Birds – Dovekie

(Alle alle)


Length-8.50 inches.

Male and Female—In summer : Upper parts, including head and neck all around, glossy black; shoulders and other wing feathers tipped with white and forming two distinct patches. Lower breast and underneath white. A few white touches about eyes. Wings long for this family. Body squat, owing to small, weak feet. Wing linings dusky. In winter: Resembling summer plumage, except that the black upper parts become sooty and the white of lower breast extends upward to the bill, almost encircling the neck. Sometimes the white parts are washed with grayish and the birds have gray collar on nape.

Young—Like adults in winter, but their upper parts are duller.

Range—From the farthest north in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, south to Long Island, and occasionally so far as Virginia.

Season—Winter visitor.

In the chapter entitled “The End—by Death and by Rescue,” in his “Three Years of Arctic Service,” General Greely, after telling how the wretched men at Cape Sabine were reduced to eating their sealskin boots and were apparently in the last extremity, goes on to describe how Long, one of the hunters of the expedition, one awful day succeeded in shooting four of these little dovekies, two king-ducks, and a large guillemot. But the current swept away all the birds except one dovekie! “I ordered the dovekie to be issued to the hunters who can barely walk,” writes the starving commander; “but . . . one man begged with tears for his twelfth, which was given him with everybody’s contempt.” When the twelfth part of a little bird that a man can easily cover with his hand causes a scene like this, can the imagination picture the harrowing misery of the actual situation ?

And yet where man and nearly every other living creature perishes, the little auk pursues its happy way, floating about in the open water, left even in that Arctic desolation by the drifting ice floes, and diving into its icy depths after the shrimps that Greely’s party collected at such frightful cost.

Far within the Arctic Circle great colonies nest after the fashion of their tribe, in the jutting cliffs that overhang the sea. One pale, bluish-white egg, laid on the bare rock, is all that nature requires of these birds to carry on the species, whose chief protection lies in their being able to live beyond the reach of men, to escape pursuit by diving and rapid swimming under water, and to fly in the teeth of a gale that would mean death to a puffin. With so many means of self-preservation at their disposal, there is no need of a large family to keep up the balance that nature adjusts.

These neat little birds, whose form alone suggests a dove, are by no means the lackadaisical creatures their name seems to imply. They are self-reliant, for they are chiefly solitary birds that straggle down our coast in winter. They are wonderfully quick of motion in their chosen element, and although they have a peculiar fashion of splashing along the surface of the water, as if unable to fly, they certainly are in no immediate danger of be-coming extinct from the loss of wings through disuse, like the great auk. A little sea dove that once flew across the bow of an ocean steamer in the North Atlantic in an instant became a mere speck in the bleak wintry sky, and the next second vanished utterly.