For 18 years, the nene at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge have hosted a relative from the north, a cackling goose that winters on Kauai.
It blends right in at first glance with markings similar to its Hawaiian cousin, but darker feathers on the neck and a differently shaped beak and head set the bird apart.
The bird is one of two cackling geese that are reported to winter on the island and was banded by former refuge biologist Brenda Zaun in 2005.
“It is a cackling goose, closely related to nene and Canada goose,” said Kim Uyehara, current refuge biologist. “(It is) a regular winter visitor to the Hawaiian Islands.”
Nene are more closely related to the Canada goose, Uyehara said, with the Canada goose having a similar but larger body.
“The Canada goose is considered a winter visitor that does not occur regularly,” Uyehara said.
Both the Canada goose and cackling goose were considered the same species until 2004 and it’s small features and genetic makeup that set the two apart. Caclkings are smaller — some the size of a mallard duck — with variations in neck thickness and different bill sizes, according to the National Audubon Society.
Their call is higher-pitched than both their Hawaiian and Canadian cousins and bird experts with Cornell Lab of Ornithology describe the sound as a loud honking, squeaking cackle.
Cacklings summer in northern Alaska and Canada and many of them winter in the Pacific Northwest and southern Great Plains.
Uyehara points out both birds were parent species of Kauai’s native Hawaiian resident birds, meaning today’s nene share a common ancestor with the cackling visitor they’re hosting on the North Shore.
“All current and future migrants are potential colonists of our islands,” Uyehara said.
Refuge biologists and staff members assume the bird leaves and returns to Kauai because it’s not on the refuge year-round, and though records aren’t consistent, what’s out there indicates the bird is a return visitor.
“ It seems the bird at Kilauea Point seems to have returned to Kilauea Point annually or almost annually since it was banded,” Uyehara said. “Bird migrations to and from the Hawaiian Islands is always a fascinating topic, the physiological demands and what drives birds to migrate year after year.”
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at email@example.com