The Nene, correctly pronounced as nay-nay, is a land bird and a well known variety of the Hawaiian Goose. It has adapted itself well for survival in the harsh lava-centric environs of Hawaii by modifying its wing structure to permit short flights and transforming its webbed feet into a claw-like shape that allows it to move around more easily on the land.
It comes as a little surprise to find the Hawaiian state bird not listed in the 1840 edition of Birds of America but it has been later established that Audubon was not aware of its existence at that time.
The battle against survival
For long, the Nene has had to fight for survival in the country and faced threats of extinction. During the 1940s, this beautiful species was under threat of being obliterated thanks to discriminatory laws that supported its hunting during the winter. This was their breeding season and the birds were believed to be at their most vulnerable at that stage.
It was only in 1957 when the Nene was declared as State Bird of Hawaii that rescue efforts were undertaken with some seriousness. Conservationists started a captive breeding process of the birds aiming to arrest the decline and preserve the remnants to the best possible measure. They also hoped that in the process, the Nene could once again be successfully re-established into its native habitat.
In the early part of the program, returning the captive-bred birds to the wild was not at all an easy measure. However, greater success has been tasted in recent times. The islands of Kauai, Maui, and Hawaii are now home to small but stable populations of this bird species.
As per reports from the Hawaii Audubon Society, the Nene currently finds itself on the Federal List of Endangered Species. The main threats to its survival are purely man-made, with the introduction of feral dogs, cats, and mongooses on the island. These creatures relentlessly prey upon the young and eggs of the Nene bird. Continued efforts are being made towards preserving the bird in Hawaii and, though there is no guarantee of success, the progress looks promising. The country now has a population of 800 wild Nene birds and as one breeding season after another passes by, the numbers continue to grow.
How do they look?
The Nene looks very similar to the Canadian goose but for the black colour on its hind neck, cap, and face. Moreover, the Nene has buff-coloured cheeks. The diagonal rows of white feathers on the front and side of its neck with the black skin in view from underneath creates the impression of black and white stripes. It has dusky black feet which are not completely webbed as a form of adaptation to the surroundings. The Nene is also smaller than the typical Canadian goose.
It has a call similar to the resonant honking of any normal goose. The bird mainly feeds on native as well as introduced plants along the slopes and in the grasslands where it has its habitat. The breeding season is usually during the winter months that run from November to March.
Current state of affairs
The Puu Waawaa islands and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Mauna Loa, Haleakala National Park on Maui, outside Lihue on Kauai, and along the Na Pali Coast are just some of the places where large populations of wild Nene can be found. Honolulu Zoo is home to captive Nene birds in the country.