Farewell, Hawaii

I’m off this evening for a red-eye flight to Chicago—that is, if the predicted heavy snowfall doesn’t delay or cancel my flight. Posting will be lighter than usual until I get on my feet around Sunday.

And so I bid farewell to this blessed isle, having had a great time here over the past three weeks. Yesterday was a trip to the Honolulu Zoo. In general I avoid zoos because I don’t like to see animals confined when they should be roaming free (especially true for wide-ranging creatures like birds, primates, and cetaceans), but I did want to see a nene before I left Hawaii, and the only place on Oahu to reliably see them is at the zoo.

While wandering around, my friend Nilou and I took photo (photos that are mine are identified; the rest are hers). Here’s a familiar but beautiful creature. Although people have identified up to seven “species” of giraffe, in my view these are just geographically isolated populations with no evidence of evolved genetic barriers between them, and so should be called subspecies rather than species (see here and here).

A beautiful mandarin duck (Aix galericulata), like the one inhabiting the lagoon in New York’s Central Park. They are native to East Asia but have been introduced to Europe. This is a Picasso duck!

Like peacocks and many other birds, mandarins have extreme sexual dimorphism due to sexual selection. Here’s a male and a female from Wikipedia:

Below is a gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), a very rare crocodilian native to India. Estimates of the wild population are less than 250 individuals. The protuberance on the snout shows that this is a male; as Wikipedia notes,

Male gharials develop a hollow bulbous nasal protuberance at the tip of the snout upon sexual maturity. This nasal growth starts growing over the nostrils at an age of 11.5 years and measures about 5 cm × 6 cm × 3.5 cm (2.0 in × 2.4 in × 1.4 in) at an age of 15.5 years, and enables the males to emit a hissing sound that can be heard at a distance of 75 m (246 ft). It resembles an earthen pot known locally as “ghara”. The nasal growth is apparently used to indicate sexual maturity, as sound resonator when bubbling under water or other sexual behaviours. The gharial is the only living crocodilian with such visible sexual dimorphism.

A superb starling from Africa (Lamprotornis superbus, my photo, and thanks to Bruce Lyon for IDing this and the pochard below.) It sang us a lovely song in the aviary.

A rosy-billed pochard (Netta peposca), a diving duck from South America:

Laysan teals (Anas laysanensis), which look like smaller, light-headed mallards with a greenish speculum. They are critically endangered, having once been reduced to 12 individuals. They are now being bred for release on Midway Atoll and their native island of Laysan. There are now over 500 individuals.

And the object of my visit, the nene (Branta sandvicensis)the world’s rarest goose, and a relative of the familiar Canada goose. It is considered “vulnerable”, and is native to five of the Hawaiian islands, though sightings on Oahu are rare except in the zoo. Once numerous, it was reduced by hunting, predation, and habitat loss to 30 birds in 1952.

They are almost impossible to sex visually; the sign at the zoo said that males were banded with a metal band on their right leg; females on their left. This, then, is a female.

And yes, they can fly, but they don’t want to!

Breeding in captivity and release has brought the species back from the brink of extinction. There are now about 2500 birds in existence. (Photo by me.)

The Nene is the State Bird of Hawaii. Here’s another female (my photo).

These herbivorous birds feed from a special trough that prevents other birds from getting to the food but allows the long-necked goose access to the noms. This is a male (standing) and female (feeding). And this is almost certainly a pair: nenes mate for life, or until their mate dies.

A lovely nene (picture by me):

A putative relative whose lineage was probably the nene’s ancestor: a male Canada goose (Branta canadensis) from Wikipedia. You can see the resemblance, but the plumage pattern differs from that of the nene.

Nene foot, showing reduced webbing (Canada goose foot right below this photo). Nenes live in open habitat and on lava-heavy areas, and almost never swim. Why have webbed feet if you don’t need them? (I am not being Lamarckian here!):

Canada goose foot from Fine Art America, note the larger webbing for this aquatic goose.

Reader Joe Dickinson et famille had an encounter of the Nene kind some years ago. They are quite tame because these birds had almost no predators. Joe writes:

Here, if you are interested, is a photo of my daughter feeding peanut butter crackers to Nenes down in Haleakala crater (in 1978) as mentioned in my comment on your recent post (this post: below).

Most of the rest of the photos are mine. I will miss my animal friends here, including the grumpy-looking but very sweet Pi, my Persian friend.

