Hawaiian Goose (Nene)
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Branta sandvicensis
HABITAT: Grassy shrubland, lowland pastures, sparsely vegetated lava flows
LIFE HISTORY: Mostly terrestrial. Herbivore; diet consists solely of plants and berries. Unusual height and erect posture aid significantly to foraging success.
THREATS: Predation by invasive species
FORMER RANGE: All major Hawaiian islands
CURRENT POPULATION: 1,050-1,200
This unusual goose, Hawaii's state bird, spends most of its time on land. It's evolved an upright, almost regal posture and less webbing between its toes as an adaptation to walking on rugged lava flows.
Once common on all the major islands, the Hawaiian goose, or nene, was almost wiped out by hunting, poaching and egg collection. In 1918 only 30 birds were left. The nene was placed on the endangered species list in 1967. Today, the last wild population lives on the Big Island, and captive-bred nene have been reintroduced to Maui and Kauai. Alien predators like the mongoose have forced the birds from their preferred lowland habitat (except on Kauai, where there are no mongoose) to breed on the slopes of volcanoes. At these higher elevations, vegetation is less dense, and food shortages are a risk. Roadside killings are a common cause of death for adult geese, who may be attracted to grass clippings from roadside mowing.
The current population of 1,050-1,200 geese is sustained only through the influx of captive-bred chicks. Establishing reserves free of predators in lowland habitats with plenty of food could help ensure the nene's survival.
RELATED NRDC PAGES
The Birds of Hawaii's Hakalau Forest
Photos: Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park © Getty Images; Hawaiian monk seal © USFWS; Hibiscus brackenridgei © D. Herbst, USFWS; Hawaiian goose © John and Karen Hollingsworth, USFWS
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