HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii’s sunshine and clear skies drive many to golf courses for some outdoor activity, but they are not the only ones in search of the green grass.

Hawaii’s State bird — the nēnē goose — is also a common visitor to these courses and experts are asking golfers to watch their swing.

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The Hawaii Wildlife Center on the Big Island has seen 17 nēnē geese hospitalized in 2022 alone — 11 of those were from golf ball strikes.

Low-lying grasslands were part of their original habitat and experts warn courses around the state can lead to unintended consequences.

“So they’re really attracted to any areas that have beautiful, mowed grass especially,” said Hawaii Wildlife Center president Linda Elliott. “So, resorts, golf courses, parks, athletic fields are all very attractive to the nēnē.”

“They’re getting hit by golf balls, majority of the ones in care right now have leg fractures, severe leg fractures.”

Linda Elliott, Hawaii Wildlife Center president

One issue is nēnē shed their feathers from March to April, which leaves them flightless.

“So they’re not going to be able to get away from anything coming at them,” Elliott said. “So a projectile like a golf ball.”

Save Our Shearwaters on Kauai often sees nēnē with golf-related injuries.

“In 2022 we’ve already admitted 33 nēnē year-to-date,” said Save Our Shearwaters program coordinator Molly Bache, “and 12 of those 33 were from golf courses.”

If the fracture is serious, the nēnē is sent to Feather and Fur Animal Hospital on Oahu for treatment.

“So it’s a pin that goes down the center of the bone, and then we take the pin and then we bend it and then we bring it down the side. And then we put these cross pins in the side of it,” said Dr. Brian Walsh, Feathers and Fur medical director.

“And even though the pins are sticking out, they can still totally walk on it, you know, so they can put weight on it and move around,” Dr. Walsh said.

The pins stay in for two to four months and the nēnē is returned to their home island for long-term care before being released back into the wild. Dr. Walsh said his job brings mixed emotions, but knowing he is helping them makes it all worth it.

“There’s a bit of excitement, you know, cause for me it’s kind of a puzzle to solve, so I’m kind of like, ‘Okay, here’s a problem I got to solve,'” Dr. Walsh said. “It’s also a little bit stressful because it’s like, you know, it’s an endangered bird and there’s only so many in the world.”

Experts say golfers need to be aware of their surroundings when it comes to preventing these injuries and never purposefully interact with nēnē.

“To be honest,” Dr. Walsh said, “just be aware of nēnēs is the key thing. Just knowing that they’re there, knowing that they’re not fast, knowing that they’re awkward at getting off of the ground.”

The State Division of Forestry and Wildlife handles calls about injured nēnē, see the list below below for contact information on every island.

Check out more news from around Hawaii

  • Kauai: (808)-274-3433
  • Oahu: (808)-973-9786
  • Maui: (808)-984-8100
  • Molokai: (808)-553-1745
  • Lanai: (808)-565-7916
  • Hawaii Island: (808)-974-4221