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Nene (Branta sandvicensis)

Two stripped brown geese in grass.

Nēnē Recovery

After 60 years of collaborative conservation efforts among federal, state, non-governmental organizations, and local partners the nēnē, or Hawaiian Goose, is one step closer to recovery. An intensive captive breeding program, habitat restoration, and active management strategies have led to the nēnē return from the brink of extinction. As a result, in December 2019 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted the nēnē from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

News Release

  • Hawaiian Goose / Branta sandvicensis  /Nēnē

    This regal goose is Hawaii’s state bird. The nēnē measures between 24 to 27 inches in length, has a black head and bill, buff cheeks, a buff neck with dark furrows, and partially webbed black feet. The reduction of webbing between their toes and upright posture enables them to walk more easily on the rugged lava flows. Its vocalizations are similar to those of the Canada goose but also gives a low murmuring "nay" or "nay-nay" call.

    Hawaii’s State Bird Downlisted from Endangered to Threatened.
    Nēnē Recovery Action Group awarded 2019 Recovery Champion Award

    One of the pressures that nēnē face are invasive species. Introduced invasive predators like mongooses, rats, dogs, cats and pigs all were factors that led to the first substantial declines of nēnē . Nēnē are highly vulnerable to predation when nesting. During nesting season, nēnē molt their feathers and are flightless making them easy prey for predators. Ongoing predator control, habitat management efforts, and collaborative conservation will continue to be important for nēnē to continue on the road to recovery. 

    Habitat & Behavior:

    Nēnē currently frequent scrubland, grassland, golf courses, sparsely vegetated slopes and on Kaua‘, in open lowland country. The nēnē vegetarian diet consists of seeds of grasses and herbs as well as leaves, buds, flowers and fruits of various plants. Nēnē do not require standing or flowing water for successful breeding but will use it when available. The current distribution of nēnē has been highly influenced by the location of release sites of captive-bred nēnē.

    The breeding season is from August to April. Their nests are down-lined and usually well concealed under bushes. Nēnē prefer nesting in the same nest area year after year. Mean clutch size for wild birds is 3 eggs (range 1-6) and the incubation period is 30 days. Nēnē goslings are flightless for about 10 to 14 weeks after hatching. Family groups begin flocking soon after the young are able to fly and remain in their breeding areas for about a month. They wander about searching for food after that and may travel long distances from their breeding area.

    Past & Present:

    Fossil records show that nēnē used to live on all the main Hawaiian islands. It is believed that they were abundant on the Big Island before the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778. 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 nēnē population was estimated at only 30 birds.

    Their continued decline was attributed to the introduction of alien animals and degradation, and loss of habitat. Nēnē is extremely vulnerable to predation by introduced animals like rats, dogs, cats, mongooses, and pigs.

    Habitat & Behavior:

    Nēnē currently frequent scrubland, grassland, golf courses, sparsely vegetated slopes and on Kaua‘, in open lowland country. The nēnē's vegetarian diet consists of seeds of grasses and herbs as well as leaves, buds, flowers and fruits of various plants. Nēnē do not require standing or flowing water for successful breeding but will use it when available. The current distribution of nēnē has been highly influenced by the location of release sites of captive-bred nēnē.

    The breeding season is from August to April. Their nests are down-lined and usually well concealed under bushes. Nēnē prefer nesting in the same nest area year after year. Mean clutch size for wild birds is 3 eggs (range 1-6) and the incubation period is 30 days. Nēnē goslings are flightless for about 10 to 14 weeks after hatching. Family groups begin flocking soon after the young are able to fly and remain in their breeding areas for about a month. They wander about searching for food after that and may travel long distances from their breeding area.

    Past & Present:

    Fossil records show that nēnē used to live on all the main Hawaiian Islands. It is believed that they were abundant on the Big Island before the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778. 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 nēnē population was estimated at only 30 birds.

    As nēnē increase in numbers and expand their range, they face increased interaction and potential conflict with landowners and businesses. Establishing a healthy population of nēnē in Hawai‘i requires flexibility, support and partnership with the State of Hawai‘i and private landowners. Working with private landowners helps conservation managers maintain nēnē populations on both public and private lands.

     

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