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Realistic Bird Wings by Nambroth Realistic Bird Wings by Nambroth
Please read before using this tutorial:

1. This is a very basic wing drawing tutorial and is aimed at beginners and those unfamiliar with wing anatomy. It is NOT supposed to rival a scientific paper for sheer technical accuracy. I tried to keep terms and things simple for the ease of the beginner. I drew it very quickly and it's messy... it's not perfect. I just hoped to help demonstrate some of the main elements of bird wings.

2. This is here to help people until I have time to make a really good tutorial. This is only basic information and does NOT cover all aspects of drawing bird wings. Please rest assured that someday, when I have more time, I will make a more in-depth tutorial that covers far more than this one does.

3. I do not claim to be an expert. I do art for a living, and yes a lot of my art contains bird wings. I have 4 companion parrots. I study wings a lot. But I am not an expert. This tutorial is a tool; use it and continue with your own research and knowledge seeking. :)

The artist's thoughts on style and accuracy:

Each artist has a style.
Mediocre artists will attempt to use a 'style' to try and cover for the fact that they do not understand anatomy and other art basics.
Good artists will never use 'style' as a crutch or excuse and make an attempt to learn.
The best artists will learn accurate anatomy and learn how to accurately draw and THEN apply their style to it to create something unique. Then an artist truly has a style that they can be proud of.

That said, you can be a great artist and not have perfect anatomy. Learning anatomy is a great tool to improve but do not let it deter you from making art. Art is evolution- perfection is for photographs. You can have the best anatomy ever in your art but unless you do it with feeling it can still be 'soulless'. Have fun with what you do, and as long as you keep trying that is what matters. No one is perfect, and that's a good thing!!

So, about the tutorial itself:

What I am attempting to do here is to help artists that struggle with wings to learn the basics. The best thing you can do for yourself is to draw birds and wings from life. Go to the zoo, or an aviary, or Bush Gardens, or a park with pigeons or ducks, or even in front of Animal Planet and sketch. No tutorial can ever replace seeing and understanding how wings work in motion, on real animals.

Some tips:

-Start with the bones.
-If you can get the anatomy of the bones down, you’ve already gotten past the worst of mistakes
-Like human arm, but hand bones are fused
-One of worst wing mistakes is not enough joints or too many. Easy to remember- look at your arm!
-Wing bones can never be fully straight like a human arm.
-Bird bones are hollow with ‘honeycomb’, making them light and strong.
-Primaries attach to ‘hand’, secondaries to ulna. Follow these two rules and you’re golden.*
-Little to no down on primaries & secondaries
-Primaries can be shaped different. Slotted feathers help at low speed & soaring (hawks, eagles, vultures). Tapered are better at high speed and gliding (falcons, albatross, pigeons). Bunt wings are for woodland birds/short bursts of speed flight (grouse, turkey. sparrow).
-Primaries and some secondary are not split evenly by feather shaft. Primary thicker along leading edge, tapering like airfoil. Effect lessens as you go ‘down’ the wing.
-Scapulars cover much of humerus and into shoulder. They transition wing to body.
-Primaries tend to be thick and require considerable force to bend. Do not ‘flutter’ like hair
-Wings are essentially many flat planes. Draw flat planes in perspective, then flesh out details and subtle curvatures.
-Main groupings- Primaries, secondaries, coverts, scapulars.
-Thickest part of wing is at shoulder/along wing bones.

* - This is a generic wing guide. Some species of birds do have feathers attached to the humerus (mostly sea birds and some waterfowl) but these are the exception rather than the rule. For drawing generic wings for fantasy creatures, the above guide is accurate. If your drawing requires species-accurate wings you should research the feathers on that species.

Finally, please respect copyright. I created and drew this tutorial to try and help people. I didn't really have time to do it but I did anyhow because I am genuinely trying to help. Don't make me regret it by ganking it! Use this as much as you'd like to help you learn, but re-posting this image without permission is forbidden. This is NOT stock. It is a guide.

Additional Resources:

Wing photos from real birds:

Notes on flight:

Also, for some great photos of wings that are a solid color and easy to study, be sure to check out :iconchezem:! She has gorgeous photos. Just be respectful- you should never take or copy photos without permission!!

You may see the rest of my tutorials here:
Add a Comment:
wu-yueh Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you very much!
DragonLady103 Featured By Owner Sep 9, 2015
really helpful, worth a favorite!
nahaw Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2015  Student Artist
thank you!! this helps me so much!!
MochiOtter Featured By Owner May 19, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank. You. So. Much.
Tenshineko01 Featured By Owner Nov 26, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
ChaosZebra Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Aaawesome <3
Anougk Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
A very good tutorial, was very helpful!
TwistedBobbay Featured By Owner May 9, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you for this, been a good bit of help.
RunningGlade Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Thank you, this is very helpful!
Zodiac-Bones Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2014   Traditional Artist
This is a really fantastic tutorial! It's really great to be able to see the proper layering in simple/easy to read terms! Thank you so much!
ThallenCambricaltran Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2014  Student General Artist
Thank you so much! I actually do know all of the wing parts, bones and feathers by name, (I'm a chicken showman) but I never realized I could apply that to drawing wings. Oops. *sheepish grin*
Thank you so much for the amazing tutorial!
Nambroth Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2014  Professional General Artist
You show chickens? How fun!! What breed(s)?
ThallenCambricaltran Featured By Owner Dec 24, 2014  Student General Artist
I show and breed Bantam red Cochin's and Standard Ameraucana's. I do think it is a lot of fun. :)
newtry13 Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2014
Cool guide. It was very detailed, but also presented in a smooth and step-by-step manner.

