Carving animals is a very different style of carving from spoons or caricatures.  Caricatures are fun and if they don't turn out 100% the way you seen it in your head that doesn't matter.  However, when carving an animal, it's still fun, but every single bit matters otherwise it will never look real or as real as you are attempting to get.  
This carving is one I love.  It is a Barn Owl, my favourite from the owl family.  I cut the small billet from Birch and it lay on my workbench for months while I decide what I wanted to carve.  The little branch coming out had to be a useful feature in my carving.  The Barn Owl was the natural choice.  It is a relief style carving rather than three dimensional.  Next, getting a picture to copy.  I never got something I could trace so I had to freehand draw the owl from a photo on the Internet.  As the wood was very hard, I had to use a mix of power tools, knives and chisels. I chose not to paint it as the natural look is really nice.
I hope you enjoyed looking at these photos of my Barn Owl carving as much as I enjoyed creating it.  One lovely dynamic about carving animals is you really have to study the subject matter.  This results in you learning more about the form of the animal and it's habitat.  That then develops a stronger sense of appreciate and respect for that species.
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