Nene Goose: Hawaii’s Beloved Bird

By Coco Zickos
Photo:  Hawaii.com member Shawn K.

Photo: Hawaii.com member Shawn K.

During your trip to the Hawaiian Islands, you might notice the sound of Nene, Hawaiian geese, honking as they soar through the sky in their classic V-formation. Or perhaps you might catch a glimpse of them ambling near a pond or taro patch where they prefer spending their time.

Hawaiian geese, or Nene, are the official state bird.

Back from the Brink of Extinction

These charismatic water birds are native to Hawai‘i and, though they were once almost extinct, are beginning to make a much-needed comeback.

Nene can be easily mistaken for Canada Geese. Their appearances are astonishingly similar. They diverged from a common ancestor about a million years ago. At that point the Nene made their way to Hawai‘i. Their differences include physical features like size and feet. Nene are smaller and have less webbing that allows them to walk across rough lava rocks in search of their favorite foods, like red ‘ohelo berries.

Photo:  Jen R.

‘Ohelo berries, a favorite food of the Nene. Photo: Jen R.

Non-migratory, Nene typically remain in the same territory year-after-year, especially to nest. In fact, you might be startled by defensive geese charging out unexpectedly from the brush during breeding season which occurs from August to April. These parents are extremely protective of their young – and for good reason! Their numbers still fall dramatically short of what they once were. Their total population is estimated to be around 2,000.

Where to See a Nene

Nene are mostly found in areas where less human habitation exists, like Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi Island. Yet they can still be discovered on Maui in places such as Haleakalā Crater.

Good news! They were recently spotted on O‘ahu for the first time since the 1700s.

Quirky Yet Beloved Birds

These quirky birds have distinct characteristic. They are known to be chatty. You can hear all kinds of noises when they communicate with each other, like grumbles and hoots. When other species are around, they are inclined to show them just who is in charge. These quirky traits are among the reasons they have been beloved by people ever since Polynesian settlers first began arriving on the Hawaiian Islands. Nene are even reverently mentioned in the Kumulipo (Hawaiian creation chant) as the guardian spirits of the land.

Please Keep Your Distance

As you admire the Nene, please remember to keep a good distance since they remain federally-protected and are still considered an endangered species. But if you’ve got the right kind of camera lens, you can capture their exquisiteness against backdrops like the gorgeously green scenery of Hanalei, Kauaʻi.

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