Nene thriving on Kauai pose hazard to aircraft

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 27, 2011

The Hawaii state bird is an endangered species, constantly threatened by mongooses, dogs, rats and other introduced animals even as they cope with the loss of grasslands and forests to development.

But the nene goose has found a safe home among the green golf course fairways and ponds of a Kauai resort, and they are thriving — exploding to some 400 today from just 18 birds in 1999.

In fact, the population at Kauai Lagoons has grown so much, the geese are now considered the threat. They pose a public safety hazard to the commercial airliners taking off and landing at the airport next door, forcing the state to scramble to devise a plan to move them somewhere else.

“With the numbers that are nesting, it’s just like, boy, there are going to be more and more birds there,” said Paul Conry, administrator of the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “If we don’t take action now, they will even get higher and higher in the future.”

The black-and-beige-feathered nene is unique to Hawaii but is believed to have descended from the Canada goose. It grows about 2 feet long and is the state bird.

Already, Hawaii’s state Department of Transportation spent $417,000 this fiscal year to have workers chase birds — mostly nene — away from the path of airplanes in Lihue 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s more than the $393,000 it spent to scare birds at the much larger Honolulu Airport, which has more than twice as many flights as Lihue.

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