Discover the Official State Bird of Hawaii

In 1957, Hawaii designated the Branta sandvicensis, also known as the Nēnē, as the official state bird. The rarest species of goose in the world, it was on the verge of extinction in the 1950s. Continue reading to learn more about the ongoing recovery efforts of Hawaii’s lone resident goose!

Nēnē Description

Although the two species are superficially similar, scientists believe the nēnđ developed from some straggling Canadian geese (Branta canadensis) that invaded the Hawaiian islands over half a million years ago.

The nēnđ is a medium-sized goose that typically measures 41 cm (16 in.) in height, 63–69 cm (25–27 in.) in length, and weighs between 1.3 and 3.0 kg (2.9 and 6.6 lbs.). While they otherwise look the same, females are significantly lighter and smaller than males. Adults have barred sepia body plumage, with cream-colored cheeks, a black face and crown, and light grayish necks with black streaks. They have black feet, legs, and a beak. Their larger legs and reduced toe webbing set them apart from other geese, which is probably an adaptation for walking on the lava flows of their home volcanic archipelago. They also have a characteristic furrowing in their neck plumage.

Nēnē Range and Habitat

The Nēnđ are native to Hawaii. Once prevalent throughout the islands, they are now restricted to Hawaiʻi, Maui, Kauaʻi, and Molokaʻi. Furthermore, a solitary pair managed to successfully nest on Oʻahu for a season in 2014 after making their own way there.

Nēnē has historically been found in shrublands, grasslands, lowland and montane dry forests. For the most part, nevertheless, current habitat choices are probably strongly impacted by the locations of captive-bred birds’ releases during reintroductions. State and federal wildlife authorities actively manage many of the places that the species now uses.

Numerous native habitats, including as coastal dune vegetation, lava flows, grasslands and shrublands, early successional cinderfall, and cinder deserts, are used by current populations in lowland, mid, and alpine elevations. They have also been adjusting to environments that have been changed by humans, like golf courses, pastures, and rural areas. Similarly, nesting takes place in a variety of settings, such as lava rock, grasslands, shrublands, and beach strands, at varying elevations.

Although they are not migratory, nēnđ have historically moved seasonally and upward in response to food availability. New patterns are just starting to emerge, as these historical patterns have been lost because to the reintroductions that have primarily shaped present populations.

Nēnē Diet

Nënë are animals that graze on land. They eat grass, leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds from at least 50 different types of both native and exotic plants as they graze and browse on a range of terrestrial vegetation. While grazing, they might unintentionally consume some small invertebrates, but they don’t seem to deliberately seek them out.

The way that nēnē eat also helps spread seeds. They are therefore believed to have been crucial in the formation of the early successional plant groups on the islands.

Nēnē Breeding

Similar to their cousins the Canadian geese, nēnđ pairings form lifelong bonds and remain together all year round. Of all the wild geese, their breeding season is the longest, spanning from August to April. However, the majority of clutches are laid between October and December. If a couple is successful, the female selects the first nesting site, which they may utilize again the following year. Subsequently, she deposits two to five sizable white eggs in a shallow scrape nest, which she incubates by herself while the male keeps watch. The eggs take around thirty days to hatch.

The chicks are born prematurely; soon after hatching, they can move and feed themselves, and they are downy. In addition, they attain adult-like appearance in 4–5 months, having developed their plumage at a faster rate than other geese. But for the first year of their lives, kids will live with their parents.

Nēnē Conservation Status

Although nēnđ were formerly plentiful and ubiquitous throughout the Hawaiian islands, it is thought that their decline started as soon as Polynesians arrived and accelerated with the arrival of European colonists. Their population was wiped off by a combination of habitat degradation, poaching, and the introduction of non-native mammal predators. There were just thirty in the wild by the 1950s.

Thankfully, captive breeding had started in 1949, and shortly after, a vigorous program of breeding and reintroduction was put into place to prevent the extinction of the species. The 1960s saw the start of releases, which continued throughout the 2000s. With these initiatives, the population of nēnđ is rapidly recovering. The predicted total population increased to 3,862 birds by 2022. The species was downlisted from Endangered to Threatened on the U.S. Endangered Species List and from Vulnerable to Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, while it is still listed as Endangered in Hawaii.

The destiny of the species is still not certain, though. Even the populations that are currently self-sustaining on KauaŻi, Maui, and Hawaiʻi depend on state and federal agencies for ongoing conservation management. Non-native predators and illnesses, habitat loss and degradation, inbreeding depression, and human disturbance (particularly vehicle and aircraft collisions) are still risks to the species. Nonetheless, the nēnđ can proudly represent Hawaii’s distinct natural legacy for many decades to come with the continuing support of governmental organizations, environmental organizations, and the state’s populace.