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Which island is best for sighting the Hawaiian state bird, the nene?

Ask the Big Kahuna

“Answering the most common visitor questions”


My wife Alice and I have visited 47 of the United States since my retirement in 1992, and we will be reducing that number by one when we arrive in Hawaii this June. (We still haven’t made it to Alaska and, for some reason, New Mexico.)

One of the pastimes we enjoy is ornithology, or “birding.” We’re not scientists or fanatics, but we do try to find and photograph the state bird wherever we travel. We don’t have them all, but looking for them lends a particular purpose to our travels and makes it fun.

That leads us to our question. We will only be in Hawaii for one week, so we want to know the best place to look for nenes. Can we find them on Oahu, or should we make arrangements to go to another island?

Robert and Alice


Aloha, Robert and Alice!

Mahalo for your question.

Hawaii designated the nene (Branta sandwicensis for your ornithologist friends) the state bird in 1957 in part to help save it from extinction. They were almost hunted out in the 1940s and are still on the Federal List of Endangered Species.

Estimates place the wild nene count in Hawaii at around 800, so finding them may not be easy. They are easily recognized, though – they look like smaller versions of Canadian geese but have black and white throats. Unfortunately, the only ones you’ll see on Oahu are in the Honolulu Zoo. You’ll have to get to one of the neighbor islands to find them in the wild.

On the Big Island, they can be seen in Volcanoes National Park, Mauna Loa, Puu Waawaa, and at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo; Maui has some in Haleakala National Park; and on Kauai you can find them along the Na Pali coast, at the Kilauea National Wildlife Refuge, and around Lihue. The Kauai wild nene population grew from a few that were set free from cages by Hurricane Iwa in 1982 and have propagated well on their own. That might be your best bet.

FYI: The Panaewa Rainforest Zoo is the only rainforest zoo in the United States, and the home of Namaste, a male white Bengal (Indian) tiger. For more information about the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo click here.

Have fun with the “hunt” and enjoy your visit.

Big Kahuna