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Hawaiian Goose
nene (branta sandwicensis)
Hawaii's state bird, the Nene, is one of 30 birds species in Hawaii classified by both the State and Federal government as an endangered species. It is also the only goose endemic to the Hawaiian Archipelago which exists; at least eight other endemic goose species are known to have become extinct.

As with all geese, the Nene is monomorphic. That is, the sexes are nearly identical in appearance, with the male being somewhat taller and larger.

In ancient times nene ranged throughout the islands feeding on the lower slopes of all mountains as well as the coastal areas that had vegetation and water.

After the arrival of man, the remnant populations of Nene on the Big Island are found primarily on the slopes of Mauna Loa, Kilauea, and Hualalai. One of the largest flocks can be found at the Big Island Country Club. The reintroduced population of Maui is currently centered in the Haleakala Crater area. There is also a small flock on Molokai and Kauai. Nene can be found in the dry upland areas but as long as there is no pressure from hunters or predators they will utilize pasture and other grass lands. Given the choice of habitats nene will come and graze on grasslands near or behind cattle. The cattle eat down the taller grasses and allow the nene to feed on the younger green shoots. A new breeding flock has been established in Hakalau State Park. Some of these birds offspring have been reported establishing new territories in rural areas of the island.

The Nene or Hawaiian Goose is a member of the family that includes the whistling ducks, swans, and true geese. Unlike most other geese, Nene are non-migratory, in that generally only island wide movement is known to occur. Nene are very good flyers and can move from one side of the Big Island to the other in a day. The Nene and the Canada Goose likely derived from a common ancestor. Nene love the water and when they come in contact with a pond or pool they will spend much of the day bathing and swimming.

Nene are grazer/browsers in modern day times they are associated with lava fields vegetated with a dry grass/native shrub ecosystem. Most of their dietary water intake need is probably met via the consumption of grasses and berries. At the Sanctuary, they eat bird chow, grasses and vegetables (water hyacinth, lettuce, papaya).

The breeding season (nest construction, egg laying, and incubation) of wild Nene in Hawaii generally begins in October and ends in February. This corresponds more or less with the wet winter season in Hawaii, when most plant growth occurs. Because nene nest on the ground you might find one of these places while hiking. Please back carefully away so as not to disturb the nesting birds. If you see an injured nene along one of the roads, please contact DLNR and or the Humane Society so that the bird will be picked up for medical treatment. Nene chicks are hatched as little gray fuzz balls. These babies will follow their parents for the next 5-6 months as they feather out and learn to fly. During this time they are especially at risk. The parent birds also molt and are unable to fly for 6 weeks during this time. Nene goslings on their own may not be abandoned! Please watch them from a distance so as not to pressure the parents into leaving the babies.

A list of factors that limit a Nene goslings survival includes loss of habitats to development and agriculture, establishment of nonnative species (mammalian, predators, avian competitors, non-native plants, mosquitoes), as well as direct human disturbance. As further development occurs there will be more accidental contact with nene as well as the creation of more feeding areas such as golf courses. These new man made areas are attractive to the birds but create safety issues. With some common sense management nene populations could easily double in the next few years. Injured Nene are brought to the 3RR for care after run ins with cars, dogs or golf balls. On rare occasions a gosling is orphaned and in need of foster care at a rehabilitation facility. Once the bird is healthy enough to be returned to the wild they are released back in the area where they first were found.

There are four nene currently living at the Sanctuary. The eldest pair came from Maui and the Peregrine breeding facility in Volcano. Initially the female, Lucy, had refused to pair with another nene. She gradually came to lead Desi, who is now blind around the enclosure. Birdie is the result of a massive head injury that left her unable to fend for herself. And Christmas was released after being fostered, He now flies back and froth from the Big Island Country Club and our facility. A true freeloader he enjoys the large pond and regular meals
Nenes used to be more common when Capt. James Cook arrived in 1778 there were estimated to be about 25,000 Nene. By the mid 1900's, the wild Nene population numbered less than 30. The current population in Hawaii is up to approximately 3000 birds. These birds are well represented in private collections though out the mainland US and Europe. Permits are required for possession in the US but the birds breed easily in captivity and are a calm addition to any social grouping of smaller geese. They are available for purchase through a few select breeders to those with permits.