How to draw birds in 5 easy steps for beginners

People want to learn how to draw birds, but they don’t know where to start. Drawing birds can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right instructions, anyone can do it!

In this guide, we will take you through 5 easy steps to drawing a beautiful bird. We’ll start with the basics and work our way up to adding feathers and color. You’ll be able to impress your friends and family with your new skills in no time!

In short, you will need to do the following 5 easy steps which I will go into more detail, after this section.

  1. Draw a simple outline of the bird’s body
  2. Add some detail to the head, eye, beak, and wings
  3. Draw the feathers and other details
  4. Erase any mistakes and finalize your drawing
  5. Color in your bird with your favorite colors!

You don’t have to be the best at drawing but you have to be ready to practice to get better and never give up.

At first, your bird drawings may look horrible. That’s right, horrible.

If you are too self-critical or are expecting to pull off a hyper-realistic bird drawing in your first attempt as a beginner then I suggest you close this page and take a long hard look in the mirror. Nobody can do that no matter what any YouTube video or Instagram hack page will say.

Drawing birds or anything is all about constant practice and constantly improving by learning where you are going wrong and implementing small changes in things such as shadows or linework to slowly get better.

With that, let’s get started on the basics and if you have little experience drawing, I will give you permission to trace a bird picture to get you over your fear of starting.

For everyone else, it’s ok to mess things up here and there just start over.

Pencil tips

My first suggestion is, to use an H or 2H pencil as these are hard pencils that will draw lightly on the paper. This makes it easier to erase when you make mistakes and they are also light enough to let you later the details using darker pencils such as an HB, B, and 2B pencils.

Eastern Bluebird reference photo, used for my drawing guide.
Eastern Bluebird reference photo, used for my drawing guide.

Step 1 – Draw a simple outline of the bird’s body

I used a photo of an Eastern Bluebird as a reference for the today’s guide. You can use your own bird or find a reference for any bird you like and the steps you will take will be basically the same for any bird.

To start we need some basic guidelines using simple shapes and lines so that we can work out the proportions of the bird before we spend hours drawing the details of the bird.

You can start with a small circle for the head and an oval for the body. Yes, this may sound like a joke but stick with me. We will be adding details to these basic shapes.

Sketch out the basic shapes that make up a bird's body.
Sketch out the basic shapes that make up a bird’s body.

Add simple lines for the neck and two more for the legs. Try to make it look as much like the outline of a bird as possible.

Once you’re happy with the proportions and shape, you can erase some of the working lines so that you have the outline of the bird.

I erased some lines that were not required.
I erased some lines that were not required.

Step 2 – Add some detail to the head, eye, beak, and wings

Now that we have the basic proportions of the bird, we can start adding some detail.

Let’s start with the head. Add an eye and a beak. While most birds have different shapes or lengths of beaks, they are all a form of a triangle. So let’s draw one that roughly meets the shape of the bird we are learning to draw.

Add some detail to the head, eye, beak, and wings

The eye is probably the most common focal point of a bird drawing so we will need to spend a bit of time making sure the eye is on point.

Look at the shape, the patterns within the eye, and the shades. I like to use a variety of pencil grades when working on the eyes so that they have a definition where the lines are clear and clean and they have depth where the lines show both dark and light.

Next, let’s add some detail to the wings. Draw a few feathers but not individual feathers. The trick to learning how to draw birds is to skip some of the details and draw what we see and not what we know.

This is also a good tip for those of you who want to learn how to draw human hair or portraits.

detail for Add some detail to the head, eye, beak, and wings

Step 3 – Draw the feathers and other details

Now that we have the basic shape of the bird, and some basic feathers it’s time to start adding further detail.

For the feathers, we’ll start by drawing the main part of the feathers and then adding some lines to give it some texture. We can use drawing techniques such as hatching and light sketch lines.

I also use a kneadable eraser that I roll into a tiny point and use the tip to erase small areas I want to highlight as white such as on the beak or the eye.

