After months of solitary birdwatching early in the pandemic, artist Jer Thorp jumped at an invitation to take part in the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), Audubon’s century-old annual survey. On a chilly day in December 2020, he and other Brooklyn CBC volunteers tallied nearly 50,000 birds.
The number struck him. “What does 50,000 birds look like?” wondered Thorp, who often works with huge data sets. He built a computer program to illustrate that, using the even higher tally from the most recent CBC: 51,567 birds from 133 species.
The icons in this vast murmuration correspond to each species’ shape and color, which Thorp selected manually after poring over photographs. He fiddled with the code for months until satisfied with the plumpness of duck bellies and the prominence of heron bills, and even tweaked the size and wing position of individual birds to render each data point unique.
Thorp’s aim is to awaken our appreciation for the creatures themselves. “We tend to see a group of birds, and reduce them to a number in our checklist,” he says. “The idea is to take those numbers and unpack them again into these delightful little things a lot of us are really deeply in love with.”
This story originally ran in the Spring 2023 issue. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.