POSTED: 20 FEBRUARY 2007 - 7:30am HST

Hawaiian nene calls. Image by Chris Johns

Birds and Plants of Kauai:
Nene - The Hawaiian Goose
by Linda Pascatore on 19 February 2007

The Nene, or Hawaiian Goose, is the State Bird of Hawaii. It was originally endemic to Kauai, but had already gone extinct on this island by the time Captain Cook arrived. Fossil records show that previously there had been a large population of Nene in the lowlands of Kauai. The Nene survived on the Big Island and Maui, but came dangerously close to extinction after overhunting and the introduction of alien predators. A breeding program was begun in the 50’s, and the Nene was re-introduced to Kauai. The bird is still an endangered species, but has made a good recovery here.

The Nene, or Branta sandvicensis, is a relative of the larger Canadian goose, but has evolved very differently in Hawaii. The Nene is usually found in meadows, pastures, or grasslands; seldom in the water. As a result, the Nene’s feet are not webbed nearly as much as other geese. They have longer toes for walking and climbing. The Hawaiian goose also rarely flies, and has weaker wings than other geese. This may be because there were no predators, or cold temperatures in Hawaii, so there was little reason to fly. The Nene does not migrate.

a group of geese and gozlings at Kokee. Image from Alii Video Productions

The Nene is 22 to 26 inches long, and weighs 4 to 5 pounds. Male and female are similar in coloring, with a black head, yellow cheek, dark furrows on the neck, and barred gray back, with lighter gray bars underneath. Males are generally larger.
Nene mate on land, unlike most ducks or gees. They breed from November to June. They nest in a depression lined with down, which is hidden under brush. A clutch of 5 to 8 eggs incubate for 30 days. The chick can fly after 10 or 12 weeks.
The Nene eats seeds of grasses and herbs, and leaves, buds, flowers and fruits of a variety of plants. It is able to obtain enough water from the plants, if fresh water is not available. Feral cats, dogs, and rats are predators on Kauai, while mongooses are a problem on other islands.
Closeup of Hawaiian nene.
Image from The American Park Network

The Nene was mentioned in a Hawaiian creation chant, as a guardian. The name Nene comes from it’s soft call. Flocks of Nene can be found in Kokee, especially in the meadow near the lodge, and also at Kilauea and Nawiliwili Harbor.

For more on Hawaiian Nature see below:
Island Breath: Hawaiian Nature Menu
The Flora and Fauna of Hawaii
31 December 2006 - 4:00pm HST

Ulu: The breadfruit tree is a canoe plant Originally from New Guinea, now an important plant here
27 March 2007 - 4:00pm HST

Awa: The Kava Kava Plant and its uses The root is used medicinally and also recreationally