Once reduced to about 50 individuals in the mid-20th century, the nene population rebounded thanks to aggressive conservation efforts by government agencies, nonprofit organizations and concerned citizens.
But this unique, endemic Hawaiian goose is far from being safe from the threat of extinction. With nearly 3,000 individuals statewide, the nene is still listed as and endangered species.
And on Kaua‘i, where the nene population is estimated at 1,200, cars are apparently a major threat to the official bird of the state of Hawai‘i.
In the final weeks of 2016, eight nene have been killed by vehicles along a two-mile stretch of the Kaumuali‘i Highway in Kekaha, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Furthermore, in the past two years, 50 nene have been struck and killed by cars across the roadways of Kaua‘i. Typically the majority of vehicle strikes occur in Hanalei and Kilauea, however the most recent strikes are occurring on the Westside.
It is believed that 25,000 nene were present in the Hawaiian Islands when Captain Cook arrived in 1778, according to DLNR. By the mid 1940s, only 50 birds remained. Since then, through captive breeding efforts and extensive predator control the population is beginning to grow with almost 3,000 birds statewide. Even with ongoing conservation efforts nene are still considered to be the rarest goose species in the world.
Nene begin building nests and laying eggs as early as August, although the greatest number of road strikes occur between December and April, which is the peak of the breeding and molting season. It is during this time of year that both adults and goslings are flightless for a period of time and are especially vulnerable. Nene are often seen foraging along the edges of highways and ditches as a result of regular mowing and runoff from the pavement creating especially desirable grass in these areas.
Jean Olbert, a Nene biologist with the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife, said that with recent rains on the Westside, reports of Nene crossing the highway in Kekaha have increased dramatically.
“Nene regularly cross the road in the evening and early morning hours making it even more important to be on the lookout during these times,” Olbert said. “Nene remain with their mates for life and travel with their families during this time of year. After a Nene is killed on a road the remaining family members are often unwilling to leave the body, resulting in multiple birds being killed over a short period of time.”
Nene crossing signs have recently been posted by the state Department of Transportation along the Kaumuali‘i Highway in Kekaha and the Kuhio Highway in Hanalei in regions where birds frequently cross roadways. DLNR/DOFAW is working with county and state transportation departments and federal partners to potentially add more signs in high-strike zones. Drivers are asked to please slow down and be extra attentive in these areas, especially in low light conditions.
To report an injured or dead bird on Kaua‘i, contact DLNR/DOFAW at 274-3433.