The Hawaiian Goose, or nene, is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands.
Biogeographic Regions: pacific ocean (Native )
Other Geographic Terms: island endemic
Global Range: (<100-250 square km (less than about 40-100 square miles)) Fossil records suggest that this species originally occurred on all the main islands. Historically, this species occurred on the Big Island (Hawaii) from sea level to 2,400 meters in elevation. It probably also occurred on Maui in the subalpine zone. Currently, the species ranges from just above sea level to approximately 2,700 meters on the islands of Kauai, Maui, and Hawaii. Highest densities on the Big Island occur on the upper slopes of Hualalai, in upper Kau, and in the saddle area between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Highest densities on Maui occur in Haleakala National Park (Scott et al. 1986, Hawaii Audubon Society 1993).
endemic to a single state or province
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Adult nenes are either sepia or dark brown, with no difference in plumage between males and females. The face and crown are black, while the cheeks are cream-colored and the neck is buff with black streaks. The body is brown to grey, the wings are brown to gray, with white tips and the bottom side of the tail is black. The eyes, beak, and feet are black as well. Nenes have longer legs and less toe webbing than other geese, adaptations which aid walking on lava flows.
Range mass: 1.8 to 2.3 kg.
Range length: 53 to 66 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Length: 64 cm
Lacks the broad white chin strap of the Canada goose.
Differs from other true geese by having longer legs, more erect posture, and reduced webbing between its toes (Banko et al. 1999).
Catalog Number: USNM A15644
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Birds
Sex/Stage: unknown; Adult
Preparation: Skin: Whole
Collector(s): Collector Unknown
Locality: Mountains of Hawaii, Hawaii County, Hawaii Island, Main Hawaiian Islands, North Pacific Ocean
Nenes inhabit a variety of habitats, including grasslands, scrub forests, and sparsely vegetated volcanic slopes.
Range elevation: 0 to 2400 m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; scrub forest ; mountains
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Mainly on sparsely vegetated lava flows (regarded as marginal habitat). Formerly occupied lowland habitats now destroyed or inhabited by predators. Does not require open water. During nonbreeding season feeds in pastures dominated by introduced grasses. Nests on lava often in site well concealed by vegetation; also nests in vegetation near edges of kipukas. Commonly returns to same area to nest in successive years.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Nenes are herbivores and forage solely on land. They eat leaves, grasses, flowers, berries, flowers, and seeds. Nenes usually eat the more nutrient rich bottom part of grasses, and grab and pull food with their beaks. Several important grasses on the Hawaiian islands that are eaten by nenes include Digitaria violascens, Andropogon virginicus, Sporobolus africanus, Carex wahuensis and some others.
Plant Foods: leaves; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit; flowers
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )
Comments: Eats greens, fruits, seeds. Green vegetation and berries of native plants, such as VACCINIUM spp., COPROSMA ERNODEODES, STYPHELIA TAMEIAMEIAE, and OSTEOMELES ANTHYLLIDIFOLIA (Matthews and Moseley 1990).
Nenes are important at spreading seeds for many of the plants on which they feed. They are also important food sources for many of the predators mentioned in the previous predation section.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
Males defend their brood and nest most often, while females also engage in defense sometimes. Threat displays such as the bent neck and forward threat are used to scare off predators. When defending themselves from aerial attack, nenes produce alarm calls, huddle in groups and spread wings, or they simply fly away. Chicks usually hide behind parents, leaving defense to them.
- barn owls (Tyto alba)
- short-eared owls (Asio flammeus sandwichensis)
- Hawaiian hawks (Buteo solitarius)
- peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus)
- Polynesian rats (Rattus exulans)
- feral pigs (Sus scrofa)
- Indian mongooses (Herpestes auropunctatus)
- domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)
- feral cats (Felis silvestris)
- roof rats (Rattus rattus)
Anti-predator Adaptations: aposematic
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 6 - 80
Comments: About 25 separate sites (from map in Banko et al. 1999). Many of these, however, are not self-sustaining.
250 - 1000 individuals
Comments: Banko et al. (1999) estimated about 885 wild or free-ranging Nene: Hawai'i, 393; Maui, 236; Kaua'i, 256.
Nonbreeders form loose flocks during breeding season. Detailed information on home range lacking, but generally range within 200 square kilometers (Banko et al. 1999).
