Formal counts at PIP nesting colonies are conducted from 16:00 (4PM) until dark. Counters base themselves at the same position each time, either on the island or on a boat anchored close to the island, in all cases taking great care not to disturb nesting birds. The objective is to count all PIPs flying in, with sub-totals being recorded for each 15-minute time segment.
PIPs flying over the open sea are relatively easy to count, unlike birds in forest habitat. However constant attention is necessary to achieve an accurate count at any site. Large colonies require experienced counters and good organisation to keep up with the rapid arrival of thousands of birds.
PIPs follow an alternating daily pattern of behaviour whereby one bird from each pair remains at the nest while its partner flies to the mainland to forage. Most of the foraging birds return during the late afternoon, thus the count total approximates the number of nesting pairs at the island colony.
Currently formal counts are conducted at only three PIP colonies: North Brook Island, Green Island and Low Isles and wider extension of counts is needed. Private expeditions could potentially conduct counts at some of the more accessible islands. Recent proposals to resume PIP counts at remote northern islands by Queensland government agencies have been ;unsuccessful.