- Associated Press - Monday, March 24, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Endangered Hawaiian geese have been spotted in the wild on Oahu for the first time in centuries, a federal agency said Monday.

A pair of nene nested and successfully hatched three goslings at a national wildlife refuge near Kahuku on the North Shore, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Authorities have been flying nene from Kauai, where the population has been growing rapidly, to Maui and the Big Island by helicopter and Coast Guard plane to establish more populations on those islands.

But the nene pair at the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge near Kahuku found their own way to Oahu and weren’t transported by humans, said Ken Foote, a spokesman for the agency. He declined to release further information, saying the agency will talk to media about the geese on Wednesday.

Nene - the official state bird - is an endangered species found only in the Hawaiian Islands. There are more than 2,000 remaining in the wild.

Scientists believe the birds are descendants of Canada geese that flew here nearly 1 million years ago.

They lost habitat to agriculture after Polynesians arrived in Hawaii about 1,000 years ago. When the first Europeans landed in 1778, the birds were only known to live on the Big Island. Fossilized remains of nene, however, have been found on Oahu and most of the other main Hawaiian Islands.

Unrestricted hunting after Europeans arrived took out even more of the birds. By 1952, there were just 30 left.

Steve Hess, a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist, said the nene fly long distances - they’re known to cross the Big Island in a day - so it’s not surprising that they would fly to Oahu.

“But the fact that they would stop and raise youngsters over there - that’s pretty remarkable,” said Hess, who has studied nene but is not involved with the Oahu geese.

It’s too early, however, to say whether the birds will start a population at their new home.

Hess noted the birds face multiple obstacles on Oahu, Hawaii’s most heavily populated and developed island. These include urbanization and predators like mongoose, rats and dogs. The absence of mongoose on Kauai is one reason nene have been thriving on the Garden Island in recent years.

But Hess said it would be good for nene if they did. The species would have a better chance of survival if disease or a natural disaster were to wipe out populations on other islands but spare the Oahu birds, for example.

“Any time you get a new population like that started, it decreases the overall probability of extinction of the species,” Hess said.

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