East Hawaii News

Nēnē Breeding and Nesting Season Has Arrived

October 27, 2015, 3:21 PM HST
* Updated October 27, 3:22 PM
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Nēnē breeding and nesting season is here, and Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park visitors are urged to drive with caution and to give the endangered Hawaiian goose space.

As the largest native land animal in Hawai’i, the nēnē are found in HVNP and throughout the Big Island throughout the year. The current season, however, is vital for the survival of the nēnē and is also the bird’s most vulnerable to being run over by drivers.

Nēnē pair in native pūkiawe off Crater Rim Drive. NPS Photo/Kathleen Misajon.

Nēnē pair in native pūkiawe off Crater Rim Drive. NPS Photo/Kathleen Misajon.

While the nēnē are getting ready to nest, the geese are focused on eating, and often forage from dawn to dusk. They also blend into their surroundings, and in low-light periods, they are especially hard for motorists to sport.

“One of the most important things people can do is give nēnē space,” said Kathleen Misajon, Nēnē Recovery Program manager at HVNP. “This means not approaching them and never feeding them. Nēnē are easily habituated to food hand-outs from people and vehicles, and these birds often fall victim to vehicle strikes.”

Through HVNP, nēnē crossing signs are posted throughout the park, including along sections of Highway 11, Crater Rim Drive, and Chain of Craters Road.

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In 1952, there were only 30 nēnē birds in the state. HVNP efforts to recover the species began in the 1970’s, and continues. Today, there are over 250 birds within HVNP and as many as 2,500 statewide.

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“While we have had success protecting nēnē and maintaining the population in the park it is so important that humans keep a respectful distance from the geese, especially during this sensitive time. We advise visitors to keep at least 60 feet away from nēnē any time of year,” Misajon said.

Wild nēnē, the world’s rarest goose, are only found in Hawai‘i and are the last survivors of several other endemic geese. Their strong feet sport padded toes and reduced webbing, an adaptation that allows them to traverse rough terrain like lava plains.

Nēnē trio on wall at Jaggar Museum. NPS Photo/Michael Szoenyi.

Nēnē trio on wall at Jaggar Museum. NPS Photo/Michael Szoenyi.

Most nēnē fly between nighttime roosts and diurnal feeding grounds. The female builds a simple ground nest and incubates one to four eggs for a full month while her devoted mate acts as a sentry. Shortly after they hatch, goslings leave the nest and follow their parents to their traditional foraging grounds, which can be more than a mile away.

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At 14 weeks, nēnē can fly, and along with their parents, they join large flocks, where they meet their relatives and potential mates. They usually mate for life.

To learn more about nēnē, visit the National Park Service website.

Nēnē on HVNP roadways should be reported by calling 985-6001. If found outside of the park, call 974-4221.

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