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When the whole world is a coal mine, every bird is a canary.


We Were Out Counting Birds is about the politics, poetry and pathos of avian enumeration. It's a book about finding and counting, hope and precarity. Told in a series of essays focusing on a single bird species, it tells the story of how tightly bound our own future is to that of our feathered friends.

Some of these stories touch the exhilaration of multitude; others the existential despair of the number one. Counting up to millions and down to zero, branching out to five continents and traveling back three centuries, readers are carried on the wings of eleven remarkable bird species, in close company of 10,473 more.

A story set deep in the jungle of Borneo and on an Air Force bombing range in central Florida, in museum drawers and mist nets, We Were Out Counting Birds will exhilarate and enthrall. In flocks that fill the sky and alone in the shadows of faraway forests, the book’s cast of winged characters will change the way you think about birds and what they mean to our lives and our futures.

Richly illustrated

The stories in We Were Out Counting Birds are told in words, and in images. Each chapter features a set of bespoke graphics, informed by data collected about the feature species. Interwoven with the text, the illustrations offer unique ways for the reader to deepen their understanding. The images are 100% produced by the author, who has more than 15 years of experience making data visualizations.

Deeply engaging

"If Annie Dillard wrote about data, it might sound something like this."

- Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield on Living in Data

We Were Out Counting Birds neatly interweaves fact and fiction, scientific observation and heartfelt reflection. A treat for those who love both nature and nuanced storytelling, the book moves between memoir and exposition, travelogue and cultural observation. Navigating diverse landscapes, complex behaviours, and uncertain futures, the book doesn't merely tell a tale—it sings, trills, and soars along with its avian protaganists.

Extraordinarily Timely

Everywhere, birds are changing the very ways they exist as birds.

Little bustards in Spain are displaying less often for their mates, albatross on Midway Island are leaving their life-long partners, Veeries along the Eastern Seaboard are choosing not to lay their usual late-summer clutch of eggs. Starling murmurations in Rome are larger than ever, while the ubiquitous house sparrow is disappearing from the English Countryside. A study led by the Audubon society recently found out that 39% of North American bird species are facing elevated risk of extinction due to climate change. 

Birds have always been bellwethers. Sentinels. The first bright warblers tell us of the arrival of Spring. Gulls coming ashore to roost warn us of a coming storm. We have known, at least since the silent springs of the 1970s, that birds are dying for our environmental sins, in the millions. Where the extinctions of the Passenger Pigeon or the Eskimo Curlew or the Great Moa might have been written of as run-off from inevitable human progress, each new species’ disappearance (there are more and more every year) whispers to us of our own fragility, our own inevitable turn at the edge of the precipice.

Coming Summer 2025 from MCD x FSG

For press & queries about international rights, please get in touch.

About the author


Jer Thorp is an author and artist living in New York City. He was the New York Times' first Data Artist in Residence, is a National Geographic Explorer, and in 2017 and 2018 served as the Innovator in Residence at the Library of Congress. Jer is one of the world's foremost data artists, and is a leading voice for the ethical use of big data.

Jer's data investigations have brought him to some of the world's most amazing places, including the highlands of Angola and the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. His community-focused artwork has engage with communities across North America, including in Cleveland's Old Brooklyn neighbourhood and St. Louis's North City.

Jer's 2021 book Living in Data was called a "spot-on debut" by Publishers Weekly (starred review) and was widely praised for its unique approach and humane voice.

Jer is an enthusiastically amateur birder. Most mornings he can be found in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

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