A Celebration of the Bobolink’s Star-Guided Migration

In her piece “I’ll See You When I Get There,” artist Kirsten Furlong uses ink and acrylic to capture the birds’ seemingly magical journeys.
Drawing of two black birds with yellow and white patches perched, mirroring each other, on grass blades against a star-spangled black backdrop and abstract lines.
Illustration: Kirsten Furlong

After college, Kirsten Furlong developed a deep interest in birds while working in a wildlife photographer’s gallery. The Boise, Idaho, resident’s current obsession is the Bobolink, a songbird whose numbers have plummeted in step with the loss of prairie nesting habitat.

To reach these breeding grounds, the birds use the stars to help navigate more than 6,000 miles. “It’s pretty magical,” Furlong says of the feat. Here she depicts two Bobolinks against a star-spangled backdrop. The ink and acrylic drawing is heavy on intricate detail but light on color, with pops of yellow at the birds’ napes and green grass blades that serve as fragile perches or lifelines.

The foreground lines are intentionally abstract. “They could be topographic marks,” she suggests, evoking a map a developer might commission before converting a meadow into housing. She positions her subjects as near mirrors of each other: “When two images that seem to be very similar are presented side by side, the viewer will actively compare them.” To her, one represents the Bobolink itself, and the other is a “wish bird” or “dream,” perhaps of all the Bobolinks that have already vanished. Furlong hopes the viewer recognizes that one bird alone isn’t enough. 

This piece originally ran in the Fall 2023 issue. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.