Children’s Art Project Based on John Audubon’s Birds of America

Recently my 3rd grade art class studied owls for an art project. They learned that big owl eyes see really well at night, that owl feathers help them fly silently, and that extra-long owl necks help them rotate their heads as much as 270 degrees. We saw that an owl’s head is much rounder than many birds.

They learned these things because we looked carefully to first draw and then make an owl collage. The more they looked and learned, the more they saw God’s wonderful design and diversity! You and your children will love making owl collages, too.

Here’s what you’ll find in this post:

  • Supply list
  • Vocabulary
  • Directions
  • Helpful hints
  • 4 Variations and/or adaptations for different ages
  • 3 Art elements and design principles children will learn
  • 4 Ways this activity aids children’s mental, physical, and social development
  • Clean-up tips
  • An update about the Cliff Swallows of San Juan Capistrano
  • Cute Molly Photo

Let’s get started!


  • Construction paper in blacks, tans, browns, yellows, and whites
  • Black, white, and brown tempera paint (no brown paint? Just mix blue, yellow, and red as I did to make brown. More blue makes a darker brown)
  • Brushes, forks
  • Yellow or white colored pencil
  • Crayons
  • White glue
  • Pencils, scissors


Texture, how an object feels to the touch, such as its roughness, smoothness, fuzziness, etc.  In painting we often try to give an impression of texture with thick paint or with different kinds of marks.



  1. On a light-colored paper, blend whites and blacks to cover the paper. Try to get a variety of dark and light grays. For texture, don’t blend these too much on the paper. You may also dip a brush or fork in the pure black or white and add a variety of marks for more texture.
  2. Do the same with brown and white paint on another paper.
  3. Allow these to dry


  1. For the tree trunk, cut a piece of brown paper that will stretch from top to bottom of the black paper and add texture to it with crayons. When done coloring, roll the paper as if making a tube and gently crush it together all along its length.
  2. Open up the tube and glue to the side of the black paper as the tree trunk.
  3. For a branch, color and cut a thin strip of brown paper. See below for when to add the branch.


  1. On a black paper, use the yellow colored pencil to sketch an owl sitting on the branch of a tree. Notice the owl’s head is quite round, while a fat leaf shape can be used for the body.
  2. Draw and cut out eyes, beak, and talons.
  3. Tear the brown and gray papers into feathers. They’ll look more natural if torn.
  4. Starting at the bottom of the owl and working up, glue the feathers to cover the owls’ body and head, overlapping these and only gluing the top portion of each feather so they look 3-D.
  5. When you get to where you want a branch, glue it down and glue more feathers and the talons on top of it.
  6. After you have the head feathered, (I didn’t add those feathers, but put the disks where they’d do over the head feathers), you may want to cut circles from one of the painted papers and fringe these around the edges. These facial disks of feathers surround the eyes of many owls and help reflect light to the eyes. Glue the eyes in the center of the facial disks and glue these to the head along with the beak.


  1. Cut out a moon from a paper towel and glue in place. Use quite a bit of glue and as it dries, it’ll begin to show the black paper through it, looking quite moon-like. (credit for this idea goes to a third grader!)

Display these owl collages where everyone can enjoy the uniqueness of each creation!

Helpful Hints:

This project needs white glue, and many children have a hard time not getting great globs of it everywhere. To prevent this, I squeeze a puddle of glue onto a plastic or aluminum pie plate, and children use their fingers or a Q-tip to spread the glue where needed. It also helps them be able to just dip one end of each feather in the glue.

4 Variations and/or adaptations for different ages:

  1. I did this project with a large group of 3rd graders, with demonstrations for each step, and they did really well. Younger children will need you to break it down into small steps, but in small groups may still do this project successfully. (remember that you want them to enjoy the process, not come up with an adult style artwork). Let the personality of each owl shine through!
  2. This project can be done without paint. Have children use crayons to add texture to gray and tan papers and use these for the feathers.
  3. Make a larger tree trunk and cut a hole in it for the owl to be in.
  4. Older children can research owls and use colors that make their owl look more like a particular kind.

3 Art elements and design principles children will learn

  1. This project helps children see and draw shapes.
  2. It helps children learn to mix lighter and darker colors and blend these on paper.
  3. It also teaches them a few ways we make textures in paintings.

4 Ways this activity aids children’s mental, physical, and social development

  1. Using crayons, paint brushes, and other art tools helps children develop fine motor skills.
  2. Looking at an object or creature before and during drawing helps children develop better observation skills.
  3. Discussing their art as they work builds vocabulary and social skills.
  4. Making art enhances creativity and refreshes minds and eyes tired from screens.

