What is a Hawaiian Goose?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

The Hawaiian Goose (Branta sandvicensis), or Nene, is a bird with a natural habitat confined to the Hawaiian islands of Hawaii, Kauai, and Maui. It is the State Bird of Hawaii, and the world's rarest species of goose. The Hawaiian Goose is a descendant of the Canada Goose, which is believed to have migrated to Hawaii shortly after the islands were formed, about 500,000 years ago.

Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

The Hawaiian Goose is an average sized goose at about 16 inches (41 cm) tall. Males weigh from 3.74 to 6.7 pounds (1.695–3.05 kg), while females are slightly smaller at 3.36 to 5.6 pounds (1.525–2.56 kg). Both sexes have black bills and feet, a black head, and a ruffled, black and white striped neck. The Hawaiian name for the goose, Nene, is an onomatopoeia of its call.

Hawaiian Geese have the longest breeding season of any goose species, lasting from August to April. The geese mate on land, and the females build nests to hold from one to five eggs. The male keeps watch while his mate incubates the egg for about a month. The goslings are similar in appearance to adults and are precocial, meaning they can move and feed independently shortly after birth. However, they live with their parents for the first year of their life.

The Hawaiian Goose inhabits coastal dunes, grassland, shrubland, and lava plains. Its feet are padded, with less webbing than other goose breeds, allowing it to walk on lava plains more easily. The Nene also lives in some man-made habitats such as golf courses. The bird is herbivorous, eating the seeds, leaves, flowers, and fruit of a variety of plants. It will readily feed from the hand of a human.

The natural docility of the Hawaiian Goose probably contributed to its near extinction by the 20th century, since the bird was so easy to hunt. Also, Europeans introduced a number of predators to the islands, such as the mongoose and the cat. Though the Hawaiian Goose species was depleted to 30 individuals by 1952, it has successfully been bred in captivity and reintroduced to the wild since. In 2004, there were an estimated 800 Hawaiian Geese in the wild, in addition to 1,000 in captivity.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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