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An aquatic bird (Uria grille) of the arctic regions. — Webster, 1882

dovekieJohn James Audubon writes of the dovekie: A small plump sea bird, the Dovekie is short of neck and beak. It is therefore hardly surprising to find that it captures almost exclusively tiny crustaceans! Abundant in Greenland, it migrates to the estuary and gulf of the Saint Lawrence before pursuing its route toward the North Atlantic, where it spends the winter. It usually nests in colonies on rocky escarpments, piles of fallen rocks and sea coastlines. The length of the Dovekie is 19 to 23 cm.

Dovekies are glossy blue-black, below from the breast (in winter, and in young, from the bill) white; scapulars white-striped; secondaries white-tipped; white speck over eye; bill black, short, obtuse, turgid. Length, 8.50 inches; wing 4.75; tarsus .8; bill .5; about .37 deep or wide at base. A species belonging to the high north. It is properly confined to the coast, but several instances are recorded of its having been driven inland by storms, and captured in the most unwanted localities. — Winfrid Sterns, Manual of Ornithology (Boston: Lee and Shepard Publishers, 1883), 395-396.

The bird found on Silver Lake was described as being similar to the picture of the Great Auk in Charles Ingalls’ big green animal book. The Great Auk (Alca impennis) or garefowl has been extinct for over 150 years. There is a specimen in the Smithsonian Institution, however, and a number of old drawings exist. The bird found by Charles Ingalls was an alcid (an ocean bird of the auk family), most likely either an Ancient Murrelet (Synthliboramphus antiquus), or the little auk, also called a Dovekie (today classified as Alle alle). The dovekie is a small arctic seabird about the size of a starling. It would have been unusual – although not impossible – for a dovekie to have been carried as far inland as eastern Dakota Territory during a blizzard. An adult dovekie is small enough to have fit in Pa’s pocket. Although they have short wings in proportion to their body, the dovekie is an excellent flier. Adult birds are black on the head, neck, and wings, with white underparts. The bill is short, and they have a small rounded black tail. They forage for food by swimming under water, eating mainly fish and small invertebrates.

Dovkie (Alle alle).
The little Ice-bird of the fishermen and the Sea Dove of ornithologists. Its entire life is spent on the open sea, rarely visiting land except during the breeding season or when driven thence by severe storms. It breeds in the Arctic regions of America and Europe, the islands of the Arctic Ocean, and in the northwestern portion of Asia. The head and bill of this bird are formed almost exactly like that of a quail. it is very abundant at its breeding grounds in the far north, and is one of the most boreal of birds; nesting chiefly on islands, or always in places near the sea, depositing its single pale, greenish-blue egg in the crevices of rocky cliffs. The eggs measure from 1.80 to 1.90 in length by 1.25 to 1.30 in breadth. — Oliver Davie. North American Birds (Columbus: Hann & Adair, 1889), 19.

The Diving Birds.
This group consists of the Auks, Murrelets, Guillemots, Auklets, Puffins, Loons, and Grebes. Of the five subgroups mentioned in order, none belong inland, but of course stragglers of some of them have been carried inland, and so swell the lists of birds found in such and such a locality…

The Great Auk is extinct. Nature had nothing to do with its destruction. Comment is unnecessary. The Little Auk survives and seems equal to holding its own, the odds not being so decidedly against it…. The late Dr. Lockwood has given an amusing account of one of these birds that was kept for some time in confinement. It was one of many that in the winter of 1877 not only appeared upon the coast, but came inland. “They were so gentle and unsuspicious, and so comical, for on the land their gait was a tipsy waddle.” One was picked up miles from the sea, and entirely beyond tidal reach. It was ill at ease in the air of a close room, standing upright on the floor, but when offered a tub of water, seemed crazed with delight. It dived and splashed, but was puzzled by its close quarters, and could not realize that the tub’s sides were so inconveniently near.”

“There is much,” says Dr. Lockwood, “to wonder at and to admire in the sea-dove’s ways when in her own element. When it suits they can ride the crest like the stormy petrel. But see that gorgeous wave approaching, and that Dovekie goes right through it as an arrow through a cloud of smoke…. It can float like a bubble and progress like a shot.” — C.C. Abbott, M.D. The Birds Around Us (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1895), 277-278.


dovekie, see also auk (TLW 5-6) – Laura’s “little auk” of The Long Winter was the most likely a dovekie.