And farewell to Loki, the mini-lion who loved to roll on my daypack:

Goodbye to all the Hawaiian ducks I’ve known and loved, including this female who started with ten babies and is now down to two. Life for ducks in the wild, especially when they’re not being coddled by professors, is tough!

The last feeding of the ducks (photo by Nilou):

Goodbye to Puppy, the beloved, friendly, and ponderous muscovy duck who loved food and water, and wagged his tail vigorously.

And goodbye to the plate lunch (and poi): my last plate lunch was fried saimin with teriyaki beef at the Rainbow Drive-In in Honolulu. Rice and macaroni salad were on the side, as usual.



  1. Posted January 18, 2019 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    What a great time you had!

    We have wild mandarin ducks on Lake Geneva – they are the most beautiful of ducks, in my humble opinion.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 18, 2019 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    More nice pictures and things to remember when you get back.

    Living on an Island such as Oahu is different because tourism is such a big business. But tourism is the business and probably half the people work in the tourism industry there. It is simply what makes the place what it is. Well to do Japanese tourist come to Oahu just to get married. Thousands of them come just for that purpose. So where do the less than well off go to get married…they go to Guam. If you have ever been to Guam you would know they have their version of Waikiki, with all the hotels and everything. Only difference is that the Japanese built most of it on Guam.

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 18, 2019 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Dang, your departure is the saddest story to come out of Hawaii since the “Death of Maggio” scene in FHtE, where Frank Sinatra dies in Montgomery Clift’s arms after being beaten by that “Fatso” bastard Ernest Borgnine. 🙂

    • Posted January 18, 2019 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      I just watched that movie the other night, and while I remembered how Maggio died, I’d forgotten that Pruitt died and that everybody was unhappy at the end.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 18, 2019 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

        I understand some of the characters and parts were fiction but how much, I don’t know. James Jones had homosexual parts that were cut from the book and there were none in the movie. Hotel street in Honolulu, although not specifically referred to in the movie was real. Certainly Jones was a real soldier in the pacific during the war and some of that is in the book and also the Thin Red Line.

  4. Posted January 18, 2019 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and I forgot to wish you “Bon voyage!”.

  5. Posted January 18, 2019 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Driving up Haleakala on Maui last year, I saw Nenes in the wild. Two crossed the road in front of me, and were gone before I could get my camera. There are many signs on the winding road warning motorists to watch for them, but I never expected to actually see any. The ranger at the National Park office said it was rare to see them cross the road, but not unusual. I plan on driving up this week now I am on Maui, this time with camera at ready.

  6. Michael Fisher
    Posted January 18, 2019 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your Hawai’i posts Prof – interesting stuff

  7. Simon Hayward
    Posted January 18, 2019 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    Good luck with the weather, supposed to start snowing in Chicago soon and go on for 24 hours plus. If they let you take off you’ll be fine, I landed at O’Hare in Feb from London in a blizzard with very limited visibility. It seems like the long distance stuff comes and goes pretty much no matter what.

    Be nice to the TSA folks, they aren’t getting paid, all groping is now gratis!

  8. Joe Dickinson
    Posted January 18, 2019 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    My Nene memory: during my sabbatical year in Hawaii, were were able to hike down into Haleakala crater and spend the night at one of the cabins provided there for backpackers. Several Nenes were hanging out around the cabin, clearly begging for handouts, and we finally decided to share some crackers spread with peanut butter that we had brought along. Alarmingly, it was soon evident that the Nenes’ beaks were getting “glued” shut with the peanut butter. Our reaction was something like “OMG, we’ve endangered an endangered species”. Fortunately, the condition cleared up and we gave them no more “treats”.

  9. Posted January 18, 2019 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    I am saddened by the fate of the ducklings.

  10. nwalsh
    Posted January 18, 2019 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    I am saddened thinking about it being his last day. That last day there is a real downer, putting on long pants again and thinking of winter. We have always tried to visit Maui the last three weeks in Feb. thinking winter is almost over back home. Happy flight Jerry.

  11. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted January 19, 2019 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Why have webbed feet if you don’t need them? (I am not being Lamarckian here!):

    Being partly web-footed myself, when you do get a cut between the phalanges you know about it, and regret it. If you’re on a hard substrate, the resultant cuts and infections would make an adequate fitness pressure to keep the webbing no longer than necessary.

  12. Andrea Kenner
    Posted January 19, 2019 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Lovely photos! BTW, nene is a crossword puzzle word!

  13. Posted January 21, 2019 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Hm, another noodle dish!

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