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The retrieving and cleaning of bones from roadkill

From our own Honeythorn:

1. Before you start

What body parts are you looking to retrieve from the animal?

You need to ask yourself this question before you collect it. No good scraping up anything flat, it will be of no use to you. Skull shattered? did you want the skull? If not, what else can you collect from the animal?

How long do you estimate it to have been there?

If you only want bones, this doesn't really matter. But if you want skin/fur/paws/tails/wings/feet/whole heads , then you must not try to preserve anything over a day dead. It will have begun to decay and the smell will linger even after drying. The fresher the better

2 - Scrape it up.

For those of you who are able to drive, I would reccomend that you keep plastic sheeting in your car.

For those like myself, who are not able to drive
, I personally always keep a few plastic grocery bags in every handbag I use on a regular basis , and also my workbag. You simply never know when you'll find something dead, and thus you will always have a bag or two handy.

Disposable gloves may be needed in the case of larger animals.

To pick up a small-ish body - It's exactly like scooping a dogshit. Put your hand in the grocery bag ( turn the bag inside out and make sure it has no holes or rips ) , pick up the body, and turn the bag the right way. This way you can retrieve the body quickly and cleanly, without touching it barehanded.

For larger animals - This will require the plastic sheeting and gloves . The best way would be to roll the animal onto the first third of the sheet, and then roll it up in the plastic before hoisting it into your car.

Things to watch out for

Bodily fluids and excreta - Blood, guts and shit basically. Make sure your plastic bag or sheet has no holes or rips !!! The body may be gassy or bloated depending on how decayed it is. Bloated bodies have been known to explode when moved, you are forewarned !

Smells - This will depend on how long the body has been there, and the level of stench in older bodies will be affected by heat and cold. The hotter it is, the smellier it will be.

Traffic - If the thing is in the middle of a busy road, LEAVE IT THERE. No matter how desirable it may be, no dead animal is worth getting mowed down for, and you may be arrested for obstructing traffic and distracting drivers. If you really must have the thing, return in the small hours of the night, when roads are quieter and usually safer, and retrieve the body as quickly and safely as you are able. Be aware that it's condition may be worse than when you first saw it, as people may have driven over it even more during the elapsed time.

Police officers - To my knowledge it's not illegal to pick up roadkill. It saves the local road cleaners a job if nothing else. But if you are unsure, check with your local authorities beforehand. They will probably think you are insane.

3. Interrment

Burial - I have an area of my garden where I bury my bodies, those with limited or no garden space should find buckets or large plastic storage tubs ( the deep lidded sort you put old crap in and stick in the attic ) to be a cheap and easy option. I dig a hole about 8-10 inches deep. For a bucket, put it close to the bottom about 1/3 of the way from the base.

Soil . The type of soil you have may affect the speed of decay. Very sandy/salty coastal soil or boggy peat rich soil, may slow down the decay of the body. Human bodies have been found on/near beaches and peat bogs, effectively preserved by the type of earth they are buried in ( some are over 2000 years old, such as the Lindow bodies ) If you have such an unsuitable soil, then buy yourself a cheap bag of potting soil or compost to put in your buckets.

Additions and helpers - Got ants nests? Use them ! Bury your body close to the nest, the ants should help with stripping the flesh away. You could also try purchasing some fishing maggots, chuck them onto your body, and cover with a few inches of soil. If you do choose to do that, don't bury the body quite so far down as the maggots will become flies in a few weeks and will need to escape.

I also pour a couple of jugfulls of warm water over the site of burial after a few weeks. Nothing speeds up decay like moisture and heat.

4. How long to wait?

For anything rabbit sized downwards, 4-6 months should be enough to take most of the flesh off. Weather and time of year may cause this time to change in either direction. In summer ( and also warm summer rainstorms ) the heat will speed it up, winter will freeze the body and slow it down.

I usually check on the body after a couple of months to see how it's doing.

Larger animals will take a year or more depending on what/how big they are. It would be a good idea to skin, gut and remove as much flesh as possible from larger animals to help speed the process up. I cannot advise on the best way to do this, as I have never done it. But information should be easily googled, or if you know anyone with experience, ask them to tell you or do it for you if they will.

( Skinning and gutting can of course be done with smaller animals too, I mean to try this at some point of mother allows it )

5. Dig it up

Ok so you've waited your time, now to dig up your body. I use a small Plastic narrow trowell for this, as always, wear glovs. Dig carefully, no jabbing or hacking at the dirt, you could damage your bones.

It helps to try and remember how far down you laid the body, and in what position - take a photo at the time of burial if needs be, so you know what should be where when you shovel it up.

Buckets could be tipped out onto a large plastic sheet if you don't want to dig. You can re-use the dirt and simply put it back in the bucket ready for the next visitor.

Condition - Are there remnants of flesh left on the bones? Some brains left in the skull? No problem, there is a way to remove remaining bits of flesh.

7. Maceration

Ok so now you have your dug up bones, but any further flesh remnants need to be removed. This can be done with maceration. I use the cold water style. This is literally a bucket of water. Chuck your bones in, and leave the bucket for a week , preferably in a warm spot out of direct sunlight. Change the water each week. It should take about 1 month , though more of course of there is a fair bit of flesh remaining when you dig up the bones.

