Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is reminding drivers to slow down and watch out for our endangered nene while driving on Highway 11 and other park roadways after a female nene was killed early Friday morning along Chain of Craters Road. Her mate remains near the site; the young pair was preparing to nest, according to the park.
As nesting season begins, nene, particularly females, are focused on eating. They must build up enough body fat to produce eggs and sustain them through a 30-day incubation period. As a result, females and their watchful mates are out not only during the day, but are also foraging at dusk and dawn and even throughout the night when the moon is bright.
Because of recent drought conditions, vegetation is particularly dry at many of the favored breeding sites, pushing nene to move farther afield in search of adequate food. Unfortunately, rain runoff from the pavement, combined with ground disturbance along road edges, often makes for lush grassy strips along roads, enticing birds to feed in potentially dangerous spots, the park reported. Furthermore, nene may be difficult to see along roadsides because their coloring often blends in with the surrounding area.
The park has placed nene crossing signs on roads where birds are known to congregate or cross, and where vehicle kills occur most frequently. Motorists are urged to pay attention to the signs and proceed cautiously.
“It’s imperative drivers use caution throughout all nene crossing zones. It is understandable people get complacent when they do not see nene in these areas for a long time; however, the park strongly urges motorists to pay attention to the signs and slow down,” said park wildlife biologist Kathleen Misajon.
Incidents of people feeding nene also have contributed to recent vehicle kills, Misajon said. On Oct. 1, a 16-year-old male was killed by a vehicle along Highway 11, one mile outside of the park’s Ka‘u boundary. He was likely drawn to this location by feeding, which continues to be a problem at this site, attracting more nene to the roadside and increasing their chance of becoming the next road kill.
“Nene have significant threats to contend with, from predation by cats, mongooses and other introduced predators, to loss of habitat made worse by drought conditions,” Misajon said. “This species is really fighting an uphill battle.”