By Jim Melwert

Moorestown, NJ (CBS) – The National Audubon Society’s 112th annual Christmas Bird Count is going on now across the country. And, while many people were returning and exchanging unwanted gifts, a group of birding enthusiasts from Moorestown, New Jersey spent the day after Christmas out on the count.

It used to be tradition this time of year to go out and see who could shoot the most game — birds included.  But, that changed with the first bird count, in 1900, “Instead of going out and shooting the birds, you go out and count them,” says Moorestown bird counter and compiler Mark Pensiero.

The sunny, chilly conditions of this year’s count were better than some past counts Pensiero’s been a part of. “Today is beautiful, last year’s count, by the end of the day, I think there was 15 inches of snow on the ground.”

Data from the nation-wide count are used to study how birds are faring. Pensiero says there’s good and bad news. For example, a drop in grasslands birds like pheasants, with an increase development.

Or, “On the Delaware River now, it’s not unusual to get loons and canvas back ducks, and if you were to go back on the Delaware 40 years ago, you never would have seen them because the river was so polluted that there were no fish able to survive in there.”

Pensiero says it takes an understanding wife to let him spend most of the day after Christmas out counting birds. “Probably got 40 people out in the field today, participating, and they’ll come back with their count sheets and we’ll sit around my dining room table, and try to get warm and see what kind of counts of birds and number of species we saw today.”

About 40 people are helping with the Moorestown Christmas count. Groups across the country hold their counts on any day from December 14th through January 5th. Last year, Audubon says over 62,000 people tallied over 60-million birds across North America.

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