Life History and Behavior
Other than threat and mating displays and sounds described previously, vocalizations are used to communicate with family members, solidify territory, send alarm calls, and threaten predators. Nenes also murmur when foraging as a way of maintaining foraging distance between family members. Chicks can send pleasure calls, distress calls, sleepy calls and greeting calls. Calls are louder during and close to breeding season.
In addition to auditory cues, vision is key in foraging and recognizing family members, predators, and opponents.
Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic
Other Communication Modes: duets
Perception Channels: visual ; ultraviolet; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Annual mortality varies greatly from study to study, depending on whether the animal is wild or in captivity, locality, elevation, etc. The range is from 0 to 87% annual mortality, with slightly lower mortality rates for males than females. In the wild the main causes of mortality include exposure (from low temperatures in high nesting locations), predation (from several indigenous and introduced raptor species, as well as rats, pigs, dogs and mongoose), competition with other species (due to an overlap in diet with game birds and grazing mammals), and starvation or dehydration due to drought. In captivity, 84% of deaths resulted from parasites and diseases while the remaining 16% resulted from trauma. Males die evenly throughout the year. Female mortality occurs mainly in the breeding season when they are most vulnerable to exposure, trauma, and stress from egg laying and predation.
Status: wild: 28 (high) years.
Status: captivity: 42 (high) years.
Status: wild: 213 months.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Nenes form life-long pair bonds. The male attempts to court the female by stiffly walking in front of her and showing her the white area under his tail. After the female has accepted the male, the two engage in a triumph ceremony in which the male aggressively pushes away rivals and then calls loudly. This is followed by calling into each other's ears. The display before copulation is comparable to other geese, except done on land instead of water. The head and neck are mutually dipped onto the ground, more and more synchronously. Finally the female becomes ready and the male mounts the female. Afterwards, the male raises his wings, pulls his mate's head back and touches her nape with his beak. This is followed by simultaneous calling by both birds, followed by the female flapping its wings and the male strutting.
Mating System: monogamous
Nenes have an extended breeding season ranging from August through April. However, the majority of nesting occurs between the months of October and March, and eggs are usually laid during the winter months between October and January. Nesting occurs on the ground in areas of dense vegetation. Nests are lined with plants and soft down. The female incubates and the male guards the female on the nest. Clutches consist of between 1 and 5 eggs, with an average of 3. Chicks are precocial, stop following parents within one year, and are sexually mature within 2 to 3 years.
Breeding interval: Breeding occurs once a year, though not all pairs lay eggs every year.
Breeding season: Breeding occurs from August through April, with most activity from October to March.
Range eggs per season: 1 to 5.
Range time to hatching: 29 to 31 days.
Average fledging age: 3 months.
Average time to independence: 1 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 to 3 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 to 3 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
The female selects the nesting site, usually near her own natal site. Females dig a shallow scrape, usually under a bush or tree, and line the scrape with vegetation. Males rarely contribute to nest building. Females incubate the eggs, while the male guards her, though not constantly. The female spends roughly four hours of each day away from the nest, when she eats and rests. During hatching, the female spends more time on the nest, and stays on top of the young until their down dries. The young do not need to be fed by parents. Young readily forage within the first day. However, they remain close to their parents until roughly one year old.
Parental Investment: precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Male, Female)
Nesting season is about October-March in native habitat. Clutch size usually is 3-5. Incubation lasts 29-31 days. Young able to run as soon as dry, first fly at 10-12 weeks; vulnerable to predators before flight attained. Sexually mature typically in 2 years. Usually does not renest in same season if first attempt fails.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Branta sandvicensis
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
-- end --
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Branta sandvicensis
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
Early Hawaiian settlers used nenes as a food source and hunted the birds to near extinction. In 1907, a hunting ban was placed on these birds, but still approached extinction by 1940 due to predation by introduced species as well as degradation of habitat and other human related destruction. In 1957, nenes were named the state bird in Hawaii and efforts to rescue the almost extinct population, including breeding in captivity and protecting nesting areas began. Though early programs for reintroducing birds into the wild failed, later ones have been very successful and the wild nene population is recovering at around 800 individuals. Currently the greatest threat to nenes is predation of eggs by introduced Indian mongooses (Herpestes javanicus).
