Photographic Bird Portraits ~ A bird’s eye view!

As I get ready to undertake an up-close portrait painting of a couple, I’ve been thinking a lot about portraiture in general. When working on capturing a likeness every little feature helps define what that person looks like. I’ve been intrigued by how even birds of the same species can be identified by their different markings.  

I went back through my photographic archives and pulled out some of my “head shots” of a variety of birds to see if I could show you examples of the same species which look very different.  

Let’s start with the Great Blue Heron. It is a bird I see and photograph quite often.  The first portrait is of a Blue Heron with a particularly colorful face. Out of thousands of pictures I instantly recognize it as the Blue Heron we saw on the beach in Sanibel, Florida. It had inched its way close to a fisherman and was looking for a free meal. I was struck by how unique its coloring was compared to any other Blue I had seen.  

Photograph by William R. Beebe

Photograph by William R. Beebe

On the other hand this Great Blue Heron was less colorful, had more grays and the upper half of the beak was blue and not orange/yellow. It was older looking and weathered. Out of a lineup I would pick it every time as the Oxford, Maryland Blue that was on a post dosing on and off on one leg!  ☺

Photograph by William R. Beebe

Photograph by William R. Beebe

This third portrait of a Great Blue Heron shows a bird that has a beautiful combination of rich blues and grays. It looked perfectly groomed and appeared to be in its prime! ☺ I recognize it as the Blue Heron that was standing on top of a bald cypress tree, posing for as long as I could stand around taking pictures of it!  

Another large bird that can quite often be identified by its facial features is the American Bald Eagle. This eagle I call the Contemplator.  Some of you might have seen him in a post or two before. It was the eagle that let me get the closest to it of any eagle. It didn’t seem to care if I was there or not. I can easily identify it by how animated it was and the look in its eye. Every time I go back to that tree I look for it and wonder how it’s doing.  

Photograph by William R. Beebe

Photograph by William R. Beebe

This eagle flew right over me and landed in the pine trees behind me. After screeching a few times it decided to shake its feathers.  I’ll always recognize this one as the brave one that flew right at me and didn’t care about my camera or me.  

Photograph by William R. Beebe

Photograph by William R. Beebe

Some other interesting bird portraits I came across include this little juvenile Night Heron. It was on the docks of a local marina and was seemingly unafraid of humans.  Its beak was weathered like you’d imagine an old bird’s would be, but it had the beautiful white-tipped markings of a juvenile.  

Photograph by William R. Beebe

Photograph by William R. Beebe

Another juvenile bird that let me take its picture for a length of time was this young osprey. It was wild-eyed and had eyes of orange.  It had just flown off the family nest from the other side of the river. I actually painted this particular bird in a different pose and called it Young Osprey’s Blue Yonder.  

Photograph by William R. Beebe

Photograph by William R. Beebe

I will always remember this Great White Egret striking a pose alongside the American Flag. We pulled over to the side of the Florida Keys highway at a seafood restaurant where the fishermen were feeding the pelicans. This egret had most likely eaten since it was content with posing for my camera.  

Photograph by William R. Beebe

Photograph by William R. Beebe

Now having said all of that, I realize that birds have various physiological development stages they go through. Colorings of feathers and beaks change in different seasons. So sadly, I most likely would not recognize the same birds if I saw them again.  ☹

 I will finish with a picture of a Burrowing Owl that I took at the North Carolina Zoo.  What better bird to demonstrate the significance that eyes play in a portrait.  

Photograph by William R. Beebe

Photograph by William R. Beebe

Just like with people, seeing the birds up close brings out the character and exposes the elements that create likeness.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing these photographic bird pics. I enjoy taking them and sharing them with all of you bird lovers out there.

I’m breaking out the brushes soon and starting on a people portrait! Mixing up the subject matter and tackling a portrait right about now is highly motivating and energizing.  

Thanks as always for reading my journal, following my art, and for your comments and questions.


One of the joys of being an artist is having the freedom to follow my passion...
— William R. Beebe
What's next? Drawing by William R. Beebe

What's next?

Drawing by William R. Beebe