How to Draw Birds [elfhome]

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How to Draw Birds [elfhome]

Post by Lonin on Mon Feb 25, 2013 4:57 am

Created by elfhome - Unfortunately we don't have a link to your page, so if you're elfhome, then please give us a link. Thanks!

So you want to draw birds? Well, I can help you out! I can't give you drawing skills or teach you to use an art program, but I can help you learn bird anatomy. Generally, the most basic topics will be at the beginning, and even in each lesson I will start basic and move into more detail. So if you just want pointers, keep to the beginning and skip the final parts. Note: Updates will probably go slowly.

Also, I am looking for a proof reader to fix my... tendency to go off on long tangents about birds. Oh look, a pigeon. Did you know pigeons are descended from rock doves, which were... Oh yes. Where was I?

Why go so in depth?
Well, if you understand what lies underneath you can draw a better bird. Even if you plan on drawing a very simple bird, knowing the details can help you simplify better. Even if you are only making a winged horse, knowing how wings work can be a big help.

Where to start:
Don't forget to practice, practice, and practice. Draw live birds - even in the city you can go out and draw pigeons. However, even a whole chicken can be a good way to start studying bird anatomy.

I consider myself very lucky, as I not only life within driving distance of a very large and very nice aviary, but I also have a library full of drawing books, a giant book on bird anatomy, and a live model I can use when she is not napping or stuffing her face with food.

Feathers can hide a lot of things. If a bird looks like it is sitting in an uncomfortable position it is only because you don't know what is going on under all that fluff.

Know what bird you want to draw
Drawing a parrot two three toes forward and one toe back might give me an aneurysm (Parrot's are zygodactly - 2 toes forward and 2 toes back) but a sane person won't care. However, knowing what makes a bird species unique can improve your drawing and inspire you.

I will start off with an overview of bird anatomy. You can skim this part, as I don't get into a step-by-step lesson until the next lesson.

Bird Beaks

Beaks are hard, almost like fingernails. Parrots have nice hooked beaks, hence their nickname (Hookbills). Even a small parrot like a parakeet can really give you a painful bite! There is something about their beaks you should note - they can open their upper maxilla as well as their lower mandible!

Humans have hinged jaws, and can only move their lower jaw. Most birds can move both, although only parrots show the ability to move their upper bill to such an extent. If you have ever seen a parrot manipulate a tasty tidbit using only their beak and tongue, or climb using their beak as a third 'hand' you can appreciate the power of a beak!

Bird Legs

Now look at this doodle I just made. Ignore the fact that it is utter rubbish and think about what it shows. Just like you were taught in high school biology, the bones of a bird are similar to the bones of a human (besides being light and hollow).

When I see bird legs I sometimes see people make a mistake because they assume the bottom part of a bird's leg is like a human knee, only facing backwards. This isn't the case, but rather the bird's heel is the joint we notice most and it the knee is high up on the body.

Bird Wings

The wings are a little more complicated. It is easy to see how they are similar in skeletal structure to a human arm. If the muscles that powered the wings were attached, the bird would be too top heavy. Instead the bulk of the muscle is on the breast, and the wing is controlled by long tendons attached to the breast. These big muscles are attached to an enlarged breastbone, known as the keelbone. (Birds also have a fused collarbone - which we know as a wishbone).

Bird Necks

(Bella is wondering why I am bothering her with the camera)
Imagine trying to sleep with your head tucked onto your back. OUCH! Birds can do this because they have very long, S-shaped necks. Think of a swan neck, and you'll get the picture. We don't notice this because the neck is hidden under the feathers and because birds usually keep their heads tucked in. People used to seeing fully feathered birds are shocked by how skinny and long bird necks actually are!


Another thing to keep in mind is the crop. It is a pouch-like, enlarged part of the esophagus. In the drawing above, it is the bulge the arrow is pointing to.

In chicks without feathers (parrot chicks for example) it can look quite large when they are well fed. This is important to keep in mind when drawing a hatching chick. Even in older chicks the chest and neck area may not be feathered, so you need to know how to draw it without feathers.

Edit: Next lesson I will explain wings, step-by-step.
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