Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC) staff member Michelle Smith snapped this photo on February 13, 2011, when she spotted two wild nene perched on the rooftop of the main facility building. Wild nene visiting MBCC is not an unusual event, although this prominent lookout is a novel location.
Many combinations of wild nene stop by MBCC, including small groups, breeding pairs, and lone individuals. We can’t be sure what attracts them—it could be the lush, green facility grass, the contented contact-calls of resident breeding pairs, or the super-luxurious nene accommodations (see post Nene: Movin’ On Up). In the past, lone wild males have shown up, and they hang around for several days, courting un-paired captive females. However, these bachelors eventually leave when they realize the relationship will be strictly platonic, due to the impediment of the pens’ fences and mesh roof. Over at Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on the Big Island, the pens lack a mesh roof, so the wild visitors are free to come and go, and consequently the daily interactions can resemble a soap opera.
During breeding season our resident adult nene become extremely protective of their goslings, and the presence of wild nene can become very aggravating for parents that are restricted by the constraints of their pen from chasing off territorial infringers. If we observe behaviors indicative of stress in our captive flock, steps are taken to gently encourage the wild nene to another area of the facility grounds. The recent visitors photographed by Michelle did not appear to disturb the captive flock, so they were left to perch in peace and stayed in place for most of the afternoon.
Our spirits are uplifted when we hear the calls of wild nene as they fly overhead. Frequently we observe released nene, which have been hatched and raised at MBCC, returning to the facility grounds. The released nene are recognizable by their identification leg bands. Both the sight of nene on the wing and an occasional visit represent confirmation that our efforts are benefiting island conservation.