Makeover Monday week 4, 2018: Turkey vulture migration in North and South America

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A few weeks ago I received my usual weekly ‘data is plural’ newsletter which contained the links to a fascinating dataset and research paper about the migration of turkey vultures.

I had heard about turkeys and about vultures but not about turkey vultures and much less about birds called Butterball and Steamhouse. I decided this had to be a Makeover Monday challenge and I’m really glad it has been well received so far this week.

Let’s look at the original viz…

What works well:

  • Maps trigger people’s curiosity and provide great geographical context
  • Good choice of colours to indicate migration speeds as well as non-migratory birds (even though the grey dots can be hard to see next to country borders which are grey as well)
  • Comparing outbound and inbound migration side by side makes it easier to spot interesting data points like the increased speed for return migration over the area where Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina share borders
  • Providing a y-axis for context to differentiate Southern and Northern Hemisphere migration. The x-axis is probably useful for insights relating to wind patterns but I have not done any research to back up this assumption 🙂


What could be improved:

  • Adding an indicator for the direction would be helpful for those just looking at the images and captions without the context of the whole research paper. Defining outbound versus inbound would be helpful here too
  • Providing context for why the different speed ranges were chosen would help understand their significance
  • I don’t have any other points because as this is a figure from a research paper, it needs to be understood in the context of the article rather than looked at in isolation


What I did:

  • I had ambitious ideas and not enough time to execute them. For any newbies or anyone else who cares, please rest assured that most weeks I struggle to find a story and create something great and it takes a while until I get to the end result (which may still not be great). Just like quite a few others out there I can often be intimidated by the work of others and I sit there wondering why after all these years of doing dataviz, it still takes me such a long time to find an insight and craft my story around it. I get angry, I get frustrated, I get upset, I complain a little bit to Andy and then I get my act together and find focus and finish the viz. It’s a struggle and it will hopefully get easier. Just thought I should throw that out there (full disclosure) in case people think these vizzes are really 60-min creations. They’re not.
  • Looking at the different birds in this dataset I found the ones who cover the most distance between ‘home base’ and ‘winter habitat’ the most interesting and wanted to find a story for them. I considered calculating distances but given how close it already is to bedtime, decided to make my life easier (I’ll claim it to be ‘creative problem solving’) and simply create a measure by counting the distinct locations that were tracked. This measure reflects the distances covered during peak migration months and my bar chart was born.
  • I found the migration pattern fascinating and really wanted to show it on a map because these birds are actually pretty light. A couple of kilos, a few pounds, and they travel REALLY far twice a year. I wonder how much they eat…
  • In the end I added some highlight actions to show what happens during different times of the year and which bird is where.
  • I also wonder whether Leo and the Steamhouse brothers are friends in real life…


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