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Birdlife Steven Howard

Birds of Te Waihora

Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere and the surrounding area provide habitats for thousands of migratory and non-migratory birds. 

Nationally significant wetland birds 

The lake is home to a wide range of birdlife including nationally significant wetland bird populations and some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s rarer bird species. There is an excellent record of bird species and numbers for recent years on the lake, thanks to the work of the Waihora Ellesmere Trust, which coordinates an annual census of wetland birds.  

Since records have been kept, over 200 species of birds have been recorded here, including a number which are now extinct. There are 133 indigenous species, with up to 98,000 birds on the lake at one time. At least 37 species breed in the lake and are resident during the year, some flying in from as far away as Russia, China and Canada. 

Te Waihora is recognised internationally as ecologically significant due to its location on the East Asian – Australasian Flyway, the international flight path for migrating bird species.  

Below are some of the more rare and significant bird species found on Te Waihora.

Species on the lake

Other birdlife on Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere

Birdlife on Ahuriri Lagoon

Ahuriri Reserves (also known as Ahuriri Lagoon) were first gazetted as a sanctuary for game birds in 1897. Despite extensive drainage and pastoral development, Ahuriri Reserves are the most significant wetland habitat in the Greenpark-Taitapu-Halswell-Christchurch Lowlands (outside Te Waihora itself).

Winter ponding provides extensive shallow margins, which attract thousands of wetland birds, both waders and waterfowl. Some of the species you might see include māpunga/black cormorant, kakī/black swan,  and pūtakitaki/paradise shelduck.

Te Waihora Annual Bird Survey

In 2021 more than 49,944 birds were recorded around the lake as part of the annual survey coordinated by the Waihora Ellesmere Trust. Waterfowl made up over 73% of the birds counted and tētē/grey teal (48%) nearly half the numbers. During the 2021 survey, volunteers also spotted some rare arctic waders including a turnstone, sharp-tailed sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper and a marsh sandpiper.