Nene killed; drivers warned to go slowly on Crater Road

Motorists killed two endangered female nene, Hawaii’s state bird, recently on Crater Road, Haleakala National Park officials reported Wednesday

One bird was found dead outside the park, near Milepost 9, on Nov. 12, and the other fatality occurred Tuesday at the road’s Hosmer Grove intersection within the park, officials said.

“This is a truly worrisome start to the nene breeding season,” said park superintendent Natalie Gates. “We didn’t just lose two birds. We lost several potential generations of an endangered species. Driving slowly along the entire length of Crater Road is the only truly controllable thing humans can do, on a daily basis, to help this species.”

“The road bisects the nene’s breeding habitat,” said park wildlife biologist Cathleen Bailey. “Nene literally cross roads to ‘get to the other side.’ “

The birds often hunt for food in the short grass along road shoulders or drink water in runoff areas near roads. Park employees are working to make roadside areas less attractive to the birds by removing short grass and filling in holes where water accumulates. Officials said the birds are especially active during their breeding season, and visitors are more likely to see them.

“Many motorists are not used to the steepness of the road and how fast a car can suddenly pick up speed,” said Polly Angelakis, chief of interpretation. “Visitors should use low gear when driving downhill to hold back their vehicles and save wear and tear on their brakes. Using low gear will make their own journey safer and help save this bird and other wildlife.

“Nene have been around for thousands of years; cars have only been here for 100. The birds just aren’t used to cars,” Angelakis said. “Please slow down and drive carefully, especially in low-light conditions.”

Traffic cones, caution signs and other traffic calming devices have been placed in the park to remind drivers to slow down.

The nene is endangered because of habitat loss and non-native predators, such as cats and mongoose, that eat eggs and prey on birds. There are fewer than 300 nene remaining in the park.