Passenger Pigeon


Passenger Pigeon:
Mike Wood shows how to carve a beautiful extinct bird.

Mike Wood shows how to carve a beautiful extinct bird

The passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) has been extinct since 1901 when it is thought the last confirmed wild bird was shot, although a bird called Martha lived until 1914. This beautiful migratory bird was once abundant in North America with population numbers of billions often mentioned. They were social birds which formed massive flocks. Sadly, habitat loss and hunting predominantly caused by humans, resulted in the the eventual collapse of the breeding stock until it was no longer viable. The male and female were similar sizes with the female being only slightly smaller. A typical size range for the birds was between 140-170mm. They were known to be able to fly at great speeds, some in excess of 80kmh/50mph. Have a look at the numerous websites for more information about this fascinating bird.

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
• Medium grit ball cutter
• Fine grit small ball burr
• Fine grit flame diamond burr
• Diamond point burr
• Bull nose stone burr
• Fine grade flame/tapered diamond burr
• Medium sized fine grade ball-ended burr
• Airbrush/brushes as appropriate
• Pyrography unit with scalpel/chisel-edge tip
• Legs/feet
• Eyes
• Two-part epoxy putty or similar to bond the eyes
• PPE  – facemask/goggles, dust mask and extraction
• Pyrography unit and incising/scalpel-type tips
• Selection of acrylic colours shown in the palette, plus black
• Plastic wood
• Airbrush and/or brushes
• PVA or similar adhesive
• Cyanoacrylate adhesive
• Jelutong body 320mm long x 80mm high and 100mm wide
• Head is lime

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.

Painting swatches:
1. White gesso
2. Payne’s grey
3. White gesso & small amount of Payne’s grey
4. Pink for the breast
5. Iridescent fuchsia
6. Iridescent green
7. Red for the feet
8. Dark brown for the tail and primaries

1. First cut out the bird body shape following the template supplied. A bandsaw, coping saw or similar will help but you can just carve your blanks to shape if you want to. Note the drawing. The head and body are cut in two parts and joined together. Position the head – it is twisted round and looking slightly to the right in this instance – to give the bird a more natural look. Given the fact that this bird is extinct, you will need to look at the pigeons in your area or reference material you have to see how they move their head. Once you have decided on the head alignment to use, glue it to the body

2. Now rough shape the lapwing using either handtools or power carving tools. I chose to use rotary power carving tools, creating all the main defining sections and areas. Once shaped, sand it all over. Burrs and drum sanders used in a rotary unit work very well, but it does produce a lot of airborne dust so please remember eye protection

3. Having rough-shaped the bird, draw in the feathers on the wings and breast areas so you know what shapes to carve. Check your reference material for guidance as to how they should look, sizing and so on

4. With a high-speed rotary carver handpiece and a small diamond flame burr carve in all the wing and breast feathers. A diamond bit is ideal for this process. It does not remove too much waste quickly. You have full control over depth and angle of attack and you can take your time to get things right

5. Using the same tools draw in and carve in the rear section of the back and the tail feathers and primaries. Note that the passenger pigeon has longer and slightly different-shaped tail feathers to that of the more common pigeon, which is from the Columbidae family

6. Now mark and carve in the under-tail feathers, creating the larger feather delineation detail, also some of the less prominent feather details. The fine details will be pyrographed in later

7. Mark in the throat feathers and the beak details and carve them. Now mark, shape and cut the eye sockets. Use plastic wood or a similar product to create the surround for the eyes. Once you have a bed add two-part epoxy putty and press the glass eyes into the putty. Then shape the resulting ring of epoxy putty that forms around the eye when it is pushed in to blend in with the head. Once dry, carve in the feather detail under the bill and around the eyes

8. Once the eyes are in place, texture all the underside of the bird with a bull nose stone. Again, the fine detail will be pyrographed in later, so concentrate on the main prominent details and shapes

9. Using a pyrography unit add the feather detail. Start by burning in the feathers on the back of the neck, the back and the wing feather shafts. The pyrography tip used is shaped and sharpend like a scalpel so it burns a crisp detail. Then move on to the finer feather detail using lighter lines to create the layered effect

10. Burn in the relevant detail on the underside of the bird. This is also the stage at which I drill two holes for the feet. You can make your own or buy feet. Coat with a light grey gesso before fixing them in place with plastic wood. Leave it to set and then burn in any detail

11. The burnt detail for the head is a series of striations running away, over and from the main detail on the head down to the main shaped aspects of the body as required

12. Finally deal with the back, wing and tail feathers. Once the pyrography is finished…

13. …undercoat the head, nape and back secondary feathers using white gesso and a small amount of Payne’s grey

14a. Now it is time to paint the tail feathers’ primaries. The top feathers feature white sections with soft grey highlights, two deeper grey feathers and the primaries have a dark brown colouring with white edging

14b. The underside feathers are painted using white gesso and a small amount of Payne’s grey, then white gesso is applied to create highlights

15. The head is coated with white gesso mixed with a small amount of Payne’s grey and the breast is painted pink then edged with white gesso to create a subtle barred effect

17. You will need to create a base and possibly a perch for the bird to sit on. I chose to create two pigeons and used a limb of a tree to create a nice seating place for them

17. You will need to create a base and possibly a perch for the bird to sit on. I chose to create two pigeons and used a limb of a tree to create a nice seating place for them


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