Fieldfare – Thrush


Fieldfare – Thrush:
Mike Wood shows how to carve this striking member of the thrush family.

Mike Wood shows how to carve this striking member of the thrush family

The fieldfare (Turdis pilaris) is a migratory bird that breeds in Scandinavia, central and northern Europe and as far as parts of China. The fieldfare’s name derives from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘feldeware’, meaning ‘traveller of the fields’. They can be found feeding in hedgerows and fields and they also like woodlands. They are a highly social species with some flocks numbering hundreds of birds.
To avoid the harsh winters they migrate and large numbers come to Britain in October/November but are mostly returned to their breeding grounds by April/May.
I chose to use jelutong (Dyera costulata) for this project. It is a timber that is easy to carve and holds detail, including fine pyrography markings. If you do not have jelutong, lime (Tilia vulgaris) would work well too, but you need to be a bit more careful with the pyrography. It takes just a little bit longer than jelutong to get the depth of the lines right.
While I use power-carving methods for the majority of the carvings I create, you can, of course, hand carve. Time should not be an issue for carvers, except when trying to make money from carving, so take your time and use the methods that best suit you. You don’t have to apply pyrography or colour to birds if you do not want to, but in the case of the fieldfare, without colouring the body form is hard to distinguish form other members of the thrush family.

For further information about the fieldfare visit

Things you will need
• Personal and respiratory protective equipment
• Bandsaw, coping saw or fretsaw
• Carving knife
• Rotary power carving unit
• Coarse taper burr
• Medium flame or taper burr
• Bull-nose burr
• Round-nose burr
• Sanding drum
• Pyrography unit with scalpel nib
• Eyes
• Jelutong (Dyera costulata)
• Paint brushes
• Airbrush
• Spray template
• Acrylic colours as per the colour palette below
 Cadmium yellow and cadmium orange acrylic paint for the apple
 Plastic wood
• Abrasives 120-240 grit

Drawings and how to resize them
To enlarge or reduce the size of drawings right click on the image to download it and then go HERE to watch a video on how to use paper with a grid to do exactly that.

1. Start by cutting out your bird blank, leaving just a little bit of extra wood for shaping and refining later. While finished size isn’t critical, this one is a life-like size, about 250mm long. Use the plans provided and scale them up to the size you require. I use a small bandsaw to cut the outline of the blank, but you can use a coping or fretsaw. Whatever you use to create the blank, remember to support the work so it is effectively and safely held while you cut. The last thing you want is for the blank to rock in the cut

1b. I use jelutong for the timber, but lime would work well too. Since this is to be coloured, a plain, easily carved neutral timber is best, but if you want to leave the bird plain then you can pick a timber that suits your needs

2. Once you have your rough-cut blank, start shaping it using either a knife, gouge or rotary carving unit with a coarse burr. You need to make sure you have all the main bulges, swells, hollows and essential lines and forms of the bird in the right places. Constantly check your reference material so that you have a full understanding of how the bird moves, its stances and such like to see the key defining aspects of the bird

3. Once shaped, you need to sand the bird smooth down to 240/320 grit. You can do this by hand, or power sand with a soft sanding bobbin. I power sand and carve. If you do so, remember to wear personal and respiratory protective equipment. Once sanded, draw in the wing feather locations and also the cheek , eye, beak and tail feather detail

Feather location & detail

4. Using either a gouge or a rotary power-carving unit fitted with a ruby taper burr, as I am in the picture, outline the feather details just marked. Again check reference material for shape and structure…

…then move to a point taper to refine the just-cut areas as required and also carve in the tail feathers

5. After the tail feathers, move on to the cheek area. Now, use a ball-end burr to cut the eye socket then move back to using the ruby taper to create the feather detail around the eye and also the beak form and appearance

6. Now you need to flip the bird over and use a coarse taper to cut grooves, which define the plumage structure and boundaries. Once done, sand it to create the soft, pillow-like effect of the feathers on the  belly

7. Draw in the undertail coverts and tail feathers and use the ruby taper burr to cut those feathers in

8. In readiness for creating fine detail, sand the bird all over to remove any whiskers and sharp edges on the feathered areas. This provides a nice surface for fine detailing

9. Use a fine bull-nose burr to create texture on the head and nape area…

…as well as the body and wings

10. The texture applied must be deep enough to show through an application of gesso so it looks like fine  texture and not too deep. If in doubt, try creating various depths of texture on a scrap piece of wood, and apply a coat of gesso…

…once dry, see how deep you need to go to create the soft texture required

Apple, eyes & bird’s feet

11. Now either turn or carve an apple, sand it and drill a centre hole at the end for the stem. I pyrograph the calyx/stamen…

…then, sand a flat area so the apple sits at an angle when placed on a surface. The angle is up to you, so think about how the bird will sit on the apple later

