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The state bird of Hawaii is the Nene goose, a unique species of goose found only in Hawaii. The Nene goose, also known as the Hawaiian goose, is endemic to the Hawaiian islands and an iconic part of Hawaiian culture and wildlife.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Hawaiian goose, or Nene goose, is the official state bird of Hawaii.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at Hawaii’s state bird, the Nene goose. We’ll explore what makes it unique, its history and cultural significance in Hawaii, conservation efforts, and where you can spot the Nene in the wild today.

What is the Nene Goose?

Scientific Classification and Statistics

The Nene (pronounced Nay-nay) goose, also known as the Hawaiian goose, is scientifically classified as Branta sandvicensis. It belongs to the family Anatidae, which includes ducks, geese, and swans. The Nene is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands and is Hawaii’s official state bird.

The wild Nene goose population declined dramatically during the 20th century due to habitat loss, predation, and overhunting. By the 1950s, there were only 30 individual birds remaining. Thanks to captive breeding and reintroduction programs, the population has rebounded to over 2,500 birds today.

However, the Nene remains on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and is considered vulnerable.

Physical Characteristics and Behavior

The Nene goose has several unique physical features that distinguish it from other geese. It has black legs and feet, buff-colored cheeks, and soft fur-like feathers. Adult Nene range from 17 to 25 inches long, weigh 4 to 8 pounds, and have wingspans of up to 5 feet.

The Nene exhibits behavior rarely seen in other goose species. Unlike migratory geese, the Nene is non-migratory and inhabits land year-round rather than water. The Nene walks with a swaggering gait instead of waddling. Its wings produce a melodic whistling sound in flight.

The Nene grazes on land frequently and roosts on high ledges along sea cliffs. Its diet consists of tender grass shoots, seeds, fruit, and some aquatic vegetation.

Breeding and Nesting Habits

The Nene breeding season lasts from August through April, with peak activity from November to March. Nene pairs build bowl-shaped nests made of leaves, grass, and down feathers. They typically nest in sheltered spots on rugged lava fields, but some have adapted to nesting in urban areas like golf courses as well.

Female Nene lay 2-5 cream-colored eggs and incubate them for 29-32 days while the males stand guard nearby. Nene chicks are covered in down and can walk and swim almost immediately after hatching. Parents lead their young to feeding areas for the first few months until chicks learn to forage independently.

Nene mate for life and share parenting duties equally. Families stay together for up to a year until the next breeding season. Their life expectancy in the wild is up to 25 years.

Nene Goose History and Significance in Hawaiian Culture

The Nene goose has a long and storied history in Hawaiian culture. As Hawaii’s state bird, it carries great significance for native Hawaiians. The Hawaiian name “Nene” comes from its soft call. Archaeological evidence shows that Nene geese were an important food source for ancient Hawaiians before the arrival of Europeans.

Nene geese are thought to have descended from Canadian geese that migrated to the Hawaiian islands over 500,000 years ago. Once abundant on all major Hawaiian islands, the Nene goose population declined drastically after humans arrived.

Hunting and habitat loss reduced their numbers to just 30 birds in the 1950s.

Native Hawaiians traditionally hunted Nene geese, using their meat for food and feathers for items like capes and skirts. The geese were seen as a gift from the gods and harvested respectfully. Overhunting by Europeans led to the Nene’s near extinction.

Protecting the species became a source of cultural pride for Hawaiians.

Today, the population has rebounded to over 2,500 birds due to conservation efforts. The Nene goose remains an important cultural symbol of Hawaiian identity. Its image frequently appears in local art and is used in Hawaiian proverbs about family.

Saving the Nene goose from extinction has become a point of statewide collaboration to preserve Hawaii’s natural heritage.

Conservation Status and Threats Facing the Nene

Historic Decline and Conservation Status

The nene, or Hawaiian goose, has faced a dramatic population decline over the past few centuries. When Polynesian settlers first arrived in Hawaii around 500 AD, the nene was abundant on all the main Hawaiian islands.

However, after Western contact in the late 18th century, the nene population dropped rapidly. By the 1950s, there were only 30 individual birds remaining in the wild.

This catastrophic decline earned the nene a spot on the endangered species list in 1967. Captive breeding programs began around this time to try to preserve the species. There are now around 2,500 nene living in the wild, with over 1,000 birds in captive populations.

While still endangered, intensive conservation efforts have brought the nene back from the brink of extinction.

Current Threats and Protection Efforts

Even though nene populations have rebounded, the species still faces serious threats today:

  • Habitat loss from development, agriculture, and invasive plants
  • Predation from mongooses, cats, dogs, pigs, and rats
  • Collisions with vehicles and utility wires
  • Inbreeding due to small population size

Many ongoing protection efforts aim to mitigate these threats:

Captive breeding Boosts population size and genetic diversity
Predator control Removes invasive mammals that prey on nene
Habitat restoration Provides safe nesting and feeding grounds
Public education Raises awareness to inspire conservation

The continued success of these programs is vital for the nene’s survival. While still endangered, the beloved Hawaiian state bird stands a fighting chance thanks to dedicated conservation work.

Where to See Nene in the Wild in Hawaii

The endangered nene goose, Hawaii’s state bird, can be spotted in several protected habitats across the Hawaiian Islands. Here are some of the best places to try and see these unique birds in their natural setting:

Haleakalā National Park

Haleakalā National Park on Maui is home to one of the largest populations of nene in Hawaii. Over 150 nene inhabit the park’s volcanic landscape at elevations between 6,500 to 8,000 feet. The best viewing spots are near Hosmer Grove campground and along the Halemauu Trail.

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island has a small but growing population of nene. They can often be seen grazing in the grassy areas around the Kīlauea Visitor Center, Volcano Art Center, and Volcano House.

Kauaʻi Refuges

The northwestern region of Kauaʻi boasts several key refuges for nene populations, including Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. The birds like to congregate on the grassy slopes above Kīlauea Lighthouse.

Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge and Huleʻia National Wildlife Refuge also protect critical habitat.

James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge

On Oʻahu’s North Shore, the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge features a nene habitat restoration project. Over 30 nene were released here in recent years and can often be spotted near the Punamano Unit by the Kiʻi Unit Road.

So head out early in the morning or late afternoon, bring binoculars, and see if you can spot one of Hawaii’s rarest endemic birds out thriving in its native wild habitat!


The Nene goose is a truly special bird that is culturally and ecologically important to Hawaii. Once endangered, ongoing conservation efforts are helping protect Hawaii’s unique state bird for future generations.

We covered everything from what makes the Nene goose distinct, its significance as Hawaii’s state bird, the threats it has faced, and the best places to try catching a glimpse of this iconic Hawaiian bird yourself.

Understanding more about the natural wonders of Hawaii like the Nene enrich any visit to the islands.

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