Since 2013 an annual census of the bird life around the Lake has been conducted. The Waihora Ellesmere Trust coordinates the count along with Birds NZ, Christchurch City Council and the Department of Conservation. The count is supported by the Selwyn District Council, Environment Canterbury, Keystone Ecology and a number of volunteers, with a range of bird identification skill levels.
The count takes place in February to be consistent with previous surveys including those done in the early to mid-1980s. The lake shore is divided into 17 sections established by O’Donnell (1985). Teams of 4 – 5 people each lead by at least one experienced birder head out to the lake by 8.30 am. Most teams are back at base by early afternoon and are rewarded with a hot drink and nibbles.
The Christchurch City Council teams are responsible for counting the birds along Kaitorete Spit, Birdlings Flat, Kaituna Lagoon and Halswell Flats. These areas lie within the Christchurch Council boundaries. The remainder of the Lake edge lies within the Selwyn District Council.