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Hawaiian goose

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Nene Come Home

The wild nene family strolls the grounds of the MBCC.

The wild nene family strolls the grounds of the MBCC.

Over the last 17 years, 442 nene (Hawaiian goose) have been released throughout the Hawaiian Islands through the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program. Our nene breeding program played a vital part in the conservation success for a species whose population was down to only 40 birds in the 1940s. With current wild population estimates around at 2,500 birds split between the islands of Kauai, Molokai, Maui, and Hawaii, the breeding program was halted in 2011.

For me, the only downside of this success is no longer raising the gorgeous nene goslings, which were a highlight of working at the Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC). So it was a great delight when a pair of familiar nene came back to establish a nest site this January on our facility’s grounds. The male and female hatched here in 2004 and 2005 respectively and were both released into the wild here on Maui.

One can only imagine where and when this couple “fell in love,” but this is not their first nesting attempt at MBCC. The pair attempted a nest last year and laid two eggs, but one egg disappeared, and the pair abandoned the nest after the second egg was mysteriously moved quite a distance away. This season, the pair chose a more protected location and laid three eggs in a nest surrounded by the calls of the `alala and kiwikiu (Maui parrotbill). After 30 long days of anticipation, the pair successfully hatched out three perfect goslings!

For the next six days, the pair did a wonderful job keeping the goslings safe and warm, and we enjoyed being hissed away by the protective parents. But, hoping to minimize habituation to humans, we asked personnel from the State of Hawaii to translocate the family to a safe haven in a pre-release pen at the Piiholo Ranch where the goslings can grow, flourish, and eventually take flight over Maui.

We are thankful for the nene coming back to nest, and we hope to see them again next year!

Amy Kilshaw is a research associate at the San Diego Zoo’s Maui Bird Conservation Center. Read her previous post, Full House at Maui Bird Conservation Center.

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Nene Awareness Day

nene_flappingFor the third consecutive year, the staff and interns at the Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC), a captive propagation facility of the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program, found themselves floating among a sea of excited school children and curious visitors. On September 26, we opened our doors to the public to celebrate Nene Awareness Day, a day recognized by Hawaii to honor its state bird, the nene.

The nene, or Hawaiian goose, has come to symbolize one of the natural wonders of the Hawaiian Islands. But like many of Hawaii’s native flora and fauna, human activities and introduced animals reduced the nene population to as few as 30 birds in the wild and 13 birds in captivity. Recognizing that the species was endangered, conservation biologists in the late 1940s undertook a captive breeding program to assist in population recovery.

A display includes a nene nest tub with sample eggs.

A display includes a nene nest tub with sample eggs.

MBCC plays a significant role in recovering the species. Since the inception of the conservation center, more than 400 captive-hatched nene have been released by the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife. Through a combination of conservation efforts and breeding programs, the nene population is increasing, and the total number is estimated to be between 1,500 and 2,000, with each of the island populations being supplemented by captive-reared birds. Despite the reintroduction success of the nene to the islands, the species remains vulnerable, and it is important that residents of Hawaii understand the challenges facing nene recovery so that we can all assist in the effort.

Amy talks about nene with young visitors.

Amy talks about nene with young visitors.

Nene Awareness Day gives us an opportunity to showcase our conservation work through educational and entertaining displays, demonstrations, and activities. Approximately 100 visitors were treated to an opening talk, a brief facility tour, and diverse exhibits designed by staff and interns. The aim of our exhibits was to connect visitors to the science of wildlife conservation through hands-on participation. For example, guests candled real eggs while we explained embryology concepts used to determine the age and health of the embryo. Visitors examined our incubators and hatchers and they practiced chick feeding using “parent bird” puppets. Our veterinary clinic exhibit showcased our medical equipment and allowed guests to examine actual X rays. Another display highlighted the various types of nest boxes used during the breeding season.

We also displayed the field equipment we use to transport birds to our release sites. In the “Keiki Zone”, children made enrichment items for the birds, practiced their bird-watching skills, and identified real feathers, eggs, and nests. Guests, children and adults alike, enjoyed posing in our giant nene cutout. The crowning activity, of course, was viewing two of our charismatic nene, Little Mickey and Red Rocket.

Through this open house, MBCC biologists hope the local community will join us in our conservation goals and aid in the stewardship of natural resources. Together we can keep the endangered nene from going extinct.

Amy Poopatanapong is a research coordinator at the San Diego Zoo’s Maui Bird Conservation Center.