By Bill Buckley

Here's how to ensure that your waterfowl trophies look as lifelike and appealing as possible.

Assess the Bird

Not all waterfowl are worthy of mounting. According to award-winning taxidermist Dale Manning of Custom Birdworks in Missoula, Montana, the best specimens are usually harvested in mid-November or later. By that time, most species are in full plumage and free of pinfeathers. Birds destined for mounting should also be in good condition. Cleanly broken wing and leg bones can be fixed by a skilled taxidermist, but splintered bones and extensive feather damage are problematic. On flying mounts, heavily damaged primary and secondary wing feathers won't display well, although you can sometimes replace them by providing your taxidermist with an undamaged wing from another bird. Shot-up bills are okay because they will
be replaced with artificial ones.

Take Care of Your Trophy

"If you're thinking of having a duck mounted, treat it accordingly," Manning says. That means handling harvested birds carefully in the field and during transport. Using a paper towel, clean as much blood off the duck as you can and then place it in a dry, secure spot beyond the reach of retrievers. When you get home, smooth out the duck's feathers, tuck its head under a wing, and place it in a plastic bag. Do not wrap the bird in newspaper or pantyhose. Those materials absorb moisture, which can lead to freezer burn. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing it, and then place the bird in a safe spot in the freezer. Deliver the bird to the taxidermist promptly before freezer burn sets in.

Pay for Quality

Good bird taxidermists aren't cheap, and the guy who mounted your deer head may not be the right person for the job. If you want an exceptional mount, choose a waterfowl specialist. A duck mount will usually cost at least $250, while larger birds like Canada geese go for as much as $600. If you want to display a bird on a decorative base or in a glass case, expect to pay even more.

Choose a Pose

The position in which you have your bird mounted will have a big impact on its appearance. Search the Internet and you'll find hundreds of images of just about any species in their natural habitat. For taxidermists like Manning, a picture is literally worth a thousand words. In fact, he asks his clients to e-mail photos to him depicting how they want their birds to be mounted.

Likewise, tell your taxidermist exactly where you plan to display the bird. If space is a concern, provide measurements. Flying mounts can be displayed on the wall, suspended from the ceiling, or creatively attached to a decorative base. Standing or sitting mounts that depict preening, stretching, or feeding birds can be displayed on a desk or table, or in a bookcase. Hanging or "dead" mounts are an elegant way to display larger waterfowl like geese and swans.

Keep Up Appearances

To keep your waterfowl mounts looking vibrant, use a feather duster, soft paintbrush, or compressed air to remove dust and cobwebs. Decorative bases, in particular, require regular upkeep if they are not protected by a glass case. While the maintenance can be a chore at times, you owe it to the birds-and possibly your spouse-to keep your prized waterfowl trophies looking their best.