After all flesh is gone and skulls are empty, don your disposable gloves once more, and take the bones out of the bucket. I initially dry mine on kitchen paper.

NOTE - You can macerate a body from the getgo instead of burying it. I have never done this myself at home as mother will not allow me to do so. The water does become quite smelly. You should skin, gut and deflesh as much of the animal as you can before submerging it in water. This is better suited to fresh bodies, not decaying ones .

I did however do a water maceration by accident, when a blackbird fell into a waterbutt down the allotments and drowned ( my brother found it floating ) . I left it in there and placed fine mesh under the submerged body to catch any bones as the flesh rotted away. The process took well over a month ( close to 2 and a half ) as I didn't remove or touch the body, and of course the guts and all the flesh had to decay ( had I removed and gutted it, this would have been quicker )

8 . Further drying

After drying with kitchen paper, the bones will still not be quite dry on the inside where you cannot reach. To dry the insides, I bury the bones in salt, in a carboard box ( I use a shoebox ) Use enough salt to cover the bones by about half a centimeter. I use basic table salt for this. It's cheap and it works.

I leave the bones in the salt for a couple of weeks. After this, they are ready for use

The drying of wings, feet, heads,tails, paws ect.

Remember, the animal MUST be one day dead or less.

Remove wings by cutting where the wing joins the body. I use a craft knife and wire cutters for this. I pluck the feathers around the site of the cuting beforehand to make this easier.

For whole bird tails, breasts or sections of skin with feathers attached ( that you wish to remain attached ) , you need to remove the piece of skin that the feathers are attached to. Inspect the feathers around the area to see where they join, then pluck and cut slightlyabove that area. A sharp craft knife should be fine for this. Remove as much fat and flesh from the underside of the cut skin as you are able. This will help speed up the drying process ( less flesh to dry ).

Heads, Tails and Paws. You may need the wire cutters to get through any bones. Slice through the skin and muscles first with a knife. For heads, carefully cut as close to the skull as you can where the neck joins it.

Drying -

Again, I use salt and a shoebox. You will need more than for bones, you really need to cover the parts. I do know that in the US Cornmeal is also popular as a drying agent for this sort of work, so feel free to try that. I have no idea if it can be found in the UK though I shall have a looksie. I would personally use a mixture of both.

1 month should be enough time for lean parts such as skin sections, tails, legs/paws and small wings to have dried. 2 months is best for large wings and heads.

Check the parts . If they are still flexible, squishy in the slightest ect, put the back and leave for another month.

A very very faint meaty smell is normal in dried parts. But if you pick up any whiff of rot or decay, bin the part at once, it cannot be saved ( and it means the body was older than you thought it was and had started to decay ) .

Use an old toothbrush or small paintbrush to brush off encrusted salt or cornmeal.

Your parts should now be ready for use :)

It's a long process, but worth it and has always worked for me well enough so far. Hopefully I've explained it all clearly and as thoroughl as I can. I don't think I left anything out.....


I don't remember if ti was this thread or not (and I'm too lazy to read back through the entire thing, lol), but I've used the suggested way of placing the animal body (or parts) in a large cheap collander, and just burying that. Earth gets fed, bones get nicely cleaned, and when I dig it up I can easily find them all still in the collendar. So to whoever originally posted that idea, it works great, thanks....



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There's a pigeon buried in my garden since last spring, intending to dig her up and use her skull coming next midwinter. The bird flew itself to death against a wall when me and my friend were standing by and I took her with me, later use in mind.

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Damn, not a single one is challenging me to take and use some of their parts... been taking corpses of ducks, rats and fish out of the local waters to prevent them from infesting the place for the last one and a half weeks or so, botulism and sewer overflow being the combined cause of animal demise lately. I'd rather see the creatures live anyway.

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Funny how what I call "natural selection" works when it comes to encountering dead animals or parts of them and deciding whether to take them or not. On my way home I saw half a pigeon, probably hit by traffic somehow, and I was tempted to take it with me, but something stopped me, it didn't feel right. Then, doing some work in my backyard about an hour later, I found the remains of a young sparrow which I must have overlooked for months as it had already decayed to a great extent. I am very pleased with this find, as it spoke volumes to me right from the start.

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There's a pigeon buried in my garden since last spring, intending to dig her up and use her skull coming next midwinter. The bird flew itself to death against a wall when me and my friend were standing by and I took her with me, later use in mind.




It just dawned on me, as the housing company I rent my place from is having my garden redeveloped really soon, it's time to dig up the pigeon asafp!

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Thanks for the useful information regarding roadkill. 



I've retrieved or extracted a few animal bones in my time, mostly roadkill hawks. Pipe stem mouthpieces and whistles from the leg bones along with feathers, feet(mummified) and talons. 


I've skinned a few road killed snakes, mostly for hatbands. They can be tanned or preserved by rubbing glycerin into them. A good source for glycerin is the body ointment Bengay. Good for copperhead and rattler skins.


