have said it before, but check your reference material to make sure it looks right

23. The last section to deal with is the base. I chose to paint this with texture paint so that it more closely resembled a rock, but you can stick sand or other gritty material on the ply and then paint it if you want. Once done, step back and check that you are happy with the look. You can still adjust things until you are

Helpful information
• Not everyone will use an airbrush. I find that it is the easiest way for me to create
the look and consistency I require. As with any technique there is a learning curve but if you want to colour items regularly, it is time well spent and is a quicker method of working that using a brush. I do use
brushes for certain very fine detail work.
•  If you are not going to colour your bird and want keep it all natural wood, you have work out what elements you need to show in order to get the look and the degree of detail you require. This route is a lot of fun to explore.


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