How to Draw a Bird

Streaming through veins of air, vibrant and brilliant

Shapes and marks and colors and patterns and calls

Should I create lists scratching an analytical itch

Books and guides and websites and apps.

Knowing less with each spreadsheet


Sit in the electricity of stillness

Each call carries stories long their own and their own long after

Now with a wisdom of naivety and courage of ingenuity


Draw pen from pocket

Turn the cap

A new word never spoken

A new alphabet waiting for letters

Paper pulls ink from nib

Maybe? Maybe.

A bird

Juvenile Indigo Buntings

Pair of young Indigo Buntings molting

A new fountain pen I am still learning to use. This is a Pilot Custom Heritage 92, fine-medium nib filled with Iroshizuku Take-sumi ink. The nib is softer than on any other pen I own. It requires more attention and care how I put down lines. There have been a few times where I thought either the pen nib isn’t good or maybe I damaged it. The pen demands lines drawn across or down towards the nib feed. This is not a pen for quick sketches or scribbles.

Dark-Eyed Junco (Oregon)

We spotted about a dozen Dark-eyed Juncos last week. I’m a little fascinated at how the same bird has a range of variations. I’ve been spending more time studying anatomy and the feather map. Juncos make for great reference.

Hooded Merganser

I’ve spent the past few days thinking about this pair of Mergansers that visit a nearby pond each year. A quick internet search will return more photographs of the male and its signature white on black full crest.

Drawing these crests can be deceptive. Male or female I was tempted to draw one big circular form. That ignores what we know about feather groups on the face. When the Merganser has it’s crest down the feather groups are much clearer. The white is essentially the eyeliner. The crown, auricular (feathers covering the ear) and eyebrow are all black.

An easier way to think of the Merganser’s dramatic mohawk-like head is to compare it with Cardinals or Blue Jays. The feathers of the crown are just longer than other birds of the same family. A little knowledge about feather groups goes a long way. We don’t have to draw every feather but knowing direction and volume shifts help.

So why did I choose to draw the female instead? While sometimes subtle, there are more shifts in color with clearer beginning and endpoints of feather groups. The beautiful rusty red is also nice to look at.

House Wren

They’re fairly common but get confused as just another little brown bird lumped in with sparrows. A little stocker in appearance even when the feather groups tighten up when they are on alert. I didn’t get too deep into showing their barring on the wings and tail. I may have actually played them down a little more. Fun little bird to draw!