Far from his home, wayward Arctic bird gets help at Roxbury firehouse

Three kids brougth the dovekie into the fire station in a cardboard box.
Three kids brougth the dovekie into the fire station in a cardboard box.Credit: Boston Fire Rescue 2

A wind-buffeted bird native to Arctic islands somehow found its way to Roxbury this week.

The dovekie, called a little auk in Europe, was dropped off at the Boston Rescue 2 firehouse on Columbus Avenue in Egleston Square Thursday night, said Greg Conlan, a firefighter with Rescue 2.

Conlan said the small bird was brought into the station at 7 p.m. by three 10-year-old children.

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The bird, which was in a box, looked plump but exhausted, he said.

“It looked tired. It definitely wasn’t going anywhere, but it wasn’t on its last leg or anything,” he said.

Firefighters named the dovekie Olive, the name given to every animal that comes through the firehouse, Conlan said. There is a cat and a turtle living at the station, both with the name Olive.

“The kids tried to offer it food, probably crackers,” he said. “Whatever you give a pigeon, that’s probably what they gave it.”

A Boston Animal Control officer picked up the bird and identified it as a dovekie because of the bird’s size, markings, and webbed feet.

The bird was transported to the New England Wildlife Center in South Weymouth, Boston Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said.

Wayne Petersen, director of the Important Bird Areas program for the Massachusetts Audubon Society, received a call from the wildlife center this morning asking for advice about where to release the bird, he said.

“The bird was obviously blown into the city by the big storm on Thursday,” Petersen said. “It’s a species that once it’s on the ground, they have great difficulty taking off.”

Dovekies are found on islands in the Arctic Circle, near Canada, Greenland, and Norway, and need the propulsion of an ocean wave to take flight, he said.

“They’re fabulously abundant, although we don’t see them here unless a big storm pushes them onshore,” Petersen said. “The trick will be to get this guy back to the ocean and hopefully all will end well.”

He advised the caretakers to release Olive in waters not heavily populated by gulls, because the small bird could be prey for larger species.

Dovekies are found off the coast of Massachusetts during mid-winter, usually near Georges Bank, he said.

They are about the size of a glove, roughly eight inches long, and feed on plankton, krill, and small crustaceans, he said. The birds store food in throat pouches, much like hamsters.

But during a big storm, turbulent tides can pull plankton deeper into the water than Dovekies are able to dive, leaving them without food, Petersen said.

Petersen had the chance to visit dovekie colonies in Spitsberg and observed them nesting in the crevices of boulders.

“When they have young, they’ll swirl around, hang out on the rocks, and then scuttle down and feed the young once they get underground,” he said. “You really have to do some real traveling to see them at home.”

Petersen remembered seeing a dovekie for the first time, after it was blown into a pond in Wellesley in 1959.

“The fortunate ones end up on open water,” he said. “The less fortunate ones end up on the concrete and people pick them up. They think they’re penguins.”

The New England Wildlife Center rehabilitated another dovekie earlier this month, which had been found in Boston Harbor, according to a statement from the center.

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