12. Now you need to either make or buy feet for the fieldfare. I make mine but feet are readily available online. To fit the feet, drill two holes into the main body in a suitable position and spaced appropriately. Check your reference material to help with this. For the eyes, you can  buy or make them yourself. To fit them, place a small amount of plastic wood in the eye socket and press the eye into it. The squeeze-out can then be shaped to create the surround and blended in

Pyrography and gesso

13. Draw in the relevant main feathers’ forms. Then, use a pyrography unit with a scalpel-type tip to detail the main parts of the feathers, such as the central rachis and outlines of the feathers. The depth the lines are burnt to needs to be enough to show through after the gesso is applied, but some need to be deeper than others to create the right look. Refer to your reference material

14. Burn in the barbs of the feather vanes

15. Work all over until the burnt detail is done

16. You should end up with something like this

17. Now secure the legs in place using an adhesive or plastic wood. Using plastic wood allows you to mould and shape the intersecting areas between the main body and the top of the legs. This is done while the adhesive is still ‘wet’ so you can create fine texture. Once dry, apply a coat of gesso all over. Once that’s dry, paint the legs burnt umber

Colouring & detail 

18. You now need to block in the main colours in the following sequence. Raw sienna is used to undercoat the back scapular’s secondary wing coverts. Next, apply two thin washes of burnt sienna over the raw sienna coat. The head and rump are coated with a mix of Paynes grey and white and a mix of Payne’s grey and burnt umber is used for all the dark markings on the tail and primary feathers…

…The underside of the bird needs to have a very light wash of burnt umber

Top tip: Airbrushing can be useful, but if you are not familiar with it, everything on this bird can be done using hand-held paint brushes. I use both for maximum control.

19. Take a rigger paint brush and edge all the feathers with a thin ‘dry’ coat of white gesso. You need the white to highlight the raised sections of the feathers, not inside the burnt grooves, so have the paint as dry as possible to edge the feathers

20. You can see how effective the dry coat is in adding highlights. Take your time – rushing will likely cause mistakes and inaccuracies

21. Check your reference material to see how much edging is required for each type of feather. There is a fair amount of variance

22. You now need to create the dark dots on the back. These can be done by hand, but are better done with an airbrush in conjunction with a pre-shaped template. Whatever method you use, apply multiple light washes to get the desired effect. Note how the dots have soft, graduated rear ends

23. Create pointed variants of the dots on the breast and either side of the bird. These too are graduated at the  back end and also vary in size. Make a few templates to help with this

24. At this point create the eye shadow and the darkened band on the lower cheek areas

25. When dry, dry brush in white highlights on the underside to soften the harsh, dark markings. Once again, check your reference material for the overall look required

Interesting facts
The fieldfare’s preferred food is insects and worms, but if the ground becomes frozen they turn to windfall fruits, berries, nuts, seeds and other available items. Historically, fieldfares were hunted for food. Archaeological evidence shows they were hunted by the ancient Romans and, in parts of Europe, hunting continued until the early part of the  last century.

26. The feathers on the back now need to be edged and highlighted

27. Now put in the dark triangular patches on the head. These vary in size so use templates to help with this. Use a brush to create the highlights….

…Using a variety of brushes will help with creating fine and slightly thicker lines as required

28. The beak needs to have a coat of  cadmium yellow, which, once dry, is coated with a light, thin wash of burnt umber to tone down the color

The apple

29. The apple is coloured yellow and, while still wet, it is coated with flow release – a wetting agent which increases the flow of acrylic paints – and red acrylic paint is applied to areas of the apple. While the paints are still wet, use a fan brush to drag the red over the apple to create the blushed, reddish look you require

30. To make the apple look a little bit older, like a windfall that had been on the floor a while, I used an airbrush to create a few dark dots to indicate the start of the apple spoiling or being bruised

Top tip: If you do not have a wetting agent to increase the ease of flow of the acrylics, you can create a similar effect by dry brushing the paint on. If you don’t want a red and yellow apple, use a green or yellow/green colour combination

The finishing touches

31. The very tip of the beak has a mix of burnt umber and Payne’s grey applied to it, which is a solid coat at the tip and graduates to a soft-feathered coat so it blends into the beak about 25-3o° of the way back towards the head. The legs need to be given  a coat of clear acrylic lacquer to create a light sheen on the legs. Do not make them glossy. You now need to bore a couple of holes in the apple in which the spikes on the bottom of the bird feet can be fitted. These are glued in place with a fast-setting adhesive or  epoxy resin. While I pyrographed the apple calyx on the underside of the apple, you could drill a hole and fit a clove stud and glue it in place instead. The stem and leaf can be carved – I created mine from metal foil. But, if you want to, stems and leaves can be bought online. They are usually either cast metal or made from resin/ plastic. The cast metal and resin ones can be over painted to the colour you want.


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