The state bird of Hawaii is the nene, a type of goose that stands nearly a foot-and-a-half tall when standing fully upright. This bird is native to the Hawaiian Islands. Wild nenes are found on several of the islands, including Kauai, Maui and the big island of Hawaii. It was selected as the state bird of Hawaii in 1957.
Nenes, pronounced neh-nay or nay-nay, are unusual geese in that they have rather weak wings and are not capable of flying very far. These birds also prefer to be on land rather than in the water, and have lost some of a goose’s natural ability to swim. Such changes are due to the adaptations made by the nene to conditions it encounters in much of Hawaii.
The Hawaiian Islands have historically been a relatively safe place for the nene. The state bird of Hawaii has not had to fear predators in the past, so it has not needed to maintain its ability to fly or swim to safety. With the continually warm temperatures of the area, nenes have not needed any sort of a seasonal migration, further diminishing their need to fly.
Since Hawaii is made of volcanic rock, the nene has had to adapt to the rough terrain. To facilitate their ability to climb over lava flows and rough, rocky surfaces, the Hawaiian goose has lost much of the webbing between its toes that is found in other types of geese. Instead, the nene has rather long toes that more closely resemble claws than the typical flat, webbed feet of other geese. This allows them to scramble safely up and over lava flows and along the rocks that make up much of its homeland.
Nenes have a striking appearance. Their necks are long and white, with black feathers that add a striped or mottled appearance. Their bills and the tops of their heads are solid black, with a distinctive black stripe around the base of the neck. The body and wings of the nene are gray, with characteristic black stripes and bits of white trim.
The state bird of Hawaii is currently on the endangered species list, but not from natural predation or other such causes. Feral cats and dogs prey upon these birds, as well as their eggs and young. Mongooses that have been introduced into the nene’s home territories are also distinctively predatory creatures. There are groups in Hawaii attempting to restore the population of these birds to previous levels, and small colonies have been re-established in their home areas.