US Migratory Bird Act: protected
US Federal List: endangered
CITES: appendix i
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N1 - Critically Imperiled
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G1 - Critically Imperiled
Reasons: Restricted to Hawaiian Islands; small wild population; most populations require ongoing restocking to maintain current numbers; threats to gosling survival are constant.
Other Considerations: Currently unavailable lowland habitat may be important for populations to become self-sustaining. This species is completely dependent upon releases of captive-bred stock to maintain its numbers in the wild (Black et al. 1991).
Date Listed: 03/11/1967
Lead Region: Pacific Region (Region 1)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Branta sandvicensis, see its USFWS Species Profile
Global Short Term Trend: Decline of 10-30%
Comments: USFWS (1990) categorized the status as "declining." Populations at Keeau (Hawaii) and on Kauai have increased dramatically, due to good lowland foraging habitat and few predators (Banko et al. 1999; Black et al. 1991). The upland Maui population "seems stable" (Banko et al. 1999).
Global Long Term Trend: Decline of >90%
Comments: Formerly abundant; extirpated first from lowlands; became extinct on Maui before 1890; nearly extinct in wild by 1951. Range and numbers subsequently increased through captive breeding and release, but most populations are not self-sustaining (Banko et al. 1999).
Degree of Threat: A : Very threatened throughout its range communities directly exploited or their composition and structure irreversibly threatened by man-made forces, including exotic species
Comments: Hunting, egg collecting, and predation contributed to the historic decline. Scarcity of native food plants, predation by introduced mammals, and perhaps habitat loss are probably the main reasons for continued difficulties. In certain areas, collisions with vehicles is the major cause of mortality. In general, populations are limited by food scarcity in highlands and by introduced predators in lowlands (Banko et al. 1999). Long-term survival outlook is unclear (Pratt et al. 1987). "Substantial additional efforts" are needed to counter these threats if the Nene is to recover fully (Banko et al. 1999).
CITES Appendix I. The species benefits from a suit of protected areas, including Hawai'i Volcanoes and Haleakallâ (Maui) national parks, Kîlauea Point (Kaua'i) and Hakalau Forest (Big Island) national wildlife refuges, and several state sanctuaries (Banko et al. 1997, C. Terry in litt. 1999). Extensive research has been conducted on factors limiting population growth (e.g. Bailey and Black 1995, Rave 1995, Rojek and Conant 1996). Predators are controlled, and supplementary food and water are sometimes provided at particular sites (C. Terry in litt. 1999, A. Marshall, D. Hu and K. Misajon in litt. 2007). Despite the low average fledging success rate recorded in the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park from 1989-1999, this was more than double the rate in the previous 15 years, owing to predator control and supplementary feeding during breeding seasons (Rave et al. 2005). Other efforts have involved habitat restoration and reducing human disturbance, especially to breeding birds (Rave et al. 2005, A. Marshall, D. Hu and K. Misajon in litt. 2007). Releases of captive birds continued until the late 2000s (A. Marshall, D. Hu and K. Misajon in litt. 2007), but have now ceased. Translocation of birds from Kaua'i to other islands is on-going, as there is a large population at Kaua'i Lagoons, near the airport (A. Marshall in litt. 2012). Conservation Actions Proposed
Continue to monitor population trends. Carry out further research into the factors limiting breeding and causing low recruitment. Manage and restore habitat, and control predators (Black 1995, Black 1998, Rave et al. 2005). Ensure Kaua'i remains mongoose-free (H. C. Baker and P. E. Baker in litt. 2000). Optimise genetic diversity in flocks with few founders (Rave 1995). Develop community education programme, particularly with regard to road-kills (Black 1995, C. Terry in litt. 1999, Rave et al. 2005). Establish large predator-free reserves in lowland areas with better quality forage in which the above targets can be addressed (H. C. Baker and P. E. Baker in litt. 1999, H. C. Baker and P. E. Baker in litt. 2000). Expand habitat restoration efforts. In the Hawai'i Volcanoes and Haleakalâ national parks, prevent visitors from feeding the birds and speeding (Rave et al. 2005). Conduct a telemetry study to determine habitat use outside of the breeding season, as non-breeding areas have been largely unstudied (A. Marshall in litt. 2012).
