Back To The Basics: Learn How To Draw A Bird From A Few Basic Shapes

How To Draw A Bird

In this tutorial you will learn how to draw a bird in a anatomically correct way. With a few simple tricks you will be able to draw shapes on paper that may look complicated at first. In short, you will see how to draw birds that look realistic and have the right proportions.

About the author

I am an expert for visual illustration and information transfer. Specifically, I work as a freelance artist (especially portraits and human representation), illustrator and give lessons in drawing & painting, as well as basic guitar training according to my own concept at the School for Music & Art in Gütersloh, Germany.

My goal is to make learning content easily understandable and intuitively accessible through visual components, so that learners can experience as much success as possible, remain motivated and develop themselves in leaps and bounds. I do not believe in talent, I believe in the right learning method.

This guide is not about me drawing or painting something and you just repaint it and that’s it.

Rather, I want to give you the tools and skills to be able to do it yourself after the article and, above all, to be confident that you can draw birds.


Approach to this tutorial

First, let us look at how a stylized bird can be drawn. A prototype bird, so to speak, which can be adapted as a standard for different species.

Once we have mastered the prototype, we can also draw very specific birds, such as a flamingo or an owl.

We learn what specific characteristics these birds possess and what to look for, where the similarities are and where they differ.

Then we add colour. We learn what feather colouring the birds have and how this is best depicted.

How to draw a bird: The “prototype”

A bird’s body consists of a head, which is connected to the body by the neck, wings and feet.

Wings are pretty similar in all birds, although they can differ in size and shape. Not all birds with wings can fly, such as penguins, or chickens. As a rule of thumb, wings end with long, stiff feathers. The closer the feathers grow to the body, the shorter and smaller they are.

Structure of the wing of a bird

On the inside of the wing there are fewer layers of feathers. Close to the body soft down grows, which stores heat and keeps the bird warm.

how to draw a bird wings
Left: Outer Wing | Right: Inner Wing

If you want to draw realistic looking birds, the proportions are crucial

For a stylized version of a bird we first need a rough sketch of a head and a body. Here we only have to pay attention to how large or small the head is in comparison to the body and whether the body lies directly under the head or is slightly offset.

The circle for the body also indicates whether the bird has a round or elongated body shape. It is important at this point not to try to make the circles completely perfect and get lost in details. It is only a rough sketch and you should not spend too much time on it.

From these two round/oval shapes we can now draw any bird we want. First we draw a prototype. This means that we don’t worry about portraying a certain bird species with its specific characteristics, but simply draw a medium-sized beak, medium-sized wings, a medium-sized tail and medium-sized legs. Your standard bird is ready.

How to draw a bird: The Robin

Now let us take a closer look on how to draw a specific bird like a robin. We look at how big its head is compared to its body and how far apart both shapes are.

Tip: If you have a photo or an illustration as a reference image, you can draw the two circles directly on the picture.

First we connect the head with the body with slightly curved lines. Since robins are very puffed up and roundish, especially in winter, you will not see a real neck at the transition from head to back. The head simply merges into the back.

In the front between head and chest there is no visible neck. The head merges into the chest in a slightly curvy line. The chest and the belly are rounded.

Next you can draw the beak. The robin’s beak is small, thin and pointy. It is slightly rounded at the top and the tip points downwards.

After the beak draw the eye. In birds this is usually at about the same level as the beak, or a little higher and in the middle of the head. Birds can have elongated or round eyes: The robin has a round eye. This is simply painted black, but we leave one spot white. This is to indicate the reflection of light which is going to make the bird look alive.

The “shoulder” of the bird starts directly under the head and merges into the wing. Long, stiff feathers (wing feathers) grow at the tip of the wing. The feathers become shorter and softer as they grow closer to the body. The tail consists of straight, stiff and not too long rudder feathers.

The thigh is hidden in the plumage and points backwards to the tail. The lower part of the leg points to the front. This makes it look as if the knee, unlike in humans, points backwards. The feet stand below the center of gravity which is the middle of the body.

Left: Bird’s leg – thigh hidden in the plumage, “knee” points to the back, lower leg to the front. The foot lies directly under the center of gravity | Right: Bird’s foot from below

Like most birds, the robin has three toes in front and one toe in the back. There are claws at the tip.

The chest and face of the robin are orange. The back is brownish grey. The belly a lighter, cooler grey. The beak and legs are dark brown.

Learn to draw Flamingo

If you want to draw birds whose proportions look realistic, close observation of the head and body is the basis. Just as with the robin, we first look at the head and body.

How far apart are they? How large is the body compared to the head? Are head and body round in shape, or rather elongated?

We trace the shape of the head, as well as the shape of the body. We transfer these two shapes onto an empty sheet of paper.

Next, we connect the head with the body. In the Flamingo, the neck is pronounced and long and has a typical curvy shape, a bit like a inverted “S”.

The beak is almost as wide as its head. In the first half it points straight forward, then it makes a downward bend. The tip is blunt. The nostril lies at the beginning of the beak and is elongated. The eye is round and bright with a small black pupil and is located in the upper part of the head near the nostril.

The feathers of the flamingo are arranged in an unconventional way. A layer grows upwards from the belly. It is covered by another layer of large, soft, long feathers that grow downwards from the wings and back.

The short tail is as long as the wings. Both are made of large, stiffer wing feathers. Black feathers grow on the edge of the wings. They are partially covered by the large, more voluminous feathers starting from the back.

The legs are longer than the whole upper body with the neck and the head.

The bird’s knee points to the back. However, it is less pronounced in the standing position than with the robin. Only when the flamingo retracts one leg it becomes noticeable.

Flamingos may have different tones of pink and salmon. The neck with the compact feathers is usually somewhat darker and evenly coloured. The face between eyes and beak is a little lighter in colour. The beak has a similar colour as the neck. The tip of the beak is black.

The large soft feathers that cover the body and back can have different shades of pink and salmon. The wing edge is covered with black feathers. The legs are pale pink, at the knees and ankles the pink is a little darker.

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