While other birds in the Northern Hemisphere are enduring cold winter weather right now, it’s nene (Hawaiian goose) breeding season here in Hawaii! The Keauhou Bird Conservation Center is located on 155 forested acres (63 hectares), where several pairs of nene return to nest each year.
Nene breeding season typically starts in November and ends in April. This year, three pairs of captive-bred nene returned to nest at the Conservation Center. All but one of the birds in these three pairs hatched in here and were released into the wild. At a very young age, nene imprint on the area where they are raised, and females in particular tend to return to their hatch site as adults to lay eggs and raise goslings.
The first pair of nene to nest here this season was female PA and male FL. We can identify individual nene by unique identification codes on their bands, which were placed on their legs when they were young. Sadly, last year PA and FL’s eggs were predated. The culprit was most likely a rat, mongoose, or feral pig. All three of these mammals are not native to Hawaii, and predation by introduced mammals is one reason why nene are an endangered species.
This year, PA and FL returned to the Center in late November, and after a few days of wandering, they settled down and built a nest underneath a large hapu‘u tree fern located near one of our alala aviaries. Every day, staff and interns who walked to the nearby alala aviary were met by a very feisty FL, who took his job of protecting PA and her nest very seriously. Anyone who dared to walk near the nest had to suffer the wrath of a hissing nene biting (harmlessly!) at their ankles. PA incubated her eggs for 31 days, and on January 4, 2014, we found four newly hatched goslings!
Although we no longer breed nene at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, we remain involved with ongoing nene conservation efforts and work closely with biologist Kathleen Misajon and her team from the nearby Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. As soon as PA and FL’s goslings hatched, Kathleen quickly came over. We all worked together to scoop up the two nene parents and their four goslings, and Kathleen whisked the nene family away to the primary nene management area within the Park.
While moving newly hatched goslings and their parents seems like a stressful thing to do to a new nene family, it is done in their best interest. If the nene parents were to raise their goslings at the Center, the goslings would likely develop bad habits like spending too much time near people and cars. Therefore, we move goslings and parents to an area of the Park where they are amid nearly half of the Park’s nene population, which will enable the goslings to become truly wild nene. Once the goslings learn to fly, they will integrate with the Park flock and likely stick around the surrounding Volcano area.
It was bittersweet to see those adorable goslings moved, but I feel better knowing that they will be given the best chance for survival. I hope to one day see PA, FL, and their goslings in tow around the Volcano area. For now, we are keeping a close eye on the other two pairs of nene nesting here. Fingers crossed that they will be just as successful as PA and FL!
Amy Kuhar is a research associate at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center in Hawaii. Read her previous post, Open House: Keauhou Bird Conservation Center.