Latest Update: Added a photo of it next to a couple of other pens for size comparison.
Since I was so impressed with the pencil version of the Birdie, Simon at Cult Pens sent us the fountain pen version to review – in both medium and fine points. The pencil version is made useful by its small size, but made likeable by the solidity and simplicity. Would the same appeal still work in a fountain pen?
What Is It?
A very small fountain pen. The Birdie fountain pen is thicker than the pencil and ballpoint versions – 8mm diameter instead of 5mm – but is still very small for a fountain pen. The size is just about right for fitting in the pen loop in a Filofax, but probably not the very tiny ones some notebooks come with.
- Stainless Steel Casing.
- Simple, effective pocket clip.
- Fine or Medium nibs available. In the UK, the fine nib isn’t normally available, but Cult Pens have some.
- Steel Nib.
- Supplied with Converter to use bottled ink.
- RRP £9.95, £7.95 at Cult Pens.
Like the pencil, the looks are probably best described as ‘simple’. It’s just a brushed steel tube. The fountain pen version narrows in a step towards the top of the barrel, and there’s a black plastic ring where the cap pushes on. The stepped-down narrowing of the barrel makes it look a little like a Parker 25 in miniature.
The clip is just a shaped piece of steel, with a cut out section.
Removing the cap shows the grip section, in black plastic, with vertical grooves, and the plain steel nib. The nib is in the ‘folded’ style that Lamy are known best for, though I believe it was originally a MontBlanc style. There is no plating or patterning to the nib, just “PILOT” and a letter for the nib width – M or F – unless that’s how you tell what sex your Birdie is.
Like the pencil, the feel is very solid. The brushed steel is nice and ‘grippy’, and everything about the Birdie feels well put together. Whilst the cap doesn’t actually click into place, it feels nice and definite, and the clip feels good and tough.
There is good news and bad news here. It’s mostly good, but a few compromises have to be accepted in a pen this small – and there are a couple of things that could have been done better.
Filling the Birdie is easy. It can take Pilot cartridges, if you prefer the easy option, or if you prefer the fun of bottled ink, it is supplied with a squeezable sac converter – similar to an old Parker Aerometric filler. Unfortunately, this is the first thing that could have been better – the sac is black, so you can’t tell how much ink is in there. This is perfectly common, but always seems a shame to me. Fifty years ago, Parker managed to make fillers with clear sacs, and made them so well that many are still around, still working, and still clear. You have to open the barrel to check the ink level in these, but at least you can. With a black sac, you’re left to guess.
As I said, this is a problem in plenty of other pens, and it just means you either take the risk of running out of ink, carry a cartridge just in case, or refill more often to make sure you don’t run out. It’s also a problem with the converter, really, not the pen itself, and not all manufacturers include a converter at all with their cheaper models – Pilot certainly deserve credit for including one with a pen costing less than Â£10.
Once filled, both pens wrote well, immediately. The fine nib, oddly, wrote a much darker, and not much thinner line than the medium. This probably won’t be the case with all of these pens, but does suggest that the nibs will vary somewhat. Having discussed this with Simon, we think the writing of the medium nib is probably more average – smooth and reliable, and fairly dry. A relatively dry line means less chance of smearing ink, because the line will dry quicker, but less saturated colour (or less solid black).
Personally, I like a fairly wet line, because I like my Noodler’s ink laid down nice and black, so I’m glad the fine is a bit unusually wet, but if you have similar tastes, you may find the Birdie a bit too dry for you.
I use all other fountain pens unposted – I hold the cap in my hand, or put it down somewhere, rather than putting it on the other end of the pen. Even my preference for short pens wasn’t enough for the Birdie unposted, though. The cap fits neatly over the narrowed section, and leaves the posted pen feeling like a single tube again.
With the cap posted on the barrel like this, the balance is good, and the pen is long enough to be comfortable in use.
The black plastic grip is the other thing that I think Pilot could have done better with. I think the vertical-only grooves are there to help the cap slide on and off, but they don’t do much to help you hold the pen. I haven’t found slipping to be much of a problem with it yet, but if you sometimes do have trouble with slippery pens, the Birdie may not be ideal.
Despite these little niggles, all things considered, this is a very good little pen. Bearing in mind how small it is, and the price, I’m very impressed that Pilot have managed to put together a fountain pen that isn’t just good for its size – it’s just good. It’s not the pen I’d reach for if I had a lot of writing to do, but it’s more than good enough for a carry-everywhere pen.
Here’s the Birdie sitting on top of my Filofax – that’s a Pocket Filofax, not the standard size.
It fits very neatly into the pen loop, which most other pens are far too big for.
I then noticed that I could put the fountain pen in the loop, clip the mechanical pencil Birdie to the outside of the loop, and the Filofax still zipped up neatly. Taking it a step further, I clipped the other fountain pen to the outside of the loop too, and it still zipped up neatly, with two fountain pens and a pencil all fitted to the pen loop.
I’m not sure it that says more about how small Pilot can make these things, or about how much space Filofax waste inside their organisers 😉
The Pelikan (top) is a reasonably chunky pen. The Saratoga is probably a fairly average thickness compared to most modern pens, but a little longer than most.
The Birdie is not the best pen you can buy, but it just might be the best you can buy for under Â£10 – and you won’t have to leave it behind for lack of pocket space.
And if drawing is more your thing than writing, this one gives quite decent line variation (for a modern pen, anyway), and turning the nib upside down gives thinner lines than a 0.25mm Rotring Isograph.
To finish, I tested the old saying, and it turned out not to be true. The Birdie in the hand is not worth two in the bush.
This isn’t the best pen I’ve ever used, but it’s amazingly close, considering the size and price. It compares well with budget models from Parker and Lamy, and if you have reason to want something small, I think it’s a real bargain.
If you don’t actually need something small, there’s less reason to go for the Birdie, but it’s still worth considering – it writes well, seems very solid and reliable, and it’s a bit different too.