This little bird, often called the Sea Dove, belongs to the family of auks (Alcidae). The range of the Dovekie is quite limited. While the marble murrelet, a related bird, is confined to the northern Pacific coast of North America, this little bird frequents only the “coast and islands of the north Atlantic and eastern Arctic Oceans; in North America south in winter to New Jersey.” It breeds only in the northern part of its range. It has been observed as far west as the state of Michigan, but its appearance there was, without doubt, accidental, for it prefers the wild sea coast, where the storm and waves bring to it an abundant supply of food.
It is said to be a rare visitor on the coasts of the British Islands and it has been reported as common as far to the northward as Spitzbergen. In Greenland, where it is commonly found a close companion of the black-billed auk, the native Greenlanders call the Dovekie the Ice Bird, as they consider it a harbinger of ice.
Though the wings of the Dovekie are small in proport on to the size of its body it flies well and rapidly. One writer states that it will move its wings almost as rapidly as will a hummingbird. It is an expert diver and while swimming or resting on the water it will frequently dip its bill into the water. On the land it is much more graceful and walks better than nearly all the other members of the family of auks.
It feeds chiefly on small fish, crustacea and mollusks and will become very fat during a prolonged stormy season when the waves wash up an abundant supply of crabs and fish.
The Dovekie builds a simple nest usually in the crevices of rocky cliffs bordering the sea coast. It lays one or two bluish white eggs which are about the size of the pigeons.
Mr. Saunders in speaking of the habits of the Dovekie says: “On the approach of a vessel this bird has a peculiar way of splashing along the surface of the water, as if unable to fly, and then diving through the crest of an advancing wave; it swims rather deep and very much by the stern.”
The Dovekie is sometimes called a little auk to distinguish it from the larger species of the family. The flightless great auk, which at one time was common along the north Atlantic coast, belongs to this family. No living representative of the great auk has been reported since the year 1842. Unable to protect itself by flight it was ruthlessly exterminated by the zeal of hunters and fishermen who sought it for food, for its feathers and for the oil that could be extracted from its flesh.