alexandra regan toland

research narratives in artistic ecology

Feather and Measure

When you observe a bird, it has certainly for a long time already been observing you. (Ornithologist’s wisdom)

Observing birds has been a deeply human occupation since humans evolved on earth. At that time, the world was already populated by birds for about 125 million years.

The project Feather and Measure is an artistic collaboration with Myriel Milicevic for the exhibition, Natural Affairs, curated by Christel Schüppenhauer. The project takes the spatial and temporal scales and perspectives of birds as a point of departure for reinterpreting natural landscapes and our human presence within them. It consists of a growing body of tools, maps, stories, measures, and measurements that playfully reflect on forms of interaction and coexistence between people and birds.

The ornithoscope is for non-bird-experts to identify common and less abundant birds in central European cities and countrysides.


The bird house backpack is designed for temporarily housing migratory species that used to travel long distances and now often change their habits of migration with warming winters, staying within one region. The wearable bird house promotes positive human-bird interactions, while allowing birds to still feel a sense of movement.


The map, “Feather and Corn” is a visualization of the local landscape around Dornbirn, representing its rich soil types, agricultural use, and conflicting coexistence with one currently threatened bird species, the Corncrake.


Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) are a patch-worked network of conservation areas for globally or regionally threatened bird species. These special sites ensure migrating pairs and groups of birds suitable breeding, resting, and wintering places along flyways. IBAs in Danger are sites threatened by logging, hunting, commercial development, mining, pollution, intensive agriculture, and other human disturbances. Close to the area of this exhibition lies an IBA in Danger known as the Riede in the northern Rhein valley of Austria’s Vorarlberg. This is the home to the illustrious Corncrake (Crex crex), which breeds in open tall grass meadows from Ireland to western China. The map shows the soil types surrounding this IBA in Danger, including eutric cambisols, which are hailed by the FAO as one of the most productive soils on earth. It is no wonder that a bird who builds its nest in tall hay meadows would eventually come in conflict with industrial agriculture (the greatest threat to this area). Birdlife International suggests adapting mowing schedules and methods to be kinder to the Corncrake. Working with farmers to delay harvest times, increasing uncut meadow, and restoring lost habitat where possible are also recommended. We like to call this “slow-mow.”




This entry was posted on September 5, 2015 by .
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