Drawing Hawks for a new book

Back when I was creating the artwork for Fantastic Press-Out Flying Birds, I hatched a new plan to create hawks that would fly like the songbirds. They will need to be larger, so there will be some new engineering involved, but they will also represent a new method (for me) of illustrating them.

I’m drawing the individual feathers, and building the hawk from that.

I began with a Rough-Legged hawk, Buteo lagopus. 

Feathers (thanks to the US Fish and Wildlife’s Feather Atlas).

hawk feathers
Feathers from wing. The little one is from up near the alula, the “thumb.”


The feathers are fascinating when you draw them this way. Each part contributes to the patterns you see in the wing when they’re overlaid in regular rows. The feather fibers interlock like velcro to create the smooth aerodynamic surface of a bird’s wing. The rounded, thicker shaft near the base, and the tapering lengths of the feather barbs help create the thickness on the front of the wing and the thin trailing edge.

Here’s the tip of the wing, assembled with feathers. Each feather is not simply a copy – they’re all slightly different sizes, shapes, each is modifed from it’s “template” feather to be unique to its placement and purpose.

Rough-legged hawk wing feathers
The wing shows the primary feathers splayed like fingers.

Drawing the head involves many small feathers, each slightly different, but substantially similar. Feathers overlap like shingles on a roof. The eyes in this view will be hidden once the bird is folded to fly, but they’re kind of fierce anyway, simply by laying the feathers in the way they’re supposed to go.

The head has many overlapping small feathers
The head has many overlapping small feathers. Here I haven’t done the back feathers yet. The black outline will be the cutline in the final book.

The rough-legged hawk is a work in progress. I’ll post more as it emerges.

This is done in Adobe Illustrator on a laptop using the touchpad for drawing. A Dell Inspiron XPS laptop with quad-core Intel i7 processers and 16GB ram allows me to keep enough programs open to handle each one and work efficiently.

This is so much fun!

Fantastic Press-Out Flying Birds is here!

My book of 24 realistic birds of the United States, designed to fold and fly, has just been released by Dover Publications!

Local folks can buy it at Blue Hill Books in Blue Hill Maine or order it for $9.99 right here at 3Hawk (that’s me, the author)!

That’s economical enough to buy one to fly and one to keep for birdwatching or just to gaze at the wondrous beauty of birds.

See videos >>

Make great holiday gifts for grownups as well as children!
See my Book Launch page at the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) >>

Now available
Fantastic Press-Out Flying Birds, my new book from Dover

Be sure to get enough for everyone on your list: these really appeal to the kid in everyone!

Paper airplanes that really fly, and look like real birds? How often have you seen that? Never! That’s how often. This is a first. Enjoy it, give it, fold it, fly it. Local folks can buy it at Blue Hill Books as of Friday November 18 or, order it for $9.99 by emailing the author (that’s me) and providing your phone number. I’ll call you and take your card info until I get my bank account set up for online sales.

Book Launch November 16! Fantastic Press-Out Flying Birds

My new book of die-cut press-out birds that you can pop out, fold and fly is coming out November 16 from Dover Publications!
Here’s how Dover describes it:

These realistic, full-color paper bird models could not be easier to make — and they really fly! Simply press along the perforations, fold according to the instructions, add a penny or a dime for weight, then send them skyward in long, straight glides or looping swoops. All of the birds feature captions that include their Latin names and accurate information about their habitats, behaviors, and pointers on where to look for them.
In addition to the fun of making and flying models, this book offers a great way to learn how to identify birds. Author and artist Richard Merrill, a former aerospace design engineer, has created vivid and recognizable depictions of the birds’ plumage. The 24 familiar species in this collection include the Eastern Meadowlark, Baltimore Oriole, and Western Tanager. Some of these birds have decreased in number during recent years and appear on the National Audubon Society’s report on endangered birds. This book provides readers of all ages with an opportunity to learn about birds as well as the chance to play with flying paper toys!

It has 24 birds rendered realistically, great for bird identification and teaching, but mostly for flying fun. Dover priced it so you can buy one to use and one to save (save the birds!).

Here’s a short video showing how great they fly. More coming, I promise!



