How To Draw A Bird

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Get started with our quick and easy to follow method so that you can draw any bird. This is a step by step guide for beginner artists. A simple lesson on using construction lines so that your drawings are accurate.

Everything about a bird’s body has been adapted for flight, the leading edges of the wings being thicker and tapering to a narrow point at the back, covered in feathers. Aeroplane wings have been inspired by the same mechanism.

The main arm bone, the humerus, is hollow, its lightweight ideal for flight. Robust flight muscles of the shoulder attach to the keel. This special bone runs down the centre of the sternum. It acts as an anchor to which the bird’s wing muscles attach, giving it leverage for flight.

The tail is built for stability and control, giving a bird the ability to steer, balance, twist and turn mid-flight.

Bird skeletal structure guide. Pink layer indicates the musculature. Grey layer indicates the feathers.
Bird skeletal structure guide. Pink layer indicates the musculature. Grey layer indicates the feathers.

Some birds can even jump, run and swim. Unusual birds like the penguin and emu cannot fly but have retained their wings. 

I have created this tutorial to help you understand the structure and mechanics of how a bird can fly so that you can go on to create any bird while understanding the shapes and forms that you see. 

Anatomy For Drawing Realistic Birds

Birds walk on their toes. It’s easy to think they have a backward-facing knee! In birds and many other animals, only the toes touch the ground. They are called digitigrade animals as their ankle joints are off the ground and the upper third of their legs form their knees. In birds, the thigh is much smaller and hidden under their feathers.

Humans walk with their ankles flat on the ground and their knees bending roughly in the middle of their legs, called plantigrade locomotion.

Comparison of a human skeleton versus a bird versus a cat.
Comparison of a human skeleton versus a bird versus a cat.

In this diagram, the thigh is coloured bright pink. The shin and ankle bones are dark blue. The “foot bones” (the distal tarsals and the metatarsals) are yellow and the toes are coloured in green.

So in reality, a bird’s knee bends in a very similar way to ours.

Simplified Skeleton for Bird Drawing

Having understood the skeletal structure of a bird and how it directs movement in a bird we can create an easy to remember structure as shown here.

Construction lines to help you draw the bird. A simplified skeletal structure for sketching birds.
The hips and ribs of the bird have been fused into an ellipse as there is limited motion in this area of the body.

You can use this as a reference to draw any bird as the same principles apply. 

Learning bird anatomy is a great way to understand what you are seeing. Gather as many reference images as possible and study them before you finalise a drawing. Use high-resolution photos to understand the feather patterns as birds can be very tricky subjects. Birds fluff or smooth their feathers based on their moods and the weather.

A Note Before You Begin

Take a minute to notice how the head, neck, body, wings, tail and legs are in proportion to each other. Certain body structures will need to be adapted to the type of bird species you decide to draw.

Easy Step By Step Method Of Drawing A Bird

1. Skull sizes and proportions can vary a lot and sometimes be very different but some basic principles apply to all. In keeping with the form of the creature you are drawing, you will have to pick either a circle, a rounded square or an ellipse. In time you will know exactly which shape you need to get the right form.

2. Draw some lines to help you orient the angle of the head, the tilt and the perspective.

Draw a circle, ellipse, or rounded square to indicate the bird's head.
The shape of the head will vary depending on the species you draw.

3. Add a line indicating the curve of the upper jaw attached to the skull of the bird.

4. Draw a line indicating the curve of the neck of the bird. In many small birds, it might appear that the head is directly fused to the torso and they have no neck. But in reality, it is just hidden under the feathers.

Indicate the curve of the beak and the ‘S’ curve of the neck.

5. Draw a line indicating the bird’s posture. Add an oval around that line to reflect the body. 

6. Next, draw a line to indicate the angle of the tail in relation to the body. This is a good time to check the proportions of your drawing. A good method is to use the head as a measuring tool. How many heads’ tall is your bird or creature?

Draw the angle the bird is oriented in, the bird's body mass and its tail.
Indicate the angle of the body and its body mass. Add a line to show which the direction that tail is pointing in.

7. Add some zig-zag lines to indicate the angle of the wings, legs and feet. Birds have adapted to flight through having limited mobility in their hips and thighs so that they have little trouble retracting their legs for landing. This area of their bodies is usually covered with their feathers.

Want to save this method so that you can return to it and practice regularly?

Jump to our follow along infographic and pin it for easy access.

Indicate the angle of the wings and feet in your drawing.
Add the angle of the wings and the feet. Adapt this method based on the movement of the bird you draw.

8. Now that you have your construction lines in place you can easily create the form of the bird. Pay attention to the areas that dip in and the areas that curve outwards.

Create the form of the bird, using the basic structure.
Now that you have the basic structure, create the form of the bird.

9. Draw in and attach the beak to the skull. Draw in the eyes and the feet.

Draw how the beak attaches to the skull which is unique to every bird.

10. Notice the little details, such as the serrations on the edges and the pattern of creases, that give each bird its characteristic appearance. Each bird will also have unique shapes that form the feet. Reference photos of the bird you are drawing will help you understand its anatomy so get as many as you can.

Notice the little details that give each bird its characteristic features.

11. All birds have a unique pattern to their feathers. In time you will learn to notice and draw them in. 

Draw lines to guide you drawing the feather details.

12. Your bird is complete and it’s time to shade in the eyes, beak, feet and feathers. This helps add character to this beautiful feathery creature.

Time to add your shading and colours!

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Pin our drawing guide to your Pinterest boards so that you can return to it and use this method to draw other birds.

How To Draw A Bird Infographic

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I hope this tutorial helps you understand how to draw birds. If you have any questions please let me know in the comments below. I would love to see how your drawings turn out. Tag me on your favourite social media @drawingwithpri when you use this tutorial.

Now you too can draw any bird!

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