March 28


HATCHING AN IDEA by David Obuchowski

A topic I write about quite a bit is cars. I don’t write car reviews, I don’t write about how to fix them, I don’t write about them as machines. I write about people’s experiences with them. I am frequently asked why I write about this topic. My answer is that everyone has a car story. You don’t need to even particularly care about cars to have one. It might be a funny story. It might be a tragic story. It might be a strange story. But I’m willing to bet that pretty much all of us have some kind of car story. They’re a thing that unite us, that connect us.

As it turns out, birds are a little like cars in that way. They’re something we all have in common, whether we know it yet, or not.

The First In The Family

It was years ago that Sarah Pedry (who I have the good fortune of being married to) started really getting into birds. She’d always been inspired by nature, but at some point, her interest in birds intensified. She bought binoculars. She took a comprehensive bird biology class from Cornell (and read the lengthy text that accompanied it), receiving a certificate for doing so. She went on birdwatching trips.

Illustrator Sarah Pedry birding

At first, birds were just her thing. But when someone you know or admire gets into something, it can be contagious. Before long, our kids and I were noticing birds everywhere. And that’s because they are everywhere. They are on the ground, they are in the bushes, they are on the rooftops, they are in the trees, they are in the sky, they are in the ponds and lakes and rivers and oceans. Whether you are in a city, in the country, or in a suburb. No matter what country, continent, or hemisphere. Birds are everywhere!

The Ubiquity of Birds

Quick, look out the window! Did you see a bird? I bet you probably did. And even if you didn’t, it’s probably because it’s got clever camouflage. Trust me, they are out there.

Once you really stop to notice them, you find all kinds of little details that make them even more intriguing. The striking red and yellow wing patches on the red-winged blackbird, the iridescence of a pigeon, the way a bird will get poofy when it’s cold. And then there are their songs, or the way they fly—some swooping and diving, others flying in mesmerizing formations, others seeming to defy gravity as they ride the thermals.

These incredible creatures are just hiding in plain sight for everyone, everywhere.

So when Sarah told me she wanted to do a children’s book about birds, I thought it was a great idea.

Kid’s Natural Journal

An Obscure Text

It was right around this time she showed me a somewhat obscure book that she’d found in a used bookstore. It was called Birds Asleep by naturalist Alexander Skutch, and published back in 1989 by the University of Texas Press.

Skutch spent years in the field trying to answer the question of how birds sleep. He quickly learned there’s no single answer, and that there was a reason why it’s not common knowledge—it can be extremely challenging to observe them in the dark night, where they are already camouflaged or hidden away inside structures.

Sarah’s reaction to this scientific, academic book was glee.  Especially because she remembered one very special birdwatching trip: a weekend trip she took with her father to Nebraska, where they witnessed the Sandhill crane migration, and even got to see them sleep. (Being out in the freezing Nebraska night was a taste of what ornithologists subject themselves to in order to conduct research on the sleeping habits of birds! It’s not easy.)

Sandhill cranes (Nebraska)

How birds sleep would make an awesome premise for a children’s book, she told me. And Skutch’s book would be the first of many different sources we’d use for our research.

The Immediacy of the Idea

For me, hearing the idea was like love at first sight. How in the world do birds sleep? I had no idea! We see their feathers, hear their songs, we watch them fly and float. But here was something I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen: a bird sleeping!

It also occurred to me that not only were birds something that united us all, but so was sleep itself. We all sleep. It’s a thing we can all relate to.

At this point, I knew I wanted to be a part of the project. But Sarah had not only jumped right into illustration ideas, but she’d even taken a crack at writing it herself. But she eventually ended up frustrated by the non-fiction writing process, which can be almost metallurgical in how one synthesizes research and forms narratives or stories.

Me, I revel in this process. I love writing stories whether they are true or made up. And while I’m used to writing short literary stories and long-form essays, I’d been very interested in trying my hand at a children’s book since both of our kids are such voracious readers (and listeners, in the case of our Dickens and L’Engle and Melissa Harrison read-alouds). 

My Persistence Pays Off

Early HOW BIRDS SLEEP drawings

So I once again petitioned Sarah to let me join her on this journey. (A good writer, I think, not only has to be good at their craft, but also a little opportunistic and speak up when they see a project that suits them!)

Sarah relented. Or invited. Either way, I landed the part. And though I did get fired and re-hired a few times, I ultimately kept the job. And in crafting these words, and with Sarah crafting these images by hand, our passionate hope is that we have succeeded in not just helping to teach how birds sleep, but showing how downright interesting these widely varied animals are, and how worthy they are of our efforts to help them thrive as their habitats—the places they depend upon to get a good night’s sleep, and thus to survive—are increasingly threatened.  

And more than anything, we hope we’ve made more people realize that, no matter where you are, birds are near you. Like going to sleep at night, sharing our neighborhood with birds is something every single one of us has in common. And that makes it a story worth telling.


sarah pedry + david obuchowski how birds sleepDavid Obuchowski is a writer and a musician. He writes about real-life stuff like cars, people, and birds, but he also makes up stories, too.

Sarah Pedry is an artist whose paintings and illustrations reflect her passion for nature and new places.