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New England Seabirds

Wilson's Storm-petrel  by Dave Jones

Alcids Index

Atlantic Puffin



Black Guillemot


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Seabirds - Alcids


Alle alle

Winter Dovekie by Glen Tepke

Dovekie in winter plumage with neck extended. Photographed from shore by Glen Tepke.

Known as the Little Auk in Europe. Historical names include: Bull Bird and Common Rotche. Bay Bulls in Newfoundland. A large number of Dovekies or  Bull Birds used to be seen in Witless Bay in winter. In recent years the bay has hosted reduced numbers of the birds.

The latin name Alle may have come from the note of the bird which sounds like "try - eye" or to some " al- le". (Bent, 1919 ) Linnaeus named it Alca alle. This was changed to Mergulus alle and to Plautus alle before it finally became Alle alle.

The Dovekie or Little Auk is the only bird in the genus Alle.

The Dovekie can be found circumpolar in arctic latitudes. Main breeding range is in Greenland where population estimates range from 8 million to 25 million pairs. (Freethy , 1987) Also Iceland,Novaya Zemlya, Spitsbergen, Ellsmere Island in Canada and at Gambel in Alaska.

May winter near the breeding range at the edge of the pack ice or move south as far as New England. (Harrison 1983).

When and Where To See
Winter plumage birds may be seen from land or sea. Three seen on the Stellwagen CBC pelagic in 1998. Almost every winter brings one or two close to Halibut Point or Andrews Point on Cape Ann. Also seen in mid winter from Race Point on Cape Cod although the bird seems to prefer rocky coasts to sandy beaches.

Birds seen from land usually do not persist for long so chasing reported birds is seldom productive. Since it is only rarely seen off the west coast of the United States, this bird is a New England specialty.

Breeds far north and very hard to see in breeding plumage. The best opportunity is at Gambel on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. Not seen on all trips and was not seen on the webmaster’s trip to Gambel.

Suffers predation at sea from large gulls including: Great Black-backed, Herring and Glaucous Gull . A group of about 35 Brookline Bird Club members were witness to such an attack one winter at Andrews Point. Fortunately everyone had a good look at the Dovekie which was swimming about 10 yards from shore before it was decapitated by a Great Black-backed Gull. If you are trying to see this bird from a pelagic trip do not attract gulls to the boat with popcorn or stale bread.

Also preyed upon by Beluga Whales at sea. On the breeding grounds suffers predation from Foxes and other mammals such as Mink.


The Dovekie appears short-necked and has a very small dark bill in all plumages.

In the breeding bird the head, neck, back, and upper wings are black. Under parts are white except for upper breast which is black. Under wings are dark in all plumages. Unfortunately I have no pictures of a breeding bird.

In winter plumage ear-coverts, chin,throat and upper breast are white. Otherwise plumage is similar to that of the breeding bird.

Dovekie winter  Axel Hildebrandt
Winter plumage Dovekie photographed by Axel Hildebrandt

Flying Dovekie by Steve Mirick

Dovekie near shore Ron Haaseth


Dovekies usually escape at sea by diving so you have to get very lucky to see one flying. Leave it to Steve Mirick to actually get a picture of one in the air.

Notice that the under wing is all dark.




Winter plumage bird photographed by Ron Haseth from the dock with a point and shoot camera. Bird is so close to shore Ron seems to be looking down on it. Cape Cod 2004.

Nests in large colonies on steep talus slopes. A single egg is laid on bare rock usually near the end of a natural tunnel..

Dovekies seem to have abandoned breeding sites in southern Greenland, Iceland , and Norway probably due to
global-warming. Known to have been breeding on St. Lawrence Island in Alaska for 35 years.

Food and Feeding Habits
Feeds on small crustaceans (shrimp) and copepods. Adults carry food back to the young in pouches in their cheeks. Both parents feed the young.I found this interesting comment in the Life Histories of North American Diving Birds by Arthur Cleveland Bent (1919) on page 200 .
“Mr. William Brewster (1906) writes (about Dovekies) that the stomachs of several killed on Fresh Pond, Cambridge, Massachusetts, were "filled with the remains of young alewives, " which abounded in the pond. “(An explanation of what the birds were doing on Fresh Pond comes from Mr. William Drummond of Andover who remembers several Dovekies on the flooded quarry at Halibut Point after a winter storm.)

Bent, Arthur Cleveland (1919 ) Life Histories of North American Diving Birds republished as a Dover Book in 1986. Dover Publications, Inc. 31 East 2nd Street, Mineola, N.Y. 11501

Seabirds  | Alcids | Puffin | Razorbill | Murres | Dovekie | Black Guillemot                                                                             
Freethy, Ron (1987 Auks An Ornithologist’s Guide Facts On File Publications New York                     Comments to Webmaster          TOP

Harrison, Peter (1983) Seabirds an identification guide Houghton Mifflin Company; Boston

Sibley, David (2000) The Sibley Guide to Birds Alfred A. Knopf, New York.