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

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.