There is one question, however. Under the heading "Common Mistakes," under the title "Backward feathers," it was made mention that the feathers were layered backwards on the wing given. Taking a closer look at it, I'm having difficulty seeing what is backwards. Could you please clarify what it is, about the feather layering on that wing in that example, that is drawn backwards?
Nambroth Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2014  Professional General Artist
In the example shown, we should be seeing the back of the wing, since the gryphon has it folded down. But, the feather layering that is shown here... only occurs on the underside of the wing. The first primary is resting on the second, and the second on the third, and so on. That layering never happens on the back/top of the wing.
newtry13 Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2014
Ah. So, that's what it was. 

Based on the details specified in the above comment, and taking a look at the "More from deviantART" recommendations on the left of this page, another artist mentioned that, when wings are folded, secondary feathers overlap with and rest on primary feathers. Putting two and two together, it makes sense now why the drawing in the example you gave was backwards. 

The tutorial that was found is in the below link. 

Anyway, thank you for clarifying this matter. 
Kreativjunkie Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you VERY much! I was looking for a half eternity for a tutorial to make correct naturelike wings. Now I 've found it! Great Job, Nambroth!
WhatIfSomeday Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2013  Student General Artist
I'm giving myself a basics course on a bunch of different animals' anatomies because a bunch of my characters are part- animals (there's a deer centaur, and a guy with a wing instead of a right arm, and a couple others...) and this was really useful. Thank you! :)
MinaWolf10 Featured By Owner Jun 7, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Words cannot describe how much I needed this! Thanks! :)
Ika-Haru Featured By Owner May 31, 2013
I know this is for drawing wings but this really helped me with being able to make a pair of costume wings for a friend. I've been thinking about making wings for a while now and since my friend is going to a convention as a character from her book (Immortal Angel by Killoran Mazur) I offered to help out with the wings.
The basics really do make a difference with how the wings will bend and how the feathers need to look.

Thank you for making a tutorial!
Nambroth Featured By Owner May 31, 2013  Professional General Artist
I'm so glad it helped you!!
Opearl Featured By Owner May 19, 2013  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Thank you so much!
Samiferismyotp Featured By Owner Apr 29, 2013
The image is nothign but greyness when I maximize it, even when i downloaded it :(
Nambroth Featured By Owner Apr 29, 2013  Professional General Artist
I just tried on a few different browsers and it works okay. :/
Samiferismyotp Featured By Owner Apr 29, 2013
Must be me then. My computer has been doing the strangest crap as of late.
Opearl Featured By Owner Apr 27, 2013  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
This is proving to be very helpful. Thank you!
Frostbite365 Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I've been trying to draw proper wings lately, this certaintly helped a lot! I don't know why, but ever since I've been practicing drawing them, I've become fascinated with anatomy of wings. o.O
Flakkynne Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thanks! This tutorial helped me a lot. :') *Still have to practise.. ~ x3*
feathergoblinfly Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2013
Thankyou so much :D
Riemea Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so much for making this! I featured this extremely helpful tutorial here :)
Nambroth Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thank you!
Riemea Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome!
Lokibuns Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thankyou, This is extremely helpful. I'm working on drawing a bird or gryphon character soon and this has given me alot to work with :D
Alraune-Oblongata Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2013
The saviour of my birds!
starryeyed-nz Featured By Owner Nov 19, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Very helpful, thanks!
RedCresZent6000 Featured By Owner Nov 6, 2012  Student Digital Artist
thx for making this! it will help me a lot!
TheCannibalWolf Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2012
Thanks for the tutorial! It help me a lot!
Hoshino-tantan26 Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
oh, thank you! :D
E11aBean Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2012  Student Digital Artist
I love bird wings!!:D
E11aBean Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2012  Student Digital Artist
i Always loved the look of well-drawn wings!!!:D
Katarinu Featured By Owner Aug 14, 2012  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thank you very much for this! c:
AguaRush11 Featured By Owner Jun 29, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Very helpful nam! thank you :)
vynn-beverly Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2012  Student Artist
ooh, i'm glad i found this because i am really rubbish at drawing wings, as i discovered while redrawing a winged OC the other day. I'm sure this is going to be very useful in the future! :)
KoinuPuppy Featured By Owner Jun 5, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
This is a wonderful tutorial. I'll be coming back to this page whenever I want to practice wings again c:

This totally deserves a fave ^^
angiedoodles Featured By Owner May 23, 2012
Thank you this is very helpful, I'm not very good at wings, so thank you very much.
Chely-Sparkle Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2012
This is really helpful, very well done!
dazyfeather Featured By Owner Feb 12, 2012
Wow, this helped me enormously, thank you!
Cosmic-Caterpillar Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2012  Hobbyist Photographer
This is going to be really useful thatnks!
noiresetoiles Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2012
Thanks a lot for the tutorial, thanks to you I was able to draw a real wing on this drawing xD : [link]

Hope it's done right though x')
ulawan5 Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2011  Student Traditional Artist
my god, thank you SO MUCH.
I'm actually trying to build a set of wings :D
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Submitted on
August 28, 2008
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