Nene, Nene Goose
The Nene is Hawai'i's state bird. It is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, and although its numbers have made a remarkable recovery in recent years, the Nene is still considered an endangered species. Please be especially careful when driving on the Mauna Kea Access Road, below the Visitor Information Station, as Nene are often present on or near the roadway. Recently there have been several tragic incidents where Nene have been killed by careless motorists. Please drive slowly and carefully!
Scientists believe that Nene were plentiful on all of the major Hawaiian Islands when Westerners first arrived in the late 18th Century, possibly with a population of 25,000 or more on the Big Island. Hunting by humans, feral cats, dogs, pigs and mongoose, as well as diseases carried by other introduced birds contributed to a dramatic decline in the population of Nene. Since Nene are ground nesters and evolved with no natural predators, they are particularly vulnerable to predation by feral mammals. By the early 1950's scientists estimated that there were only about 30 Nene left in the wild. Only through careful captive breeding and release programs have Nene populations begun to recover in recent years.
Nene look very similar to their relative, the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis), although the Nene is generally smaller at around 20-26 inches in length. Male and female Nene have very similar markings, and are therefore often difficult to tell apart. The female Nene tends to be a bit smaller than the male. Possibly because of a lack of consistent water in the Nene's habitat, its feet have evolved to have only partial webbing, much less than other species of geese. Nene are vegetarians, generally consuming berries, seeds and other plant material. A favorite food of the Nene is the Ohelo Berry, which is also used by humans in the Islands to make delicious jam.
Nene are often found in open grasslands, pastures and sometimes even lawns and golf courses. The area around the water reservoir on the east side of the Mauna Kea Access Road between the Visitor Information Station and the Saddle Road seems to be particularly attractive to the Nene, as small flocks of the birds are often spotted in this area. Again, please be very careful when driving in this area, as Nene are often present.