Nor’easter blows dovekies off course

Stranded birds being treated, released

A dovekie sat in Nantucket Sound following its release from the Cape Wildlife Center, an animal care facility in Barnstable. A dovekie sat
in Nantucket Sound following its release from the Cape Wildlife Center, an animal care facility in Barnstable.
By L. Finch
Globe Correspondent / December 30, 2010

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Snow was not the only thing falling on Cape Cod during the Christmas weekend nor’easter.

Overpowered by the blustery storm, a handful of small seafaring birds called dovekies were blown ashore along the Cape, wildlife officials said. Concerned residents found the black and white animals exhausted, cold, and hungry and brought them to local animal care centers to recover.

“They’re so small, and the wind was so strong that it blew them off course,’’ said Theresa Barbo, director of the Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, which cared for several of the little auks, as they are also known. “It’s hard to imagine something that small can survive at sea, but they do.’’

The National Weather Service reported that Cape Cod was hit with wind gusts of up to 68 miles per hour Monday.

The birds brought into the center, a facility of the Humane Society of the United States, were released Tuesday into Nantucket Sound.

Stranded dovekies are a fairly common storm-related phenomenon on the Cape, Barbo said.

The birds, which resemble baby penguins and have a wingspan of about a foot, spend about 11 months of the year at sea, only coming on land to nest, she said.

Dovekies are excellent swimmers, she said, but for all their grace in the water, they are fairly clumsy on land, making it difficult for the birds once they are blown inland.

“When people see them on land just sitting, they think they’re wounded or injured,’’ Barbo said. “Dovekies don’t hop around on the ground like a robin or a sparrow.’’

Oftentimes, the birds need a running start on water to generate enough lift to fly away, said Lela Larned, director emeritus of Wild Care Inc. in Eastham, which cared for 10 to 15 dovekies.

People who find dovekies should bring them into wildlife centers, fighting the urge to keep them because they are so cute, Larned said.

Many of these birds have made crash landings and could be suffering broken bones, bruising, and swelling, she said.

“Even though they’re fluffy and puffy, that can hide a severely emaciated body underneath all that feather,’’ Larned said. “Unfortunately, there’s a misconception that people should just release them into the ocean.’’