I always use 9 for everything up to an eider, and as small as a teal. I like the idea of having a strong support to allow less wiggling, and allows me to move the bird in any position and will still have the strength to hold it. Take a smaller wire and bend it just once, and you will have a weak spot that will want to bend in that same spot.
I also have a method for supporting it in the driftwood as well as the form that works well for me. I pre-tap the wire through my mannikin, bend the "hook" that goes into the mannikin, and hammer it into the form before doing anything else. Once I have this recessed into the form, and I have my tapped hole for the long wire, as well as my tapped hole for the "hook" end, as well as the channel the hook sits in, I pull it out until later. I like to run my support wire in the tail section of the bird, and depending on what the bird will be doing, I will have it either exit at the anus (diving bird), or the back of the mannikin (landing bird) or the belly of the bird (back exposed or flying bird). I also drilled a hole through my work bench to allow me to have this wire in the mannikin while I sew up the incision. This is when I have it going through the belly of the bird, so the wire has a place to sit while I sew. The side of back has a wire that will hang off to the side (no problem), or straight at you. Just take your time when stitching with this poking straight toward your face.
Now I prep my driftwood. I use good Texas flat-backed cedar driftwood bought from any taxidermy supply company. I use a cheap hanger for the back. Mine have two holes for the screws to tap into the cedar, and an eyelet that holds the driftwood to the wall. I take a pencil, and mark the two screw holes onto the driftwood, as well as the hole where the eyelet sits. I take a flat wood bit in the one inch size, and drill each screw hole deep enough into the back of the driftwood to allow me to tap my screws into the hanger, as well as have the screws recessed deep enough so they are not going to touch the wall. The eyelet hole gets tapped even deeper to allow you to hang it on the wall, and still let you have enough depth to push the eyelet onto the nail (on the wall) that holds the driftwood.
I drill a hole the exact same size as my 6 gauge wire, and then a channel gets carved into the driftwood with my electric wood carver to allow me to bend the wire, cut the end, and allow me a recessed channel to support my wire, and deep enough so my flat-backed driftwood remains just that. Flat! No wobble and total support. The only other thing I add, is a couple "U" shaped fencing nails that I slightly pre-drill and then hammer them into the channel, across the wire, and it will go no where!
Now when it comes to that support wire in your mannikin, don't run the hook through the skin. Run it under the skin, and pierce just one hole through the opposite side, and the side that obviously faces the wall. Trust me, you will screw this up. I still do it wrong on occasions, but I try to think just a wee bit slower when doing this now lol. You might see why the rear of the bird makes more sense now? You have more skin sagging to deal with in this spot, because you do it after you run your wing wires, and at the same time you run your leg wires. Once I run this wire through the mannikin, and pierce the skin on the opposite side, I then glue the channel, and the hook hole, as well as the hole that runs through the mannikin. Not too much, but enough to aid in the support. You don't want it to poke out of this spot, you want it set. I sprinkle borax over the glue, and allow a few minutes for it to set, before stitching up the incision. Another advantage of having the wire rearward, is it will not conflict with the wing.
I will take a quick photo of the back of one of my driftwood pieces to give you an idea of what I'm describing.
Damn, that was a long winded super detailed tutorial if I must say so myself. Again, this is not the only way, but it is effective, and after a couple times, you can do it in five to ten minutes. I prep five or six pieces at a time, that way I use the tools and drills in an order. I will always center the hole, and the hanger in the center. This offers the best balance point. If I was doing two birds on one piece, I would still have my hanger in the center, and the holes set as equal as possible off to the sides.
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