This regal goose is Hawai`i's state bird. The Nene measures between 22 to 26 inches in length, has a black head and bill, yellow-buff cheeks, a buff neck with dark furrows, and partially webbed black feet. The reduction of webbing between their toes enables them to walk more easily on the rugged lava flows. Its loud calls are like those of the Canada Goose and when disturbed, its call resembles the "moo" of a cow.
The breeding season is from November to June. Their nests are down-lined and usually well concealed under bushes. The Nene seem to prefer nesting in the same nest area, often a "kipuka" (an island of vegetation surrounded by lava). Two to five white eggs are usually laid and the incubation period is 30 days. Nene goslings are flightless for about 11 to 14 weeks after hatching. Family groups begin flocking soon after the young are able to fly and remain in the breeding grounds for about a month. They wander about searching for food after that.
Their continued decline was attributed to the introduction of alien plants and animals. The Nene is extremely vulnerable to predation by introduced animals like rats, dogs, cats, mongooses, and pigs. In more recent studies, research shows that continuing decline of the Nene population in the wild can be attributed to low productivity, perhaps caused by the poor available nutrition in their habitat. Approximately 500 Nene exist in the wild today.
Today Nene are being raised in captivity at the Maui Bird Conservation Center at Olinda and the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on the Big Island, both operated by the Peregrine Fund. Young birds are then released into protected habitats by the State.
The Hawaiian Goose was listed as an endangered species in 1967 under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The Hawaiian Goose Recovery Plan was published in 1983. It outlines the essential elements to accomplish a goal of establishing 2,000 geese on Hawai`i and 250 on Maui. These elements are to minimize the mortality rate in the wild, continue release of captive-bred birds, and to protect and improve habitat where the Nene can maintain their populations naturally.