Management Requirements: Most populations are dependent on releases of captive-raised birds (Black et al. 1991).
Management at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala National Park has involved the use of predator-free nesting enclosures and reestablishment of native food plants (Matthews and Moseley 1990). See "Nene recovery plan" (1983). See also Kear and Berger (1980).
The presence of nene on and adjacent to runways at Lihue Airport on Kauai poses a potential management problem (End. Sp. Tech. Bull. 16(6):4).
A new captive propagation facility was completed at Olinda, Maui, in the late 1980s.
See USFWS (1990) for a brief recovery progress report.
Native forests should be restored to the highest degree possible. Continued eradication of alien species from the vicinity of occupied habitat areas is needed. Linking disjunct populations through reforestation efforts could improve the prospect for long term survival.
Management Research Needs: Investigate methods to alleviate threats from exotic predators.
Biological Research Needs: Further research on nutritional requirements is needed.
Global Protection: Few to several (1-12) occurrences appropriately protected and managed
Comments: Protected areas include Hawaii Volcanoes and Haleakala national parks, Waikamoi Preserve, Kilauea National Wildlife Refuge, Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge; also Waimea Canyon, Na Pali Coast, and Kokee state parks. There are also five Nene sanctuaries (areas with some management).
Needs: Populations outside of the National Parks need protection. Many birds considered "protected" often move in and out of the national parks into areas lacking protection.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Since they fly low, nenes often collide with fences and automobiles. Otherwise, there are no known adverse effects of nens on humans.
Nenes are the state bird of Hawaii and are thus a state symbol.
Positive Impacts: ecotourism
The nene (Branta sandvicensis), also known as nēnē and Hawaiian goose, is a species of goose endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. The official bird of the state of Hawaiʻi, the nene is exclusively found in the wild on the islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi.
It is thought that the nene evolved from the Canada goose (Branta canadensis), which most likely arrived on the Hawaiian islands about 500,000 years ago, shortly after the island of Hawaiʻi was formed. This ancestor is the progenitor of the nene as well as the prehistoric Giant Hawaiʻi goose and nēnē-nui (Branta hylobadistes). The nēnē-nui was larger than the nene, varied from flightless to flighted depending on the individual, and inhabited the island of Maui. Similar fossil geese found on Oʻahu and Kauaʻi may be of the same species. The Giant Hawaiʻi goose was restricted to the island of Hawaiʻi and measured 1.2 m (3.9 ft) in length with a mass of 8.6 kg (19 lb), making it more than four times larger than the nene. It is believed that the herbivorous Giant Hawaiʻi goose occupied the same ecological niche as the goose-like ducks known as moa-nalo, which were not present on the Big Island. Based on mitochondrial DNA found in fossils, all Hawaiian geese, living and dead, are closely related to the giant Canada goose (B. c. maxima) and dusky Canada goose (B. c. occidentalis).
The nene is a medium-sized goose at 41 cm (16 in) tall. Although they spend most of their time on the ground, they are capable of flight, with some individuals flying daily between nesting and feeding areas. Some are born without the ability to fly. Females have a mass of 1.525–2.56 kg (3.36–5.64 lb), while males average 1.695–3.05 kg (3.74–6.72 lb), 11% larger than females. Adult males have a black head and hindneck, buff cheeks and heavily furrowed neck. The neck has black and white diagonal stripes. Aside from being smaller, the female nene is similar to the male in colouration. The adult's bill, legs and feet are black. It has soft feathers under its chin. Goslings resemble the male, but are a duller brown and with less demarcation between the colours of the head and neck, and striping and barring effects are much reduced. The bill, legs and feet are the same as for the adult. Its strong toes are padded and have reduced webbing, an adaptation that allows it to swiftly traverse rough terrain such as lava plains.
Habitat and range
The nene is an inhabitant of shrubland, grassland, coastal dunes, and lava plains, and related anthropogenic habitats such as pasture and golf courses from sea level to as much as 2,400 m (7,900 ft). Some populations migrated between lowland breeding grounds and montane foraging areas.
The nene could at one time be found on the islands of Hawaiʻi, Maui, Kahoʻolawe, Lānaʻi, Molokaʻi, and Kauaʻi. Today, its range is restricted to Hawaiʻi, Maui, Molokaʻi, and KauaʻI. A pair arrived at the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on Oʻahu in January 2014; two of their offspring survived and are seen regularly on the nearby golf courses at Turtle Bay Resort.
