Wayward Arctic bird rescued in Roxbury

A dovekie, a bird native to the Arctic, was pushed onshore by high winds.
A dovekie, a bird native to the Arctic, was pushed onshore by high winds.

A wind-buffeted bird native to Arctic islands landed in ­Roxbury this week and into the hands of three 10-year-olds.

The trio found the dovekie on a street in Egleston Square and brought it in a box to the Boston Rescue 2 firehouse there early Thursday evening, said Greg Conlan, a firefighter with Rescue 2.

The bird looked plump but exhausted, he said.


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

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Firefighters named the dovekie Olive, the same name given to every animal that comes through the firehouse, Conlan said, including its current residents, a cat and a turtle.

The children had attemped to take care of the bird before bringing it to authorities, he said. “The kids tried to offer it food, probably crackers,” he said.

A Boston animal control officer identified Olive as a dove­kie, called a little auk in Europe, based on its size, markings, and webbed feet.

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


A Massachusetts Audubon Society official said the dovekie probably made an unwilling stop in Boston during Thursday’s high winds and rain and then had trouble getting out.

“The bird was obviously blown into the city by the big storm on Thursday,” said Wayne Petersen, director of the Important Bird Areas program for the society. “It’s a species that, once it’s on the ground, they have great difficulty taking off.”

Dovekies, which are commonly found on islands in the Arctic Circle, near Canada, Greenland, and Norway, need the propulsion of an ocean wave to take flight, Petersen 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 said he advised the dovekie’s caretakers to release it in waters not heavily populated by gulls, because the small bird could be prey for the larger birds.


Dovekies are also found locally at times. They can be seen off the coast of Massachusetts during midwinter, usually near ­Georges Bank, he said.

The birds are about the size of a glove, roughly 8 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 said he visited dovekie colonies in Norway, where he saw 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.

Petersen remembered his first sighting of a dovekie in 1959 after it was blown into a pond in Wellesley.

“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.”

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

Melissa Werthmann can be reached at ­