Hawaiian geese have just been spotted in the wild on the island of Oahu for the first time since the 1700's. A pair of the rare birds, also known as Nenes, built a nest on the island. They also have a brood of three youngsters.
The family of birds is living in a national wildlife refuge near Kahuku, on the northern shore of the island. Their presence was first reported by officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Captain Cook first arrived in Hawaii in 1778. At that time, around 25,000 of the birds lived in the Hawaiian Islands. By the 1940's, their population fell to just 50 individuals. Twelve years later, their numbers dwindled to just 30 birds. Today, they are the sixth most-endangered species of waterfowl in the world. Around 2,000 of the birds are known to live on the islands of Maui and Kauai, their lone wild habitat.
Populations in Kauai have been growing steadily, allowing wildlife authorities in the Aloha State to bring individual animals to the big island and Maui. There, they are being reintroduced to environments their ancestors once populated. The new breeding pair and their chicks were not brought to the island by humans, according to biologists.
Hawaiian Geese are known for being long-distance fliers, so the fact the birds made it to Oahu is not remarkable. What is odd is the fact that Oahu is the most-developed of all the Hawaiian Islands. That means the birds which landed on the island chose to make their home alongside humans, and domestic animals like rats and dogs.
"But the fact that they would stop and raise youngsters over there - that's pretty remarkable," said Steve Hess, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
The nene is the state bird of Hawaii, so this natural expansion of their territory is welcome news to those in the middle of the Pacific.
Biologists believe the Hawaiian goose descended from Canadian Geese that flew to the islands one million years ago. Fossils of the birds have been found on nearly every Hawaiian island, indicating they established a presence throughout the chain.
Populations of the birds descended greatly after Polynesians first arrived on the islands around one thousand years ago. When Cook arrived, the species was restricted to just the main island. Hunting reduced their numbers to their record lows in the mid-20th Century.