Bird Miracles No. 1: The Bar-tailed Godwit

An article on birdlife.org titled “The Bar-tailed Godwit undertakes one of the avian world’s most extraordinary migratory journeys” is a mind-blower of the first water. Apparently, it’s been out there for over five years, but I just stumbled across it.

In dry scholarly terms, the anonymous authors lay out some extraordinary info. My favorite reference in the footnotes (my emphasis): “Piersma, T. and Gill, R. E. (1998) Guts don’t fly: small digestive organs in obese bar-tailed godwits.”

How many times do you see a title like “Guts don’t fly” on a scientific paper? We deal with both the “small digestive organs” and the “obese” issues below.

Bar-taile Godwit

Bar-Tailed Godwit. Photo by DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Bar-tailed Godwits fly from Alaska to New Zealand in one go, not stopping for anything (this has been confirmed by satellite telemetry). They fly at 35mph for 8+ days (with the help of tail winds), totaling 6,800 miles, without stopping. Total round-trip travel over the year is 18,000 miles. On the return journey, they make one stop along the Yalu River Estuary, which forms part of the border between China and North Korea. They stay there for several weeks, stocking up on Chinese and Korean fare, no doubt. Finally, they make it from there to Alaska, a little matter of 2500 miles or so, without eating again.

Before a godwit leaves on its northern or southern journey, 50% of its body weight is fat. Now there’s a body mass index to ponder. The godwit’s gizzard and intestines shrink as it begins its long flight, to near non-existence. Men will be able to relate to shrinkage of this magnitude, having experienced the effect of a swim in cold waters.

A Bar-tailed Godwit will fly 285,000 miles in its lifetime. Black-tailed Godwits are already in a “near threatened” status because of the degradation of the wetlands in the Yalu River estuary they depend on as a rest stop, and because of the degradation of their home grounds in Alaska. Among the American breeding population, in their main feeding grounds in Western Alaska, global warming is changing the land, especially with coastal erosion and wetland drying, both cited by the US Fish & Wildlife Service as changes occurring now in western Alaska.

So if you see a Bar-tailed Godwit on the side of the road with its alulae (thumb feathers) stuck out, invite it to hop in. And don’t offer it a diet soda or turkey bacon. It really needs some fat.



Information from BirdLife International (2010): The Bar-tailed Godwit undertakes one of the avian world’s most extraordinary migratory journeys . Presented as part of the BirdLife State of the world’s birds website. Available from: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/sowb/casestudy/22

OK, so I love birds

I love birds: the way black feathers shine iridescently sky blue and purple, the gestures of their wings, the supreme grace of the seagull flying, the whirrr of the red-winged blackbird in the morning, as it sways on a cattail in our pond.

Subjects to expand on:

  1. Feathers are absolutely miraculous. You have to be very light to make use of them. We would be like flightless kiwis if we had feathers. Even Arnold isn’t strong enough to flap wings.
  2. A bird has a syrinx instead of a larynx, which is specially designed for singing. What’s special about a syrinx? I don’t know. I’ll have to explore that, and how it makes possible the haunting, chirring, chakking, soaring songs that bless our ears when birds are near.
  3. Birds are living dinosaurs. A chicken without feathers resembles T-rex more than we want to admit. They are dinosaurs, and many dinosaur fossils have been found with feathers. But birds didn’t descend from pterodactyls. How did that happen, or not happen?
  4. There is something perfect in the parabolic curve of a bird’s feather. A parabola is my favorite shape, maybe because it follows the shape of a bird’s feather, with its slightly curved shaft that bends more as the weight of the wind pushes the attenuated tip.
  5. The tapering feather shaft is engineering perfection. The thick base of the shaft is hollow with some reticulated membranes criss-crossing in there, giving it more stiffness with less weight than you would expect. The shaft is made of the same variety of stuff that makes your fingernails. It’s flexible but strong, and with the wind pushing on the fibers of the feather, the base holds its shape while the tip begins to curve up. The flaring display of a hovering hawk, with its primary feathers splayed like fingers, is the result.
  6. Redstarts flip their tails up to startle insects, which jump and show themselves. Is that genetically defined, or do they learn it?
  7. Is feather color dyed in, or is it a kind of designed iridescence?

I guess it’s time to start thinking about these and other things.

Gotta flutter.