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Christmas Bird Count Highlights Local Trends

HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – The Christmas bird count is a way local residents can be a part of a national census for birds around the country, but it wasn't always quite like that.

“People used to try and kill as many birds as they could with their new shotguns on Christmas day so people decided well instead of shooting them lets count them,” said local organizer Michael Bochnik.

The bird count is run by the National Audubon Society and groups organize across the country to head out and count how many birds and which species are in certain areas.

Bochnik said he’s been “birding” since he was about 18 as a hobby and it has grown into a passion from there.

“We break up into about 30 groups and cover the area of the Bronx and southern Westchester and basically stand and count and identify the birds we see throughout the day and compile them in the evening,” Bochnik said.

The information gathered is compiled into a national database that is oftentimes used as a national resource.  Volunteers break up into several groups and cover areas of about 15 miles total.

“We have this great, incredible database of 88 years of the area of what birds and their numbers for the past 88 years,” Bochnik said.  “For instance when West Nile first came in and started decimating bird populations Christmas count was the first database that showed the big drop in numbers.”

Using the count is also a useful way of determining new and different species to various areas.  Bochnik said it’s a great example of global warming with many birds native to the south popping up more frequently.

“In the late 1990s we’ve seen expansion of a lot of southern species into the area,” he said.  “It’s a good sign of global warming, numerous species that never used to be around here.”

The southern Westchester bird count, which takes place on Monday Dec. 26 plans to count an average of about 117 species for the day and about 45,000 birds total.

“It’ll be interesting this year because we had that early October snow storm, but then we’ve been having this really warm fall since then so it’ll be very interesting to see how that affected the bird population.”

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