A nene is a goose native to Hawaii and is that island's state bird. The first time I saw nene was several years ago when my wife and I spent a week in Maui. We spotted them while on a drive to the summit of the dormant volcano, Haleakala, which occupies more than half the island’s land mass. As we were driving up the mountain, we saw two pair of nene eating grass beside the road. We were thrilled because in our several trips to the Hawaiian islands, that was our first encounter with them. While they vaguely resemble Canada geese, they are smaller, have a different pattern of coloration and have become adapted to walking on rough lava surfaces, their feet having partially lost their webbing as you can see in one of the photos below.
Little did I know that a visit to Kauai would be replete with nene. We probably encountered more than 20 of these birds on the island, mostly around the north shore (but with several hanging out by the koi pond of the Kauai Marriott grounds -- possible freeloaders?). I was a little surprised because nene are generally considered birds of the large volcanoes, and most of those we spotted in Kauai were at or near sea level, notably around the Kilauea lighthouse.
I first heard of the nene when completing cross-word puzzles in college, where it is a common clue (4 letter word for “Hawaiian goose"). The nene was originally far-ranging on the Hawaiian islands, with over 25,000 estimated to have lived on the islands. By the 1950s only 50 nene remained due to a combination of feral animals, habitat destruction and car accidents (they have no fear of vehicles and don’t scamper away from an oncoming car). The nene’s future was uncertain but conservation efforts have been very successful and today around 2000 survive. They are being reintroduced on Molokai and other parks in Hawaii, and it seems their survival is assured.
(these colorful photos of nene are from the koi pond at the Marriott Kauai resort)
Also a brief videoclip of a pair of nene from Kuaui.