Line bird drawing

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Learn to Draw Birds with David Sibley

David Allen Sibley after teaching a kids workshop. Ambika Singh

People often ask me which came first: my interest in drawing birds or watching birds. I have to answer, "both." The two things have always gone together for me, and they complement and support each other. Drawing forces me to look at a bird more completely and to ask questions that I would not have considered if I were just watching. In that sense, drawing becomes a way to interact with the bird.

Here are some tips I've learned over the years, as well as 10 video tutorials to help you get started. 

Start With Big Shapes

Birds are complex, and drawing is about simplifying. Begin your drawing with large shapes to establish proportions and posture—an oval for the body, a circle for the head, a line to show the angle of the bill and eye. Imagine the point on which the body would balance, and put a vertical line for the feet right there. Draw these lines lightly and use them as a guide. Then use stronger lines as you build up the shape. Practice seeing simple shapes on a live bird, and experiment with putting them on paper. Soon you'll be able to see the bird in your sketch even when all you've drawn is a few generic shapes.

Smooth the Feathers

Almost everything we see when we look at a bird is feathers. Keeping that in mind, and striving to develop an understanding of feathers, is fundamental to drawing birds. Feathers' primary function is streamlining—allowing birds to move easily through the air even at high speed. All feathers grow toward the tail and press against each other to form a sleek, aerodynamic shell. After starting your drawing with big shapes, you need to connect those with smoothly curved lines with no sharp angles or breaks. The only place a bird normally looks "fluffy" is on the underside of the body between the legs and the tail, and sometimes on the back of the head.

Place Feathers Intentionally

Every individual bird possesses a staggering array of different sizes and shapes of feathers, each specialized for a particular function and a particular position on the bird. The organized arrangement of these feathers follows a similar pattern in all birds. Lines of feathers radiate out from the base of the bill and continue down the back and the flanks. Feathers on the front of the head, close to the bill, are the smallest, and these tiny feathers barely move. Feathers on the body are longer and more flexible, with feathers on the flanks often fluffed out and up to cover the lower edge of the folded wing. The long feathers of the wings and tail are long, straight, and stiff, and move in very different ways from the feathers of the body.

The color patterns of birds are also determined largely by the arrangement of the feathers. Learning the basic arrangement of feathers, and how each group of feathers moves, is critical to understanding the appearance of a bird.

Observe Details

Birds move a lot and quickly. This makes them challenging, but not impossible, to draw from life. I spend a lot of time watching birds and just thinking about drawing them. Paying attention to how a bird holds its wings, or the pattern of dark markings on the flanks, or details of bill shape and color, or any number of other characteristics, will help you to draw those things.

Examine Photographs

Studying close-up photos of birds will allow you to decipher details that are very difficult to classify in life. Drawing what you see in a photo will help you explore shapes and patterns without having to deal with a live bird's movement (or disappearance); you can take as much time as you need. Try a study drawing, where you methodically replicate the intricacies of a photograph. Then test how much you've learned with a quick sketch of the same image.

Be sure to also study and draw live birds whenever you can. While photographs are helpful for learning technical details, the only way to really get to know birds is to watch them in life.

Learn by Doing

Most of your illustration attempts will not result in pretty pictures, but don't let that discourage you. Measure your success by the insights and understanding that come from the process. Each drawing is a demonstration of what you know about a bird and will also reveal what you don't know. With practice, you can fill those gaps in your knowledge.

Try a few drawings. Watch some birds. Try a few more drawings. Watch some more. Have fun. I guarantee your drawings will get better. But don't worry about that. Drawing birds is about so much more than just drawing birds. Enjoy the satisfaction of seeing the world a little differently and understanding it a little better.

Watch and learn with this series of videos by David Sibley, each focused on drawing a different North American bird species. Share your finished drawings on Instagram: #[email protected]

American Goldfinch

Black-capped Chickadee

Great Horned Owl 

Arctic Tern

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Bald Eagle

Great Blue Heron

Atlantic Puffin

Long-billed Curlew

Saltmarsh Sparrow


Easy How to Draw Simple Birds Tutorial and Easy Birds Coloring Page

Here’s an idea for how to draw simple birds. Stack them on top of each other, with the highest one looking at a pretty flower.

These little birds couldn’t be any simpler. Their bodies are just a tear drop shape, and the tails a cluster of a few feathers. The idea of them sitting on top of each other to smell a flower is adorable in any book.

What makes this drawing so pleasant to look at, is that the birds all seem to look very balanced. There is no indication that they are about to topple and creating a drawing that has that feeling can take some practice. Master artists from the dawn of time struggled with it.

Balance is one of the Elements of Art, so this is a great project when students are learning more about Balance. The step by step tutorial you can download below will help them plan their birds so they look like they are easily standing on top of each other, and could stay there all day if need be. That balance is what makes this such a fun drawing to look at.

