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Nēnē Class of 2016 Takes Flight

It’s springtime and nēnē have begun to reappear in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, after being less visible since fall and winter, when they hunker down to nest, raise goslings and grow a new set of flight feathers (molt).

An adult pair of nēnē in pūkiawe bush near Crater Rim Drive in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. NPS Photo/Kathleen Misajon

An adult pair of nēnē in pūkiawe bush near Crater Rim Drive in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. NPS Photo/Kathleen Misajon

Nēnē have started to flock, and younger nēnē are taking their first flights. Drivers are reminded to slow down and watch out for the native geese on roadways in and out of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

Two young fledglings were killed last Saturday on Crater Rim Drive, between Kīlauea Overlook and Jaggar Museum, by an unknown motorist. The young birds, which were around six months old, were discovered by a park ranger.

“Young fledglings test out their wings and explore new territories this time of year,” said Wildlife Biologist Kathleen Misajon, Manager of the Nēnē Recovery Program at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. “The park uses nēnē crossing signs to alert motorists to key areas, however, until the young birds learn the ropes from their parents, the areas they choose to land can be unpredictable. It’s so important to be extra vigilant when driving so these kinds of accidents don’t happen,” Misajon said.

Nēnē, the largest native land animal in Hawai‘i, are present in the park and other locations on Hawai‘i Island year-round. They blend in with their surroundings and can be difficult for drivers to spot. They are federally listed as endangered.

Nēnē crossing signs posted throughout the park call attention to roadside areas frequented by nēnē. These include Crater Rim Drive, Chain of Craters Road, and sections of Highway 11. Motorists are urged to use extra caution in signed nēnē crossing areas, and to obey posted speed limits.

A young nēnē fledgling tests its wings in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. NPS Photo/Kathleen Misajon

A young nēnē fledgling tests its wings in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. NPS Photo/Kathleen Misajon

By 1952, only 30 birds remained statewide.  Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park began efforts to recover the species in the 1970s.  The Nēnē Recovery Program continues today, and more than 250 birds thrive in the park from sea level to around 8,000 feet. More than 2,500 nēnē exist statewide.

Wild nēnē, the world’s rarest goose, are only found in Hawai‘i and are the last survivor 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. Most nēnē fly between nighttime roosts and daytime feeding grounds. Watch this short Public Service Announcement for more information. To report nēnē on the road in the park, call 808-985-6170. Outside the park, call 808-974-4221.

Mother Goose Killed in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park urges motorists to slow down and watch out for the endemic and federally endangered nēnē while driving on park roadways.

On Tuesday evening, a female Hawaiian goose (Branta sandvicensis) died after being struck by a vehicle on Chain of Craters Road near Pauahi Crater. Her mate of 13 years escaped harm, but remains in the area.

Although nēnē can fly, they are often seen on the ground near roadways in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.

The female, known as Green DU, was a consistent breeder, and successfully raised 24 goslings. She was hatched in captivity in the park in December 1991 and was released in March 1992.  Green DU was what wildlife biologists call a rare “double-clutch” breeder, who once reared two goslings to fledglings, then re-nested and raised an additional four goslings in a single breeding season.

“It is a shame that a nēnē with such a long and productive life had to die so tragically,” said Dr. Rhonda Loh, the park’s chief of resource management.

Nēnē is the Hawai‘i state bird.  About 200 nēnē thrive within Hawai‘i Volcanoes, and there are an estimated 2,000 birds statewide. It’s not unusual to encounter nēnē in the park during their nesting season, which runs from October through March, and they are frequently spotted along roadsides throughout the year. But geese can be anywhere, from sea level to the slopes of Mauna Loa.

Nēnē Crossing signs are posted along park roadsides in places nēnē frequent most, and information on the Hawai‘i’s largest native land animal can be found in the park’s visitor centers.

Nēnē are quite active in the late evening and early morning, and their grayish coloring makes them difficult to see during those hours. Park officials also caution visitors not to feed the geese because birds seeking handouts fall prey to oncoming vehicles. The equation is simple, sad, and all too often true: a fed nēnē equals a dead nēnē.