Nene family makes its home on Oahu

KAHUKU, Oahu – A pair of endangered Hawaiian geese that have hatched goslings and settled on Oahu’s north shore were likely on their way back to Kauai from the Big Island when they stopped in Kahuku, a federal biologist said Wednesday.

The nene pair were taken from Kauai to the Big Island within the last two years as part of a program to move geese away from lagoons next to the Lihue airport, said Annie Marshall, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff biologist.

They are the first Hawaiian geese to make a home on Oahu since at least the 1700s, nesting at the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge.

Another pair of nene were spotted at Makapuu on Oahu’s south shore, but they didn’t stay.

There were just 30 of the geese in the 1950s when biologists began breeding them in captivity to save the population. Now there are more than 2,000 on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island.

“We were hoping, as recovery progressed, that eventually there would be nene on all the main islands where they used to occur,” Marshall said. “It’s a little sooner than we thought it would happen but it’s all part of recovery.”

The pair was first observed at the base of a windmill at the Kawaiola wind farm near Waimea Bay in early January, said Aaron Nadig, a biologist with the agency. They showed up at the wildlife refuge shortly after and haven’t left since, said Marshall.

The geese swam in a canal and pond and walked across grass as members of the media watched from a careful distance Wednesday. One adult led the way, while the three goslings and second adult followed close behind.

The refuge is one of the better places they could be on Oahu because it’s surrounded by fences to keep out dogs and pigs. It has traps to catch smaller predators like mongooses and bullfrogs.

The grounds, covering some 1,100 acres, have a variety of foods that nene like to eat, including grass, berries, flowers and seeds. Natural wetlands and man-made ponds dating to the years when the land was farmed for sugar help the nene evade predators.

It’s possible that the geese will go back to Kauai once the goslings fledge in the summer, Marshall said. But the goslings are likely to come back to Kahuku because the birds, especially females, like to return to the place where they hatched to breed.

Many people on Oahu, the state’s most populated and heavily developed island, have never seen nene in the wild before. Marshall urged people not to feed them as this will cause the geese to be accustomed to people, cars and roads. Getting hit by cars is a major hazard for nene.

“‘Keep them wild’ is our motto,” Marshall said.

The James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge on Oahu’s North Shore was established in 1976 to provide habitat for endangered waterbirds. It has been expanded in recent years to provide a home for seabirds, native plants and other species.

The refuge is not open to the public. It used to offer tours led by docents, but it currently doesn’t have the resources to welcome the public because budget cuts have reduced its staff by half.