A Bird On a Map is Worth Two in the Bush

A Bird On a Map is Worth Two in the Bush

In the spirit of Thanksgiving turkey, I was interested in how many birds are consumed globally, and not just here in the US. Luckily, the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) keeps track of all sorts of data about world-wide food production, consumption, exports and imports. Let’s take a look at the source of the data, how I processed it, and what poultry consumption looks like around the world.

Duck Hunt

Poultry includes chickens, ducks, turkeys, and a number of other birds commonly consumed by people (according to the USDA). I downloaded a poultry data file from the FAS and got to work. I filtered the table to only display consumption records around the world from 1960 to 2014. There are large gaps in the data for many countries and the FAS seems to have stopped keeping track of Europe in 1996 (what are they hiding?!), and most countries in Africa have no data at all.

I decided to use per capita measures of poultry consumption, not only because it’s a more relatable measure than thousands of metric tons,  but it also controls for population growth. In order to process the data further I needed global population data, which I downloaded from the World Bank. I uploaded both the poultry and population tables to CartoDB and joined them based on a common key, country name. CartoDB also went an extra step and geocoded the data to national outlines automatically. I then exported the data as a shapefile and opened it up in ArcGIS for processing.

I decided to look at two time periods: 1996 (the year before the feather curtain fell across Europe) and the most recent full year of data, 2013. I used SQL in ArcMap to select only those records where both the population and consumption were greater than zero to filter out missing data. I used the field calculator to convert the metric tons to US pounds, and then divided the result by the population. I did this for each of the years I was interested in. To verify my results, I checked the per capita consumption against the  the US Poultry and Egg association’s data, and they had an eggcellent match.


Angry Birds

First, I assessed global poultry consumption in 1996, the last year for which the FAS had data on western Europe. It appears that the Dutch appear to love poultry almost as much as the US, and it’s a popular food in France as well. Central and South America also eat quite a bit of poultry, and large oil producers in the Middle east also have high consumption rates:

Oman, Kuwait to Eat Some Chicken

Next, let’s look at global poultry consumption in 2013: Europe goes dark and we see the rise of Gulf countries in the Middle-East (Thanks, KFC?). Per capita consumption in the US has increased by ten pounds since 1996 and Brazil more than doubled its consumption from 27 to 70 pounds, and now rules the global roost.


Bird’s Eye View

For the final map let’s take a look at how per capita consumption has changed from 2010 to 2013. I used more recent years because many of the countries with available data changed from 1996 to 2013, but 2010-2013 did not add or remove any data. I used CartoCSS to break down the map classification into only two categories: gains and losses. It seems that even while Brazil’s consumption slowed from 2010 to 2013, it was still greater than the US. Per-capita consumption rose broadly across most of Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The biggest losers were Kuwait, Jamaica, and Hong Kong (in that order), and the biggest increases go to Belarus, Saudi Arabia, and Argentina (respectively).

A Few Final Birds

While this is interesting to look at, there are some large limitations in the data. Many countries are missing information, and per capita consumption is an imperfect measure. Consumption of poultry varies drastically across individuals, regions, religions, countries, and cultures. How do various nations record and report how much poultry people eat? And where did Europe go?

Finally, for those wondering about the “A Bird in Hand” saying, you can learn about it here. Coincidentally there is a village in Pennsylvania called Bird-in-Hand.