Learn about the nene, a Hawaiian goose thats winging its way back from the brink of extinction.
While it may look like a Canada goose, this particular winged creature is actually the representative of another spot on the globe. This Wildlife Wednesday, we get to leave Canada’s cold winters behind and focus on the sunny shores of Hawaii, where flocks of nene, or Hawaiian geese, still roam—an amazing feat, considering all they’ve been through.
Nene can be found amongst the many lava flows, grasslands, and shrublands that dot Hawaii’s islands. Sometimes, you can even find them grazing on front lawns and golf courses.
- Nene are indigenous to Hawaii, and they don’t live anywhere else in the world. They’re also Hawaii’s state bird, and have been since 1957.
- These birds’ feet, unlike those of other geese, are only partially webbed. This helps them walk along Hawaii’s vast lava flows.
- There’s a reason why this goose looks suspiciously similar to the Canada geese we see so often—nene are thought to be the descendents of some brave Canada geese who flocked to Hawaii some 500,000 years ago.
- The common vocalizations that these birds make consist of a resounding “honk” similar to that of their Canadian ancestors—or a “nay-nay” noise that is all their own.
Why they’re threatened
Although these birds once roamed Hawaii in abundance, habitat loss, hunting by humans, and predation by introduced predators such as mongooses, feral cats, and rats reduced their numbers drastically. To make matters worse, state laws in the 1940s made it legal for hunters to pursue these birds during their winter mating season. By 1952, the number of surviving nene fell to as few as 30 geese.
There is a happy ending to this story, though. Conservation efforts have helped the birds’ population number fly upward. Although they’re still endangered, there were an estimated 2,500 geese throughout the state in 2011.
Releasing birds bred in captivity is continued on the big island and Maui in order to maintain current population sizes but, on mongoose-free Kawaii, flocks are increasing on their own.