Birds of a Feather

June 20, 2019

When our property was first developed for resort use many years ago, it just so happened that this new landscape, with its lush gardens, golf course, and lagoons created the perfect ecosystem for the Nene bird and several other endangered birds that are federally protected and managed by Hokuala under our Habitat Conservation Program (HCP). As you explore the property, hike the trails, play a round of golf, or lounge around the pool, know that these incredible creatures are not only soaring overhead but are being cared for and protected like all of our cherished guests.

We caught up with Britney Inanod Groomes, Bio-Tech Coordinator for HCP whose career began on this very golf course as a volunteer for four years and working with HCP for two years. Then, an opening in the HCP Department changed her life. “I’ve always been interested in the outdoors, in birds, in basically everything I get to do for a living now,” says the Hawaii native who grew up on Kaua’i. “All of my father figures, my Dad, my countless uncles and cousins would all take me fishing and hunting, so I’ve always had an interest in the outdoors and wanted to do something similar career-wise.” For Britney, a day at the office entails setting traps for pigs, chickens and stray cats (to relocate them off property), learning about the Nene with hands-on training. But this important work isn’t just about the birds. Britney says, “I want to be able to make a difference, and have a positive impact on my island, and for my island.”

Nene family out for an afternoon stroll.

Tell us about these birds.

The Nene, or Hawaiian Goose, is Hawaii’s State bird. They’ve been an important part of the Hawaiian culture and are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. Their numbers dramatically dropped with the introduction of dogs, cats, mongoose, rats, and people. At one point the number of wild Nene were down to around 800 or so, which is why they were put on the endangered species list and became federally protected. Hawaii has lost many of our native and endemic birds, which is why so many people work so hard to protect what we have left.

Why are the Nene birds attracted to this particular property?

Many years ago Hokuala (previously known as Kaua’i Lagoons) was one of the most successful breeding grounds for the Nene, with up to 800 birds on the property. They are able to thrive on this particular property because we have all their basic needs in one convenient and gorgeous place. We have the foods they like to eat, the water and ponds they like to swim in, a decent amount of nesting areas, safe places for them to raise their goslings, a very limited number of predators and a team dedicated to the health and safety of the Nene. Kaua’i is the only island, so far, that is free of mongoose, the main predators of the Nene. As for the predators that are present on Kauai, our Bio-Tech team and the entire staff here at Hokuala/Timbers have become very proficient at keeping stray cats and dogs at bay.

Tell us a little bit about the work you do at Hokuala.

Since the Habitat Conservation Program is a Federal and State regulated program our Bio-Techs do work closely with their agents. We have Department of Fish and Wildlife come on property once a month to do their monthly Nene Survey. During fledgling season (when the goslings are old enough to almost fly) the State comes out and we assist them in banding the goslings and getting them fitted with two bracelets with a lettering identification. These bands are very important. They enable us to tell the birds apart as well as letting us know if the same birds are returning back to the property. We also like to be able to tell which goslings (or Nene in general) belong to which parents so that we can continue adding to the family tree and follow the lineage of the birds that have spent time at Hokuala.

Nene Nest

Is it true there are some new babies?

The Nene nesting season is from about September through January or February depending on when the last nest hatches. The fledgling season goes through March or April, again depending on the late bloomers. The Nene mate for life and usually return to the location where they were born to hatch goslings of their own. This year we successfully hatched out 37 goslings, and we are proud to say that most of them are thriving. The summer time is usually when they are in flocking season; it’s something like the “dating scene” for them. The Nene flock together in large numbers and the parents are trying to “send the kids off to college” so to speak. The goslings are almost full-grown adults so they need to be seeking out their mates and getting ready for the upcoming nesting season. Expect to see the big groups of Nene start to split up into more secluded pairs by September.

Koloa (Hawaiian Duck)

A FEW FAST FACTS AND REMINDERS:

  • Did you know it is illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill trap, capture, collect or attempt to engage in any conduct with the protected species on property?
  • If you see the Nene bird or any other endangered birds on property it is best to watch from a distance. Do not approach them, harass or follow them. Even though you might be tempted, definitely do not feed them. If you see signs posted for nests, keep your distance.
  • We have signs all over property reminding folks to drive slowly and carefully (14 mph) and always give these birds the right of way. Plus, you’re on vacation! Driving slowly is a state of mind here in Hawaii.
  • Especially in the hot summer months, it’s a good idea to check beneath your vehicles before starting them up. In the hot sun, some of these birds seek shelter in the shade under cars.
  • Dispose of food and trash in trash cans (we don’t want to associate humans with food).
  • Endangered Waterbirds at Hokuala include:
    • Nene (Hawaiian Goose)
    • ‘Alaeke’oke’o (Hawaiian Coot)
    • Alae’ula (Common Moorhen)
    • Koloa (Hawaiian Duck)
    • A’eo (Hawaiian Stilt)