Use the Button below to Download a PDF Tutorial

Simple Birds Coloring Page

Materials for How to Draw Simple Birds

  • Pencil. The Ticonderoga brand are the most reliable, make nice dark lines when you need them, and are the easiest to erase. Buying the pre-sharpened ones will save busy teachers a lot of time.
  • Eraser. Large ones you can hold in your hand do a much better job than just the pencil tip erasers, especially when erasing leftover pencil lines after tracing.
  • BlackSharpie Marker. These fine point permanent marker pens make nice black outlines, have a good tip for coloring, and never bleed when they get wet. Use them with good ventilation and add extra paper underneath to protect your tables.
  • Prang Crayons. These are a bit softer than other crayons so they sometimes look like oil pastels. They also have a some nice brown shades that Crayola does not have unless you buy their larger boxes.
  • Crayola Crayons. The reliable brand that always works well. The 24 pack has some of my favorite golden orange and yellow colors that seem a bit richer and warmer than the ones Prang has.

Step by Step Directions for How to Draw Simple Birds

Time needed: 1 hour.

How to Draw Simple Birds

  1. Make guidelines. Draw middle bird, with the belly centered on the line.

  2. Draw the larger bird below. Center the head on the middle line.

  3. Draw the top bird, with head centered on the middle line.

  4. Add the legs in between each.

  5. Add the eyes and beaks.

  6. Add wings on each bird.

  7. Draw ground line and flower stem.

  8. Add flower and leaves.

  9. Trace with marker and color.

Simple Bird Drawing by Students

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This tutorial explains how to draw a bird from the side view in six illustrated steps. The bird used as an example is a robin.

Bird step by step drawing

Above you can see a preview of the different stages of the tutorial. The focus is on line drawing. It may be particularly helpful to beginner artists that are looking to draw something more serious but also not overly complex.

Step 1 – Establish the Main Proportions of the Bird

Bird body proportions drawing

Start your drawing by estimating the overall proportions and shape of the bird’s head and body. You want to have the largest and most important shapes first.

The reason to do this is to avoid making mistakes like one part of the bird’s body being out of proportion compared to another. It can also save you having to backtrack more than you need to in case you do make a mistake.

In this case the body will be significantly larger than the head. The head will very loosely resemble something like an egg. The body will have a larger curve at the bottom with a flatter back.

Step 2 – Outline the Wing & Tail

Bird wing and tail proportions drawing

Add the rough shape of the wing and tail onto the sketch of the bird’s body. When folded the wing will have a rounded base (about half the body in width) followed by a cone like shape getting narrower towards the tip. Draw it accordingly.

Draw the tail a tiny bit wider as it gets away from the body followed by a rounded tip.

Step 3 – Draw the Beak & Feet

Bird beak and feet drawing

Once you have sketched out the major shapes of the body you can move down to the smaller parts such as the beak and legs.

Draw the beak with a pointy tip and it’s inner shape sort of “cutting” into the head for about 1/3 of its length.

When drawing the legs keep in mind that the back leg will be partially hidden behind the front leg. The back leg should also be drawn slightly smaller as it’s further away from the viewer (due to perspective).

For an explanation of perspective drawing see:

Perspective Drawing Tutorial for Beginners

The base of  the legs will have some tiny feathers around them going down to the joints. Draw these areas thicker than the rest of the leg as sort of angled letter “U” like shapes.

From the joint down to the toes the legs are pretty much straight. Draw that part of the front leg with two parallel lines and show part of the back leg with just one line.

Generally birds have three toes on the front of the leg and one on the back. In this case the far forward facing toe on each leg will be hidden behind the other toes so you can only show two per leg.

Step 4 – Draw the Eye & Other Smaller Details

Bird details drawing

Add the eye and other smaller details of the claws on the feet.

Draw the claws growing from the upper/front part of the toes with two curved lines for each claw that join at the tips.

Bird head basic line drawing

You can see a larger drawing of the birds’ head above to make the details easier to see.

Draw the eye slightly to the left of the head and add a second shape around it that basically traces the shape of the eye (kind of like an outline). This will indicate the bird’s eyelids.

Also add a split between the upper and lower part of the beak. You can draw this one with slightly curved line as shown in the example.

Step 5 – Establish the Feather Patterns

Bird feather proportions drawing

Once you have drawn out all of the the body parts create some construction lines to define the different sets of feathers. In this case you only need two lines on the body and three on the wing.

Step 6 – Add the Feathers & Finish the Bird Drawing

Bird line drawing

Now in the different sections of the body defined by the construction lines draw the various sets of feathers as shown in the above example. Draw these going from top to bottom and left to right. Basically you want to draw a set before drawing the one that comes out from underneath it. You can also erase the construction lines for each group of feathers as you finish drawing it.

After you are done adding the feathers you can finish the bird drawing by going over it with  darker/more solid lines. If you feel confident in you tracing ability you can even do it with a thin black marker. However, if you are worried about making a mistake then simply darkening your lines with the pencil may be a better option.

Bird head drawing

You can once again see a larger drawing of the bird’s head in the example above which should again make some of the details easier to see.

Fill in the eye with a solid black color or shade it in with the pencil but leave a tiny oval shaped area white for the highlight (light reflecting from it). You can also give the eyelid area around the eye a tiny bump at the front.


This is a fairly simple tutorial that can help you create a nice and detailed drawing of a bird. If you are a beginner it can also help you learn to draw in the right way by working from the larger proportions down to the details.

For more similar tutorials check out:

For more advanced bird drawing tutorials see:


Continuous line bird White one line drawing stock illustration

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