Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Saving a Christmas Goose: Hawaii's Endangered State Bird, the Nene


Right now from December through April is nesting season for nēnē, the endangered Hawaiian goose. At Haleakala National Park on Maui, these birds are often seen hanging out along roadsides and in parking lots, where careless drivers may hit or run over them. The remarkably curious birds have little fear of humans and aren't able to fly away quickly. That's part of what makes these distant cousins of Canada geese such captivating mascots for Hawaii's volcanic wildernesses, and why you can easily meet them at national parks on Maui and the Big Island.

In 2012 there have been a greater than average number of nēnē who have died after being hit by motor vehicles. Earlier this month, a motorist rushing to catch the sunrise from Haleakala's volcanic summit fatally struck a breeding pair of nēnē. With a statewide population of fewer than 2000 birds, up from an all-time low of only a few dozen birds left in the early 1950s, every bird's life counts, not just for species reproduction but also genetic diversity.



So how can you help? It's easy: 

1. When you're visiting Hawaii, slow down and obey the posted speed limits in the park and other areas where nēnē live on Maui, the Big Island, Kauai, Lanai and MolokaiDrive even more carefully during rainy or foggy weather, when visibility is limited. Check around your parked car before backing up, to avoid hitting any birds that may be hiding underneath.

2. No matter how much the birds honk, waddle around and beg, do not give them any food or drink, even filtered water. Habituating wild nēnē to human handouts impairs their chances of survival.

3. Approaching the birds, even if they seem friendly and interested, can disturb their natural behavior. Always stand well back from nēnē. Park rangers advise that if a bird moves when you move, then you're too close!

If you want to help more, make a tax-deductible donation to the Adopt-a-Nene Program, run by the nonprofit Friends of Haleakala National Park.

Related links:
Haleakala National Park: Nēnē Fact Sheet [PDF]
Hawaii's National Parks Go Social: News for Hikers
Haleakala's Summit Wilderness: High Winds & Other Fascinatingly Dangerous Weather

Photo credits: Haleakala National Park (Michael Connolly Jr.)

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