Clean up Hints:

  • Be sure to put a plastic table cloth or large paper under your work
  • Have paper towels handy
  • Wax paper under papers as you add glue keeps things from sticking in the wrong places.
  • Keep a wastebasket handy for trash
  • After washing and rinsing brushes, reshape bristles if needed, and lay them flat on paper towels to dry. Store with bristles up in a jar.

Update on the Swallows of San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano, CA, author photo

With the help of Dr. Brown, the mission began playing recorded swallow songs about the time the swallows return each March. They constructed a wall just for the swallows to build their nests on, along with a nearby pool so the birds could make mud pellets for their nests.

These efforts have helped bring back a few nesting pairs in the last few years, but the bigger problem is the loss of habitat around the mission. The growth in people population and in tree planting has cut way down on the open fields swallows need to find food, so the project is an ongoing challenge.

Cute Molly Photo

Along with many of us, Molly celebrated St. Patrick’s Day this week. She hopes you like her green bandana! She thought the green frog added a nice touch, too.

She wants you to know that next week our newsletter will have lots of fun ideas, projects, freebees, book reviews, and links to continue learning, It includes a review of the wonderful book about owls that fascinated my 3rd graders. It’s full of facts and photos!

Before You Go

If you’d like more activity ideas for art, history, and nature, curriculum connections, and links to more resources, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free guide to 5 Ways Art Benefits Children’s Cognitive, Physical, Spiritual, and Social Development, with a Few Fun and Easy Activities for each Benefit.

Visit my website where you’ll find free downloadable puzzles, how-to-draw pages and coloring pages for kids and an updated list of my hands-on workshops, chapels, and presentations for all ages.

Molly and I hope to see you back here soon for a new Kathy the Picture Lady art series.





12 thoughts on “Children’s Art Project Based on John Audubon’s Birds of America

  1. Becky Van Vleet

    Oh, wow, your third graders did great! I love how they learned all these interesting facts about owls. I had never thought about the owls having the most round head of many birds!


    1. Kathy The Picture Lady Post author

      Hi Becky! Yes, they loved learning about owls and they did a wonderful job. When we put them all up for Grandparents Day, we saw that each owl had a unique personality. I was sorry I could only show a few here!Thank you for stopping by!


  2. JD Wininger

    You must have a bottomless pit of artistic inspiration Ms. Kathy. Thank you for making the instructions so easy to follow.


    1. Kathy The Picture Lady Post author

      Thank you, J.D.! Parts of this idea came from an art teacher friend, and I just changed a few things to make it more 3-D. And once I explain things, the children go to work and discover lots of things, too! It’s so much fun to see their creativity. I hope you’re staying safe through the bad weather!


  3. Katherine Pasour

    Such a wonderful craft, Kathy! I enjoyed learning more about owls and your directions create an amazing owl. Like J.D., I think you have a tremendous amount of wisdom and creativity stored in your brain. Your students are so blessed to have you as their art teacher. Thank you for sharing.


    1. Kathy The Picture Lady Post author

      Thank you, Katherine! When I get going imagining a project, it’s like writing, more ideas come as you work with it! And to be honest, I don’t usually show the ones that flop. Lol!! But we learn from those too. Last week I was drawing a lighthouse with 4th graders and realized something wasn’t working. I’d forgotten to take into account the railings around 2 levels. We discussed how looking carefully and drawing helped me (and them) discover that. I hope you’re enjoying lots more flowers in your garden. I’ve got some daffodils coming up!!


  4. Angela Jelf

    Hi Kathy,
    Fab! Another great post and project. These Owls look so effective! Love the texture and colours. This would be a really fun activity to team up with a book I often read to the kids I look after, called ‘Owl Babies’ by Martin Waddell. Thanks for the detailed instructions Kathy.


    1. Kathy The Picture Lady Post author

      Hi Angela. I love Owl Babies, and have sometimes used it with this project! Those baby owls are sooo expressive! This year we were so absorbed in the nonfiction owl book that we didn’t get to it. I wish I’d had more time, but we needed to finish our owls for Grandparents’ Day. I hope you’ll be able to enjoy making these owls with the children you look after. Sometimes, I think it would be fun for several kids to make one big owl!! My classes are too big for that, but I think it’d be a great group project, too. I hope your English spring is getting warm1

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jeanne Takenaka

    What a great art project, Kathy! Every couple of years, an owl lands on our basketball backstop right around twilight. I caught a few pictures when this happened a couple summers ago. They are truly beautiful birds!


    1. Kathy The Picture Lady Post author

      Hi Jeanne. I bet those are great pictures! Sometimes I hear one hooting outside at night, but have never been able to see it. I’m sure I frighten it away when I open the door. May your day be blessed with God’s love, my friend!



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