The breeding season of the nene, from August to April, is longer than that of any other goose; most eggs are laid between November and January. Unlike most other waterfowl, the nene mates on land. Nests are built by females on a site of their choosing, in which one to five eggs are laid (average is three on Maui and Hawaiʻi, four on Kauaʻi). Females incubate the eggs for 29 to 32 days, while the male acts as a sentry. Goslings are precocial, able to feed on their own; they remain with their parents until the following breeding season.
The nene is the world's rarest goose. It is believed that it was once common, with approximately 25,000 Hawaiian geese living in Hawaiʻi when Captain James Cook arrived in 1778. Hunting and introduced predators, such as small Asian mongooses, pigs, and cats, reduced the population to 30 birds by 1952. The species breeds well in captivity, and has been successfully re-introduced; in 2004, it was estimated that there were 800 birds in the wild, as well as 1000 in wildfowl collections and zoos. However, there is some concern of inbreeding due to the small initial population of birds. The nature reserve WWT Slimbridge, in England, was instrumental in the successful breeding of Hawaiian geese in captivity. Under the direction of the leading conservationist Peter Scott, it was bred back from the brink of extinction during the 1950s for later re-introduction into the wild in Hawaiʻi. There are still Hawaiian geese at Slimbridge today. They can now be found in captivity in every WWT centre. Successful introductions include Haleakala and Piʻiholo ranches on Maui. The nene population stands at 2500 birds.
The nene is the state bird of Hawaii. It is also the rarest state bird.
Two Hawaiian geese at the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.
At WWT Slimbridge in England
An illustration by Frederick William Frohawk
- BirdLife International (2012). "Branta sandvicensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
- "Nene geese on Oahu for first time since 1700s". Hawaii News Now. 24 March 2014. Retrieved 25 March 2014.
- Pukui and Elbert (2003). "Lookup of nēnē". Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library. University of Hawaiʻi. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
- Jobling, James A. (1991). A Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. OUP. ISBN 0 19 854634 3.
- Harder, Ben (6 February 2002). "State Bird of Hawaii Unmasked as Canadian". National Geographic News (National Geographic Society). Retrieved 17 March 2009.
- Ziegler, Alan C. (2002). Hawaiian Natural History, Ecology, and Evolution. University of Hawaiʻi Press. p. 260. ISBN 978-0-8248-2190-6.
- Reading, Richard P.; Miller, Brian (2000). Endangered animals: A Reference Guide to Conflicting Issues. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 142–146. ISBN 978-0-313-30816-1.
- Ellis, Richard (2004). No Turning Back: The Life and Death of Animal Species. New York City: Harper Perennial. pp. 280–281. ISBN 0-06-055804-0.
- Banko, Paul C.; Black, Jeffrey M.; Banko, Winston E. (1999). "Hawaiian Goose (Branta sandvicensis)". In A. Poole. Birds of North America Online (434). Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Retrieved 18 March 2009.
- "Nene or Hawaiian Goose". State of Hawaiʻi. 25 March 2005.
- "Hawaiian Goose (Branta sandvicensis)". Audubon Watchlist. National Audubon Society. Retrieved 18 March 2009.
- "Nene Pictures Showing this Highly Endangered Goose Endemic to the Hawaiian Islands". seapics.com Marine Wildlife Photography.
- "Safe Harbor Agreement for the introduction of the nene to Piiholo Ranch, Maui". State of Hawaii, Department of Land and Natural Resources. August 2004. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
- Standley, Bill (August 2004). "Ranchers Advance Recovery of Rare Hawaiian Bird". Environmental Defense Fund. Archived from the original on 24 January 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Formerly included in the genus NESOCHEN; included in BRANTA by the American Ornithologists' Union (1993). Mitochondrial DNA data and geologically calibrated estimates of time indicate that the Hawaiian Goose and the Canada Goose diverged from a common ancestor 0.82 to 1.08 million years ago (Paxinos 1998; Quinn et al. 1991).
EOL content is automatically assembled from many different content providers. As a result, from time to time you may find pages on EOL that are confusing.
To request an improvement, please leave a comment on the page. Thank you!