Ever since he was a young boy, David Opie has loved birds. He would spend his childhood afternoons exploring the woods behind his Shenandoah Valley home, hands wrapped around a Peterson Field Guide, eyes hidden behind a pair of binoculars. Though Opie still enjoys watching birds, he has since channelled his passion not into filling his field guide with feathers, but creating a feather-filled book of his own.
Opie, who holds a BFA in illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, has been illustrating children’s books for decades, but only just started writing his own stories. His debut author-illustrator picture book, All the Birds in the World, was published by Peter Pauper Press early this summer. All the Birds in the Worldserves not only to educate children on the different aspects of birds—such as flight patterns, songs, and beaks — but to relay an important message about inclusion. It follows the story of Kiwi, a type of flightless bird endemic to New Zealand, as he struggles to find his place among what Opie calls the “feathered family.”
“There are a lot of picture books about birds that have been coming out, but I wanted to find an angle,” Opie explained. “One thing that I seized on was that with birds you have a lot of diversity and yet they are still all a part of the same family, which ended up being the theme of the book.”
Kiwi On DisplayBut Opie’s debut book is not only available to or resonant with children; its illustrations and message are currently being displayed in a window gallery show at the Wild Bird Fund (WBF) on the Upper West Side. Filled with blown-up cutouts of Opie’s vibrant illustrations, the display catches the attention of many passersby. At the center of the display, Kiwi sits on a stump, gazing up at the array of color soaring overhead.
Co-founder and current director Rita McMahon opened the Wild Bird Fund in 2012. As New York City’s only wildlife rehabilitation center, it performs a vital service to urban birds. But the WBF’s mission is twofold: care for the city’s birds and educate New Yorkers, particularly children, about wildlife. As such, the mission of All the Birds in the Worldaligns with that of the WBF.
Thus far, the window gallery has proven engaging and successful.
“One of the staff members came back to me,” McMahon recalled, “and said, ‘Of all the years I’ve been here, this is the best window!’”
Pedestrians are welcome to both admire the window from the street or to buy a book or piece of artwork. Fifty percent of the proceeds go to the WBF. The revenue will be used to support the WBF’s patients — the center treated 7,000 birds last year alone — and educational programs.
A central goal of the WBF and Opie’s work is to spread awareness about the beauty and importance of wildlife; such consciousness has, perhaps surprisingly, risen throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. McMahon has observed that supplies that are typically readily available, such as mealworms and earthworms, are now routinely sold out, suggesting that many more people are bringing animals to rehabbers nationwide.
“We are building up another layer of awareness because of Covid-19. People have turned to nature; they looked at the trees as they were sprouting this spring, they saw it with much more detail because they were forever looking out the window,” said McMahon, who has been heartened by the level of care New Yorkers have recently shown toward their city’s birds. “There’s a silver lining in this.”
Yet it’s not only the typical urbanite who is gaining a newfound appreciation for myriad forms of wildlife. Opie himself is educating himself on animals beyond his beloved feathered family and currently working on another picture book, All the Fish in the World, which will likely be published next spring.
“One thing that I seized on was that with birds you have a lot of diversity and yet they are still all a part of the same family, which ended up being the theme of the book,” David Opie