It's that time of year at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Yep, the breeding and nesting season of the endemic Hawaiian goose, or nēnē, has arrived.
While nēnē are present in the park year-round, now through April is their breeding and nesting time, and is vital for their survival.
Currently, female nēnē are focused on building up their fat reserves in order to lay eggs and survive the 30-day incubation period, according to park officials. A few females have already started to nest in the park, and their mates are dutifully standing guard. Because visitors can unknowingly disturb nesting nēnē, the park may temporarily close certain areas to give nēnē families a break from human interference.
“Nēnē are most vulnerable to vehicles this time of year. They are focused on eating and could be out foraging from dawn to dusk. They blend in with their surroundings, and in low-light periods, they are especially hard for motorists to spot,” said Kathleen Misajon, Nēnē Recovery Project manager for the park.
The park has posted nēnē crossing signs that highlight key roadside areas that nēnē use. These include sections of Highway 11, Crater Rim Drive, and Chain of Craters Road. Motorists are urged to use extra caution in signed nēnē crossing areas, and to obey posted speed limits.
Nēnē are endangered, and in the mid-1940s, only 50 birds remained. Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park began efforts to recover the species in the 1970s. The Nēnē Recovery Program continues today, and more than 200 birds thrive in the park from sea level to around 8,000 feet. As many as 2,000 or more nēnē exist statewide.
“We’ve had a great deal of success protecting nēnē and maintaining the population in the park,” said Misajon. “But it is imperative that humans keep a respectful distance from the geese, especially during this sensitive time.”