I wanted to ensure we focused on one bird from Hawai’i and went with the state bird, the Hawaiian Goose or Nēnē. Given that Hawai’i is considered the endangered bird capitol of the world I waned to make sure to bring awareness in some way. Hawai’i has nearly a quarter of all endangered birds on the US Endangered Species list, but receives very little funding for protection or recovery efforts. Islands are sensitive and limited ranges making them easily susceptible to introduced threats.
About Them: The Nēnē is a smaller but, taller goose. It is thought to be a distant descendant of the Canada Goose from a lost migrating flock that landed on Hawai’i about half a million years ago. They have significant differences from the Canada Goose with less webbing through their toes and longer straighter legs giving them the needed advantage for walking over rough ground such as lava flows. Nēnē also have smaller wings for only flying between the Hawaiian islands. They are endemic to Hawai’i meaning they are found no where else in the world.
Their plight: These are land dwelling island birds that succumbed to all the usual human settlement consequences. They were over hunted, they fell prey to introduced species, and caught diseases from introduced insects and other vectors. These factors as well as habitat loss through development and interactions with roads and vehicles all threaten the continued survival of the Nēnē.
The introduced species of note are mongoose, rats, feral cats, and mosquitos. Mongoose and rats eat the geese and their eggs. Feral cats eat the geese, but also poison them with toxoplasmosis. There are enough feral cats that it is wide spread in the soil, this also harms humans. It’s hard to believe that mosquitos were introduced. There are 6 species of mosquito on Hawai’i now and they carry avian diseases that are fatal to the endemic birds.
What we should consider: Human intervention started the decline of the island species, but how much should we intervene now. How do we ensure that our efforts to support native species don’t have counter effects that cause more damage? It is very easy to fall into a lady-who-ate-the-fly scenario of failure when dealing with introduced species. However, I believe if there are non-impactful to the native species measures that can be taken I think it is worth an attempt.
What is being done: In the 1950’s the Nēnē population was at 30 birds. This was when a captive breeding program was started to help bring the population back to healthier numbers. There are now around 2,000 birds across a few of the islands and in 2014 a pair was seen for the first time on Oahu since, apparently, the 1700’s. More needs to be done, more elaborate feral cat capture or at least spay and neutering, a mosquito control program is being developed, but there is a need for funding to implement.
How to help: Do your best to not bring contaminates to Hawai’i upon a visit there. Clean hiking boots and other shoes. Wash all other gear so that it is as sterile as possible. Follow the regulations to the letter, they are there to protect the native species.
Continue bringing awareness. Call into state senators when legislation is being passed that could affect the continued support of policy that protects wildlife, land, and waterways. Support locally.
Support can be:
- donating to science groups
- helping to ensure funding to the organizations that handle breeding programs
- being a citizen scientist through
- land restoration projects
- trash clean ups
- species counts
- bio blitzes
- getting people you know excited about how incredible our planet’s biodiversity is.
Joining your local Audubon Society or other local conservation group is a great first step into finding activities and ways to become a citizen scientist and environmental advocate.
Further Reading, my sources:
[This is a blog of my opinions. I speak for myself. I am a one person team and if I have misinterpreted a fact or made an error please feel free to get in touch to correct me. I will make edits and updates to post. I would appreciate corrections to be polite. I will not engage in hate.]