Hawaii Nature Focus
Albatross Project
Wild Things
Lecture Series
Booklet # 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11 / 12 / 13 / 14 / 15 / 16 / 17 / 18



No. 14


The nene is also called the Hawaiian goose and has the honor of being the state bird. The nene is endemic to Hawaii, which means that it only lives in Hawaii.

The nene is an endangered species. At one time, there were only 30 nene left in the wild. They were very close to extinction. In 1949, scientists began a project to raise nene and reintroduce nene into the wild. The nene population has increased, but they are still on the endangered species list and scientists are still working hard to save nene from disappearing forever.

The nene is about two feet long, which is medium-size for a goose. The face, head, and nape (back) of the neck are black. The cheeks are light brown and the front and sides of the neck are light tan with a striped pattern. The body is grey or brown above and lighter brown and striped below. The feet, legs, and bill are black.

The nene actually says "ney ney" while it is flying. On the ground, the voice sounds more like the "bark" of a dog or even the "moo" of a cow.


The nene eats a wide variety of plants, including pasture grasses, wild tomatoes, freshly mowed golf course grass, and freshly mowed lawn grass. They also eat exotic flowers, such as violets, and native plants such as `ulei, `ohelo berries, and naupaka berries. One of their favorite foods is an introduced species called goose grass.


A habitat is the place where a living thing grows. The habitat provides food, water, shelter, and space for the living thing. What is your habitat? What do you think of as goose habitat? Many geese live by ponds or lakes and raise their young near water, but the nene is a terrestrial bird, a bird that lives on land. Today they usually live in pasture lands with grasses, but they may be

found in lava flow areas with plant growth. They are well adapted to walking and climbing on rough land. They have longer legs than most geese and their feet are long, flexible, and strong, with padded toes. The webbing between their toes is smaller than in most geese. The nene can swim, but usually does not.
  Nene Foot Canada Goose Foot


Nene usually begin laying eggs by the age of two. They usually nest between October and February. They often return to the same nesting area each year. The nest is built on the ground and lined with down (a type of feather). The nests are often hidden under shrubs.

Nene lay an average of four eggs. The nene incubate (sit on) the eggs for 30 days. After the eggs hatch, the parents and chicks remain near the nest, walking around and looking for food. The young cannot fly for 11 to 14 weeks after hatching.

During this time that the young cannot fly, the adults go through a process called molting. Molting is like trading in your old, outgrown clothes for new clothes. This takes about four to six weeks. During molting, the adults cannot fly. Both the chicks and the adults are extremely vulnerable to predators such as dogs, cats, pigs, and mongoose, because they cannot fly away.

The nene came very close to extinction. The decline began after Polynesians arrived and ate the nene. Polynesians also brought pigs, dogs, and rats with them to Hawaii. These animals preyed upon (ate) nene adults and young. However, there was still a large population after Captain Cook arrived. An estimated 25,000 nene lived on the Big Island. After Captain Cook, many more predators were introduced, including mongoose and cats. The nene had evolved in a safe, predator-free environment. Now nene were very vulnerable to all these new predators.

Hunting also decreased the nene population. Until 1907, it was legal to hunt nene during the nesting season. Nene was even featured on a restaurant menu! After 1907, nene were still illegally hunted (poached).

Scientists do not know all the places where nene lived before humans arrived on Hawaii.

At first, scientists believed nene had only lived on Maui and the Big Island. In 1980, a paleontologist (a scientist that studies fossils) found fossil bird bones near the coast of Kauai. Some of these fossils were from nene. It is important for scientists to know where nene lived in order to reintroduce nene to former habitats.

The nene reintroduction program began in 1949. Scientists wait for the pairs to lay eggs. The scientists then take the eggs and place them in an incubator. The nene lay more eggs to replace the missing ones. In this way, scientists can "trick" the nene into laying up to three times as many eggs per year. When the eggs hatch, the scientists place the chicks in a release pen at a reintroduction site and later let the nene loose.

The first two reintroduction sites were Volcanoes National

Park on the Big Island and Haleakala National Park on Maui. One problem with the reintroduction program is that predators such as mongoose, cats, and dogs, kill nene. Scientists must protect nene from these predators. One way is to place wild nene in large, roofless pens at the reintroduction sites. The nene can safely nest in the pens. After the chicks hatch and are able to fly, they leave the pens and feed in the nearby areas.

After the discovery of nene fossils on Kauai, reintroduction of nene on Kauai began. The first reintroduction was actually an accident. After Hurricane Iwa in 1982, several nene escaped from a pen and were allowed to remain free. From these escaped nene and those from the captive breeding program on Maui, there are now over 300 nene on Kauai. In 1991, a reintroduction program was begun at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai. Kauai does not have mongoose, so it is a safer place to live than other islands.


There are actually more nene in captivity than in the wild. There are between 1,000 and 2,000 nene in zoos and collections in Europe and the United States, including the Honolulu Zoo on Oahu. Maintaining a wild population of nene is very important. The nene in the zoos may not even know how to survive in the wild.

There are probably between 1,000 and 1,500 nene in the wild. They live on the Big Island, on Maui at Haleakala National Park, and on Kauai on the south shore along the Na Pali coast and at Kilauea Point and Hanalei National Wildlife Refuges.

If you see nene in your neighborhood, please do not feed them. If they become dependent upon people, their chances of surviving in the wild shrinks. They may also stay in the neighborhood and face problems with dogs or with people.

Nene are an endangered species and are protected by law. Call a wildlife official if you know of nene having problems with people or dogs. The nene needs everyone's help.