Hawaii State Bird - Hawaiian Goose



(Branta sandwicensis)
Adopted in 1949.

The Nene (pronounced "nay-nay") is a land bird and a variety of goose. It has adapted itself to life in the harsh lava country by transforming its webbed feet into a claw-like shape and modifying its wing structure for shorter flights. Hunting and wild animals all but destroyed the species until they were protected by law and a restoration project established in 1949.

Designated Hawai'i's State Bird on May 7, 1957, the Nene has endured a long struggle against extinction. During the 1940s this beautiful species was almost wiped out by laws which allowed the birds to be hunted during their winter breeding seasons when the birds were the most vulnerable.

By 1957, when the Nene was named the State Bird, rescue efforts were underway. Conservationists began breeding the birds in captivity in hopes of preserving a remnant of the declining population and, someday, successfully re-establishing them in their native habitat. Early programs for returning captive-bred birds to the wild proved difficult, but recent efforts have been very successful. There are now small but stable populations of Nene on the islands of Hawai'i, Maui, and Kaua'i.

Nene became wild on Kaua'i in 1982 after Hurricane Iwa destroyed the cages of captive nene on the southeast side of the island. These birds rapidly adapted to the mongoose-free, lowland, grassy habitat. Because these birds were so successful, State biologists recently have introduced Nene on the north and northwest coasts of Kaua'i. There are about 1000 Nene outside Hawai'i in zoos and private collections. The largest of these is at Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge, England. A small group of Nene (assumedly escaped from Slimbridge) also seem to be enjoying life in the heart of old London at St. James Park, a tranquil waterfowl haven situated in front of Buckingham Palace! Unfortunately, genetic limitations and disease problems mean that Nene outside of Hawai'i cannot be used to help increase wild populations here.

According to the Hawai'i Audubon Society, the Nene, currently on the Federal List of Endangered Species, is threatened today by introduced mongooses and feral dogs and cats which relentlessly prey upon the Nene's eggs and young. Preservation efforts are continuing and the success of the Nene in Hawai'i, although not a certainty, is promising. There are now about 800 wild Nene in Hawai'i and the numbers are rising with each breeding season.

Taxonomic Hierarchy 

Kingdom Animalia -- animals
   Phylum Chordata -- chordates
      Subphylum Vertebrata -- vertebrates
         Class Aves -- birds
            Order Anseriformes -- ducks, geese, screamers, swans, waterfowl
               Family Anatidae -- ducks, geese, swans
                  Genus Branta Scopoli, 1769 -- brent geese
                     Species Branta sandvicensis (Vigors, 1834)