Tracking Heroic Journeys
The National Audubon Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofits, with a global mission to conserve our natural and ecological heritage. At its disposal is a wealth of birdwatching data, including migration paths, tracking data, and conservation needs.
Audubon came to Postlight with the ambitious goal of offering a best-in-class data visualization tool that blended its migratory bird path data with GIS data to empower users with the joy of discovery.
Maps That Tell Stories
Audubon wanted to create a compelling and visual experience that would allow both “bird nerds” and the “bird curious” to discover migratory birds in their backyards and follow their travels.
Powered by several gigabytes of data, Postlight and Audubon set out to excite users with the new The Bird Migration Explorer — an immersive, beautifully designed platform with interactive maps and approachable self-discovery options.
Postlight developed the product strategy and interactive maps through extensive research and discovery. Many rounds of iteration and a deep understanding of the science and GIS data helped us build a fun, engaging, and scientifically accurate platform.
From Concept to MVP
Audubon aggregates data from its own science team, local bird watchers, and ornithology partners. Our product team dove into data discovery with our data partner, Blue Raster, to uncover patterns and outliers in the data and determine how to tell the story through visualizations.
Our design team brought the data to life using compelling visualizations and animations that allowed the user to explore and self-guide their journey. The design system brought together migration, bird species, local places of interest data, conservation data, and views of species families to show aggregated trends.
Our engineering team built the Bird Migration Explorer — a state-of-the-art, innovative conservation platform. It features modern technology that scales for birders in the field and scientists in the lab by processing GIS data and overlaying bird tracks, bird shadows, and more.
Challenges Birds Face
Another goal of the Bird Migration Explorer was to surface the challenges birds face on their thousand-mile journeys. By highlighting clear and present dangers, users can see the impact on each bird species and how they can help local conservation efforts.
The conservation challenge data illustrates human activities and environmental changes to tell the story of each threat birds face. The overlay of each challenge allows the user to dive into the cause and impact of each affected bird species with the ultimate goal of prompting the user to take conservation actions.
Showcasing each species’ journey requires the data to be displayed as both a point in time and a week-over-week animated journey.
To present accurate scientific data and capture nonlinear travel paths, we added data symbology that included gaps in banding, observation, and missing data. Those infrequent gaps are bolstered by robust data that shows high confidence and precision defended by vetted and verified science data by Audubon and their partners.
Attribution and Citation Data
The bird community is close-knit and believes that sharing all data will yield better conservation efforts. We set out to ensure that our data was accurate and properly cited to reflect the maps’ credibility and sources.
We designed an attribution bar in the footer that showcased top-flight data providers and partners whose data help power the maps and tell the story. Additionally, we created a citation panel that shows every data cited by source for each map visualization. This data panel adjusts real-time as the user controls the map to show only the cited data in the current view.
Iterating to an MVP
We delivered many rounds of iterations on the science data and showcased the work to Audubon stakeholders, partners, and staff. We needed to ensure that each view, animation, and possible configuration was accurately telling the stories of the birds’ travels. From line density of tracks to opacity of shadows and overlays of challenges migratory birds face, we delivered a scientifically verified immersive experience.
In addition, the entire system is editable via a CMS that Audubon staff can manage without technical resources. Additionally, local language support for both English and Spanish is available at launch, and we’ve planned and programmed future language support to allow for more accessible translation improvements.
The National Audubon Society launched the Bird Migration Explorer to the public in September 2022. Within the first 24 hours of launch, the Explorer had 900 visitors per minute and coverage by 388 media placements with a combined readership of 1.1 billion.