Pipe stem mouthpiece fashioned from red tail hawk bone 


Attached File  ru0i1d (1).jpg   65.11KB   0 downloads


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Check out this kid, he's got an amazing blog: http://www.jakes-bon...imal-bones.html

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Great ideas, thanks, I confess to retrieving quite a few racoon penis bones, they are traditional to use and a few bat skulls, but your alls ways seem more hygenic than the rather messy ways i've had to use before. Will try some of these.
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Jun 13 2015 11:49 PM
My crows feathers have an odor to them that's not unbearable, but def undesirable. Is there anything I can do to help remove the unpleasant odor from them?
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Try Dawn dish soap and a little baking soda, worked well for mine
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Put them next to a Himalayan salt lamp?

Oh, and walmart now has Himalayan salt tealight holders. They're about the size of an oblong baseball and look sooooo pretty when lit.
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Good call, RR. That will remove just about any funky smell.
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I know - that's why I put it in my kids room LOL
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Jun 17 2015 09:11 PM

Try Dawn dish soap and a little baking soda, worked well for mine

I'll try this if the salt rock lamp doesn't work. Thanks y'all!

Put them next to a Himalayan salt lamp?

Oh, an d walmart now has Himalayan salt tealight holders. They're about the size of an oblong baseball and look sooooo pretty when lit.

Seriously?! I have like 3 big ones and one small tea light lamp in my house already so that's doable!
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Wow. Have used bones in my practise, but never prepared them myself. I've recently acquired a large birds head, don't ask, and am now spoiled for choice with all this great new information. I'm off to get the bucket...
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Thanks for this amazing info. I am now going to pick up some bird bones I saw when I was jogging.

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May I ask you guys if you *ask* a dead animal if you may take its remaining parts, or do you just go by your intuition? I was listening to an interview with Sarah Anne Lawless and she said that one should ask the spirit of the animal if it's OK to use its remains. I thought that was interesting. I go buy my gut feeling.
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I haven't done this often personally, but on the few occasions that I have I have simply thanked the animal for benefitting nature and stated that I hope the spirit goes well with our mother earth. I have never asked for permission.


The remains would normally be picked up and incinerated if found by the council anyway... or otherwise just left to rot. That would depend on the size of the animal of course.


I always felt that the spirit of the animal would appreciate it's remains being used with the energies of our mother earth, of the local land spirits and the spirit of itself.


There really is no rule Nera, although I always find it's good to be grateful to all life and death.

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Thanks so much for this wonderful article. I read the reply about boiling and the horrible smell that took up residence in the home afterward. But I am curious.....If someone had access to an area where outdoor boiling, say in a cauldron in the woods... would boiling be an optimal means of quickly removing flesh from the bones?  

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I would say if you are going to boil the flesh off the bones then check the bones regularly. If you are cleaning a skull then you have to be extra careful as you can over-boil very easily and damage the actual bone tissue. The bones can then shrink and become very delicate. This is why maceration is usually the preferred option as you allow nature to do its own work instead of trying to rush the process and risk damaging the bones.

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I would say if you are going to boil the flesh off the bones then check the bones regularly. If you are cleaning a skull then you have to be extra careful as you can over-boil very easily and damage the actual bone tissue. The bones can then shrink and become very delicate. This is why maceration is usually the preferred option as you allow nature to do its own work instead of trying to rush the process and risk damaging the bones.

Thank you Llyr.  I do tend to be quite impatient but I do not want to damage the bones. 

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If I have overlooked this info- apologies...

My dog snatched up a baby mole. It looks perfect but did not survive the ordeal. It's making a me a little sad honestly -it's freakin adorable. Anyway, of course I want it. I get the instructions for bones. And I'll probably do that if this is not possible.
Is there anyway to preserve the whole thing? I wondered since it was so small if an extended salt burial might work, but I'm guessing there is too much flesh?

It just died.

And no, I don't have formaldehyde:).

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For reference...

Attached Files

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May I ask where you storing it until you decide what to do with it? If any rot at all sets in you should not attempt to preserve the whole thing.


It is small, so you probably could dry the whole thing in salt or borax ( silica works as well ). This will sound gross and you may not be willing to do it, but if you want to decrease the likelihood of anything rotting inside it is best to remove as much of the fleshy bits ( guts and such ) as possible.

After that if you want it to retain its shape you would have to stuff it with something, you could even use salt or borax to speed the drying process further. Probably at least 6 weeks, fully immersed in whatever desiccate you chose. Check every so often for odor. It should smell like dry flesh, not pleasant  but tolerable.

If there are any visible signs of rot or putrid odor you will have to toss the whole thing. When it is completely dry it will not have any soft, squishy or bendy parts. You can gently brush the salt or borax off with a soft brush.

Your finished product will be stiff and rigid, it won't look quite as nice as what you have now of course.

Just curious, what do you think you will use it for?

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Well This sounds weird I'm sure, but first it's my first dead find since I moved here. Second, with the poor eyesight and hearing etc moles just seem to represent using other senses to me. Seems like I could learn from him.

As far as storing, I put his ass in the freezer, but he can't stay there long. The family wouldn't appreciate it.
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