Birders keep notebooks, journals, and lists—from simple checklists to detailed notes and sightings reports. Some birders use mobile apps or websites, while others use photography to document their birding. Drawing birds is one option. No matter your artistic talent, drawing the birds you see is a great way to sharpen your birding skills.
Equipment to Draw Birds
You don’t need expensive, gallery-approved tools to draw birds: a simple pencil and notebook will do. You can opt for a sketchbook with plain pages, or graph paper pages may be helpful to keep scale consistent. Colored pencils, markers, or pens can all be used to draw birds. Just choose which tools you are most comfortable using. You may also want erasers so you can correct your drawings if needed, but don’t fret if they aren’t perfect.
A stiff backing to support your paper is critical to make drawing birds easier in the field. Some sketchbooks and journals are sturdy enough on their own to provide adequate support, or you may want to bring along a clipboard or similar brace. Even a field guide could be used as a drawing surface.
A small travel stool can also make drawing birds more comfortable, since you may want to stay in one spot and draw the birds you see for a longer period of time. A place to sit will also allow you to balance your drawing space on your lap for more comfort. A hat with a broad brim will help block glare and keep your eyes comfortable, while also helping you see true colors so you can convey the proper shades in your drawings.
How Drawing Birds Helps Your Birding
Regardless of your drawing skills, each time you try to sketch a bird you will be improving your birding skills. Instead of quickly glimpsing a bird for a positive identification and moving on right away, drawing will encourage you to slow down with your sightings and really make detailed observations of each bird. This patience can dramatically enhance your birding.
Instead of just colors, you will see subtle shades and variations, and how the color of a bird changes in different postures and with different light levels. Instead of a general size and shape of a bird, you will start to see overall proportions, specialized bird anatomy, and how different parts of a bird relate to each other. These tiny characteristics that can be very useful for identifying tricky species. For example, you may notice a bird’s wing bars any time you identify the bird. If you want to draw the bird, you will start to notice how thick those bars are, whether they taper or widen along their length, what the distance is between bars, and how far they extend on each wing.
See also: Birdsong Identification Tips
Furthermore, if you continue to draw birds throughout the year, you will begin to notice seasonal variations in the same birds. This will give you even more familiarity with birds you already thought you knew. As you get to know each bird with greater intimacy, you will find it easier to notice when a bird looks different. It will allow you to more easily identify different species, genders, and subspecies.
Tips for Drawing Birds
You don’t have to be either a bird expert or an artist to begin drawing birds. Start with familiar species and study them carefully as you draw. Stationary birds, such as perched raptors, drifting ducks, or slow-moving wading birds, can be easier to draw not only because they are larger, but because they’re moving very little, so you have more time to work on your sketches. Consider practicing with drawing birds from photos at first, which can give you a good reference to adjust your own techniques. Don’t try to be perfect with each drawing. Work to capture the essence of the bird and the details you notice most.
As you draw, look for easy ways to capture the details of each bird. Instead of drawing individual feathers, group feathers into patches where the colors, markings, and orientations are similar. When different parts of a bird have similar details, such as both legs, draw only one in detail and simply outline the other.
To add more depth to your drawings, add the bird’s perch, nearby plants, or brief sketches of habitat. This will not only give you another way to practice your drawing skills, but it will also provide a reference for the bird. Adding notes to your drawings—date and time of day, the bird’s behavior, weather conditions, etc.—will add depth and richness to each drawing.
Drawing birds can be a great way to sharpen your birding skills. It doesn’t matter if you start with a simple pencil sketch or watercolors, colored inks, or any other medium. Draw a bird and bring your birding to life!