Nene in Hawaii: The World’s Rarest Goose

Nene in Hawaii
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Nene in Hawaii: The World’s Rarest Goose

“Nene Crossing!” “Watch out for Nene!” It seems like Nene in Hawaii get the royal treatment. And as an endangered, native species, they deserve it! Learn more about these protected geese, and then get ready to spot one on your next Hawaii vacation!

What is the Hawaiian Nene?

The Nene bird is a species of goose that is endemic to Hawaii — that means it’s a native species found only in Hawaii. 

It will grow to about two feet long and has a gray & brown body with a black head and tail. They look quite similar to a Canada goose but are about half the size with a gray neck. 

The Nene is the Hawaiian State Bird. You’ll likely see signs and placards about them if you’re out exploring the islands, and if you go to the right spots, you’ll likely see one yourself. 

Nene is pronounced “nay-nay.”

History & Evolution

Thousands of years ago, before Polynesians settled on the Hawaiian Islands, multiple species of geese lived here. They shared the same ancestors as Canadian geese but uniquely adapted to Hawaii’s unique landscape. 

Sure, these geese are technically considered waterfowl, but Nene in Hawaii typically live far from the water. Their long legs and reduced webbing are ideal for walking across volcanic landscapes. 

Nene Goose

Facing Extinction

But after humans arrived, the various Nene struggled to survive. They were hunted, by settlers and then nonnative animals they brought with them. Only the smallest and most agile Nene survived. 

Still, Nene continued to endure in Hawaii, and there were tens of thousands across the islands in the early 1800s. 

But then European colonizers arrived. They cleared land for plantations, hunted with guns, and introduced new predators. By 1950, only 30 Nene remained in Hawaii, all of them on the Big Island of Hawaii. 

Recovery Efforts

So by the mid-1900s, the Hawaii Nene was the most endangered waterfowl species on Earth. The passage of the Endangered Species Act helped biologists in their efforts to recover the Nene in Hawaii. Also, hobby waterfowl breeders were ready to raise and nurture new Nene. 

Through the following decades, hundreds of Nene were reintroduced into the Hawaii wild. But it wasn’t enough. Predators (especially mongoose), would devour the birds. Meanwhile, construction and agriculture had robbed the Nene of their habitat. 

So conservationists increased their efforts, turning toward predator control and habitat improvements. They also began reintroducing more Nene to the island of Kauai, where there were no mongoose. 

Nene in Hawaii Today

Today, there are around 3,000 Nene in Hawaii. In 2019, the Nene’s federal status was changed from endangered to threatened. However, the state of Hawaii still classifies them as endangered. 

About 60% of the Nene population resides in Kauai, where they’re able to live without the threat of the predatory mongoose. But they still face a difficult life throughout the islands. Though they’re uniquely adapted to live away from water, they still face habitat loss. They are also victims to a range of nonnative predators, along with human threats, like traffic. 

So every time you pass a Nene Crossing sign, remember to slow down and watch out. Each Nene is the result of exhaustive conservation efforts, a creature that recently faced extinction and is still valued as a rare and protected species. 

Nene Crossing Sign

Where to Find Nene in Hawaii

Nene primarily live on Hawaii Island, Kauai, and Maui. However, there are also a few on Oahu. 

Where you’ll find them depends on the island. On Hawaii Island, they live across most elevations, from the oceanside lava fields to the high elevations on the slopes of the volcanos. Meanwhile, on Kauai, they thrive at lower elevations (below 600 feet above sea level). 

On Maui, most are found along the slopes of Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains. 

You may see Nene at Haleakala National Park in Maui or Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii Island. You may also see them in pastures or even golf courses. 

Here are a few more places to look for the Nene in Hawaii:

  • The Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu, Maui
  • The Honolulu Zoo on Oahu
  • Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai
  • Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu
  • Various Golf Courses on Kauai
  • The Lihue Airport on Kauai

Fun Facts About The Hawaiian Nene

Nene on Lava Rock

Ready to learn more about Nene in Hawaii? Here are some interesting facts about this unique island goose:

  1. Nene don’t seem to be nearly as aggressive as other species of geese. Some are even quite friendly. However, it’s illegal to touch or harass the Nene, so you should keep your distance. And definitely don’t feed them!
  1. Nene eat a variety of leaves, seeds, berries, and fruits, and their diets depend on where they live. 
  1. They don’t require much water to survive. In fact, they receive most of their hydration through their diet, not from drinking water. 
  1. Nene rarely migrate between islands, and they don’t make long migrations like their Canadian cousins (who would want to leave Hawaii?). 
  1. Nene are monomorphic, meaning males and females look the same.
  1. Nene have the potential to live for 20-30 years (or more), but their lifespan in the wild is closer to 10-20 years. 
  1. Awww… Nene mate for life!
  1. Baby Nene don’t fly until they’re about 3 months old, which can put them in danger. 
  1. Nene have a hard time breeding in the wild, so conservationists continue to breed them in captivity and then introduce them into the wild. 
  1. Nene don’t fly nearly as often as other geese, but they will take to the skies on occasion, honking as they go. Look for them overhead 

Seeing Nene on Your Hawaii Vacation

Are you hoping to see Nene on your upcoming Hawaii vacation? They’re a rare sight, but if you go to the right places, you have a good chance of spotting one (or more!).

Hawaii Aloha Travel can help you plan a vacation centered around wildlife, nature, and conservation. Contact our team of Hawaii travel agents to learn more about our custom travel planning and all-inclusive packages.