Barlow was born in Lincolnshire and studied portraiture under William Sheppard. He then turned to painting birds and animals and might be compared with the Flemish master Melchior Hondecoeter. His reputation was established by 1656 when John Evelyn referred to him as 'the famous painter of Fowle, Beasts and Birds.' His engraved works include 110 plates for an edition of Aesop's Fables (1666) preserved in the British Museum, and fourteen plates entitled Several Ways of Hawking, Hunting, and Fishing (1671).
The present drawing was produced for Multae et Diversae Avium Species, a book which was first published in 1671 and which was so popular that it was still being reissued in 1799. It has not been possible to identify the engraver, but Barlow worked with many of the best engravers in England including Hollar, Griffier and Place.