Where Did All the Dodos Go?
The dodo was rather a stupid bird. Indeed, it was so stupid that it was named dodo by the Portuguese when they discovered Mauritius-its home-in 1507. The Portuguese word doudo means stupid.
Mauritius is an island, 720 square miles in area and lying 500 miles to the east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Until the arrival of man, with his attendant creatures such as the cat and dog, the dodo had been able to live in peace.
It had no enemies, which was fortunate because it was being and clumsy and was completely unsuited to fleeing from danger. Its short legs were almost incapable of supporting the weight of the fat, round body (about the size of a swan’s) and the ridiculously inadequate, stubby wings were of no use for flying.
Within 180 year of its discovery by the Portuguese, the dodo was extinct. Over the intervening years several were brought to Europe alive, and one was to be seen in London in 1638. By 1680 the dodo had succumbed. With the help of drawings and by the collection of bones gathered in Mauritius, an almost complete reconstruction has been made of the poor bird. It can be seen at the Natural History Museum in London.
Mauritius is the only place in the world where the bird is known to have existed. A similar bird once lived on the neighboring island of Rodriguez, but this also has become extinct, called Rodrigues solitaire, the two forming the subfamily Raphinae of the family of pigeons and doves.
The closest living relative of the dodo is the Nicobar pigeon. A white dodo was once thought to have existed on the nearby island of Réunion, but this is now thought to have been confusion based on the Réunion ibis and paintings of white dodos.
Sub fossil remains show the dodo was about 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) tall and may have weighed 10.6–21.1 kg (23–47 lb). The dodo’s appearance in life is evidenced only by drawings, paintings, and written accounts from the 17th century. Because these vary considerably, and because only some illustrations are known to have been drawn from live specimens, its exact appearance in life remains unresolved, and little is known about its behavior.
Though the dodo has historically been considered fat and clumsy, it is now thought to have been well-adapted for its ecosystem. It has been depicted with brownish-grey plumage, yellow feet, a tuft of tail feathers, a grey, naked head, and a black, yellow, and green beak.
It used gizzard stones to help digest its food, which is thought to have included fruits, and its main habitat is believed to have been the woods in the drier coastal areas of Mauritius. One account states its clutch consisted of a single egg. It is presumed that the dodo became flightless because of the ready availability of abundant food sources and a relative absence of predators on Mauritius.
Some controversy surrounds the date of their extinction. The last widely accepted record of a dodo sighting is the 1662 report by shipwrecked mariner Volkert Evertsz of the Dutch ship Arnhem, who described birds caught on a small islet off Mauritius, now suggested to be Amber Island.
Even though the rareness of the dodo was reported already in the 17th century, its extinction was not recognized until the 19th century. This was partly because, for religious reasons, extinction was not believed possible until later proved so by Georges Cuvier, and partly because many scientists doubted that the dodo had ever existed.
It seemed altogether too strange a creature, and many believed it a myth. The phrase “as dead as the dodo” is used to mean that something is very dead indeed. The bird was first used as an example of human-induced extinction in Penny Magazine in 1833, and have since been referred to as an “icon” of extinction.