Draw the feathers and other details

Step 4 – Erase any mistakes and finalize your drawing

Once you’re happy with how your bird looks, it’s time to erase any mistakes and finalize your drawing.

Take a look at your drawing and see if there’s anything you want to change. Once you’re satisfied, erase any remaining pencil marks and start applying some darker pencil lines and shadows using softer pencils like the B-grade pencils.

One thing I like to do is give the illusion of depth by having the parts of the bird that are further away drawn using lighter pencils until those parts are barely visible.

Erase any mistakes and finalize your drawing

Step 5 – Color in your bird with your favorite colors!

Now that your bird drawing is almost complete, it’s time to start adding some color! You can use any colors you like, but we recommend starting with a light base color and then adding darker colors for the shadows.

In case you didn’t know, i’m colorblind so please excuse me if I have not used the correct colors for the Eastern Bluebird as I had to guess most of them. Perhaps I should have used a black and white Magpie as an example!

Color in your bird with your favorite colors
A colorblind version of an Eastern Bluebird!

I prefer to use watercolors or gouache paints as they have a certain transparency and softness that works well with birds. You can also use colored pencils and pastels.

Anything else tends to take too much work and experience to get right.

When using watercolors to paint the bird, apply the paint as a light wash and apply it in layers, allowing each layer to dry.

Try those other mediums like acrylic or oil paints for when you have more experience.

And that is pretty much it when it comes to learning how to draw birds, all you need to do now is practice and use more reference materials to get the bird just right.

As you can always do better (no matter how good we are as artists), I have additional tips below.

Additional tips if you want to get better

There is always more that you can do to get better and none of it is cheating when you are learning. The following additional tips are designed to help you feel confident with drawing birds and drawing them more accurately.

  • Use a lightbox or window to trace pictures if you are struggling with drawing the bird on your own.
  • Experiment with different kinds of birds. Each one has its own unique shape and set of details that you can play around with.
  • Try using different mediums or art techniques that suit your style.
  • Take your time! Rushing your drawings will only lead to frustration.
  • Pick up some books and learn more about birds by studying bird anatomy and using reference photos of birds. Lastly, draw what you see and not what you know about birds.

Study the anatomy of birds

There are many things to consider when learning how to draw a bird. For example, you should know what a bird looks like underneath its feathers, and what its muscles, wings, and legs look like.

Without understanding this basic fact about birds you will never achieve great success with any type or species if they’re based on misconception rather than knowledge!

User reference photos or bird books

Do not be afraid to use reference photos from bird books as your guide. Take the time to study how the different parts of a bird fit together.

This will give you a better understanding of how to draw birds in general, and how to add the details that will make your drawings look more realistic.

I used a reference photo from Openverse to draw the Eastern Bluebird in my examples.

I love looking at vintage bird books with colored plates of drawings and paintings of birds. When you look at these artists interpretations of birds and compare them to photos you will see how some look exactly like the bird and some are a little different.

Draw what you see and not what you know

One of the biggest mistakes beginner artists make when drawing anything is drawing what they know rather than what they see.

What this means is that they are drawing a bird based on the knowledge they have of birds. They draw an oval for the body, a couple of wings, some stick legs, and a round head with a pointy beak.

What they fail to do is look at the bird and draw the shapes in front of them, they don’t look at the shadows, the shapes of the bird’s wings or legs. Each bird is unique, even the same breed of birds can look different.

While drawing birds, don’t think about what you want to draw – instead trust that which can be seen. Every bird has different shapes and angles no matter how similar they may seem at first glance; rely on these features when creating your masterpiece!

Practice, practice, and practice!

I’ve found that the best way to improve my drawing skills is by practicing and doing lots of it.

Like any skill, you can’t get better at it if there are no mistakes or errors in what you do; so not only do I sketch out many sketches but also execute them multiple times until they’re perfect and even then, I am ok with less than perfect most of the time.

The best way for me to learn how to draw birds was to draw whole or parts of birds every day while keeping a nature journal where I recorded all the birds’ details (even their habitats so I could include realistic backgrounds) so they would be fresh when it came time to draw them again later on (which has worked wonders).

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