For the first time since the 18th century, the Hawaiian Goose, also known as the Nene, has nested and successfully hatched chicks on the island of Oahu.
The endangered species numbered just 30 birds as recently as 1952 but has rebounded to approximately 2,500 today, thanks to a captive-breeding program.
One population, on the northwestern island of Kauai, has been growing so rapidly that biologists have been packing geese onto helicopters and Coast Guard airplanes and flying them southeast to Maui and the Big Island, where it’s hoped that they will become established.
The birds nesting on Oahu were among the translocated birds. They wear leg tags reading “K-59” and “K-60,” indicating that they originated on Kauai.
They had once been relocated to the Big Island, but as breeding season approached, they appear to have flown home to nest. In early January, they were spotted on Oahu, about 200 miles from the Big Island. Then they were seen at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge, which protects 1,100 acres of natural wetlands at Oahu’s northern tip.
The female laid four eggs in February, and three hatched in mid-March. In late March, the parents and chicks were still making a home at the refuge. Officials say more geese are likely to show up in the future.
“Our hope is, as the Nene recover and the population increases, this is what recovering will look like,” says Annie Marshall, a staff biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Nene are going to start to occur in places where they were historically.”
Although the geese were known to live only on the Big Island when Europeans arrived in 1778, fossilized remains have been found on Oahu and most of the other main Hawaiian Islands. The species likely lost out to human agricultural practices after Polynesians made landfall about 1,000 years ago.
This article originally appeared in our June 2014 issue. Subscribe.