DOVEKIE – (Alle alle)
The Dovekie or ‘Little Auk’ is a small seabird that is part of the guillemots and puffins family, the Alcidae. Although it looks like a little penguin, it is not related to that family. This bird measures around 20 cm (8 in.) long, and during the summer it is black on top (including the neck and throat) with white under parts. The stout bill is black, as well as the legs and feet. Outside the breeding season the dovekie has a white throat and cheeks. Sexes are very similar.
The English name ‘Dovekie’ comes from ‘Dove’, which means ‘to dive’, and ‘kie’ which means ‘little’. However the dovekie is not related to the dove family. The double Latin name means that there is only one species in the ‘Alle’ genus, and that name is Sami for the call of the Long-tailed Duck (although the dovekie is not related to that duck either).
Dovekies are diving birds with short wings and find their prey near the surface. They feed on small fish and crustaceans. They breed in colonies on rocky shores and build their nests in crevices or under a large rock. Only one egg is laid. Main predators are large gulls and the arctic fox.
The dovekie does not breed on PEI, but in the high Arctic such as Greenland, where they can number in the millions. Sightings of this bird on PEI are listed as rare or occasional for fall and winter, but there are years where there are more during those seasons, as this is a species displaying ‘irruptive’ behavior.
Dovekies are eaten by the Inuit in the winter, from a preparation called Kiviak.
Conservation: as with many other seabird species, the dovekie is vulnerable to oil spills. Because it spends its winters on the open water in the North Atlantic, it is also susceptible to be carried away off course during major storms (Nor’easters), and end up inland on the east coasts of Canada and North America exhausted and starving. Its population trends are difficult to assess due to its remote breeding and wintering areas.