Story by Shannon Wianecki
Winter’s wet weather signals the start of breeding season for the nene, or Hawaiian goose. Mated pairs disappear beneath pukiawe bushes or hapu‘u tree ferns, where they build nests covered in soft down. For a month, mother goose broods an average of four creamy white eggs while father stands sentry nearby. Come too close and he’ll drive you off with angry hisses and honks.
This indigenous species had become extinct on Maui. In 1962, biologists reintroduced several breeding pairs to Haleakala National Park. Today around 300 nene call the park home. They prefer the lowlands where food is more abundant, but up on the mountain, rangers keep feral cats, rats, and mongooses from raiding their nests. Elsewhere in Hawai‘i our official state bird is rebounding, particularly on mongoose-free Kaua‘i. Last year, three goslings hatched on O‘ahu — the first nene born on that island since the 1700s.
Fluffy grey goslings take up to three months learning to fly. Meanwhile, their parents molt, losing their primary flight feathers while fresh ones grow in their place. Nene need special attention during this vulnerable time. Over the years, speeding automobiles have struck the flightless birds. Drive slowly while passing through Haleakala National Park, a.k.a. the nene nursery. You’ll be more likely to spot the rare goose — a boon for you both.