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The Christmas Bird Count: A Tradition with Deep NY Roots

December 14, 2011

NEW YORK - The annual Christmas Bird Count, a conservation movement which got started in New York - gets under way this weekend as enthusiasts head back to Central Park and other locations to spot and count migratory birds.

Changes in migration patterns can be used as an early warning system for the effects of climate change in the region, says Glenn Phillips, executive director of New York City Audubon.

"When the Christmas Bird Count started, there were no cardinals in New York City; now they're abundant. And then, of course, there are other birds that the numbers are declining - and Christmas Bird Count data was actually used to prove that a species had gone extinct."

Increasing numbers of mockingbirds also have been spotted in New York City, Phillips says.

The Christmas Bird Count is the world's longest-running citizen science project. Phillips says the bird-counting tradition began more than 100 years ago because locals feared that the routine shooting of birds was driving some species to extinction.

"People were shooting birds for food, and shooting them just because it was fun, and shooting birds for their feathers. Dozens of species were nearly wiped out because they were being shot for feathers for ladies' hats."

Beginners and expert birders are invited to attend the counts in New York City, Brooklyn, New Jersey and various locations in the Hudson Valley. Details are available on the New York City Audubon website, nycaudubon.org.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY