Sean Hagen © Creative Commons
The Nēnē, or Hawaiian Goose, is Hawaii’s state bird. For visitors who are not familiar this striking endemic goose, it can seem odd to find it far from wetland habitats. It spends more time on land than most other geese, and even has reduced webbing on its feet that help it navigate lava flows and other terrestrial habitats.
Nēnē used to be found throughout the main Hawaiian Islands, but habitat loss, hunting, and the introduction of non-native predators decimated the population. By the 1950s only a small number remained on the island of Hawaiʻi. To add to the hazards, Nēnē are also losing out to cars and other man-made structures.
In efforts to recover the species, Nēnē have been reintroduced to the islands of Hawaiʻi, Maui, Kauaʻi, and Molokaʻi. The recovery program has been most successful on Kauaʻi, where there is more preferred habitat and there are no mongoose. A few Nēnē have found their own way to Oʻahu in just the past few years.
Conservation actions, including a captive breeding program, have significantly increased the numbers of Nēnē, but they are still a federal and state listed endangered species. Habitat protection, public outreach, management and ongoing monitoring will all help keep Hawaii’s state bird on an upward swing.