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Last Updated: May 23rd, 2010 - 21:01:09


State Bird of Hawaii
Sep 7, 2006, 09:03 PST

Nene, or Hawaiian Goose

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This regal goose is Hawai`i’s state bird. The Nene measures between 22 to 26 inches in length, has a black head and bill, yellow-buff cheeks, a buff neck with dark furrows, and partially webbed black feet. The reduction of webbing between their toes enables them to walk more easily on the rugged lava flows. Its loud calls are like those of the Canada Goose and when disturbed, its call resembles the “moo” of a cow.

Nene frequents scrubland, grassland, golf courses, sparsely vegetated slopes and on Kaua`i, in open lowland country. The Nene's vegetarian diet consists of seeds of grasses and herbs as well as leaves, buds, flowers and fruits of various plants. The Nene does not appear to need fresh water but will use it when available. Although Nene are found mostly in the rugged lava fields of the Big Island, this is probably the only place they have survived rather than their preferred habitat.

The breeding season is from November to June. Their nests are down-lined and usually well concealed under bushes. The Nene seem to prefer nesting in the same nest area, often a “kipuka” (an island of vegetation surrounded by lava). Two to five white eggs are usually laid and the incubation period is 30 days. Nene goslings are flightless for about 11 to 14 weeks after hatching. Family groups begin flocking soon after the young are able to fly and remain in the breeding grounds for about a month. They wander about searching for food after that.

Fossil records show that the Hawaiian Goose used to live on all the main Hawaiian islands. It is believed that they were abundant (about 25,000 birds) on the Big Island before the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778. Today, the Big Island is the only place where they are found naturally in the wild. Scientists believe that the Maui population became extinct before 1890. The decline in numbers was accelerated during the period of 1850 to 1900 due to aggressive hunting of the birds and collecting of their eggs. In 1951, the Nene population was estimated at only 30 birds.

Their continued decline was attributed to the introduction of alien plants and animals. The Nene is extremely vulnerable to predation by introduced animals like rats, dogs, cats, mongooses, and pigs. In more recent studies, research shows that continuing decline of the Nene population in the wild can be attributed to low productivity, perhaps caused by the poor available nutrition in their habitat. Approximately 500 Nene exist in the wild today.

Source: Fish & Wildlife Service

Handheld Birds and Software at National Geographic

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