Also known as Raphus cucullatu, the dodo bird used to inhabit the island of Mauritius, East of Madagascar. Studying subfossils showed us the dodo bird was no taller than one meter (a little more than three feet) and weighed anywhere between 10.6 and 21.1 kg (23-47 lb). We only know how it looked like from dodo bird paintings and drawings dating from the seventeenth century. However, scientists are now pretty sure our notion of how a dodo bird looked like is wrong. With everyone wondering what happened with the bird, we set out to separate the myth from reality and present you with the facts. So are dodo birds extinct?
What is a dodo bird?
First and foremost, let’s establish what we’re talking about here. Lacking other evidence, the dodo has been called an ostrich, an albatross and even a vulture. But early eighteenth century scientists were far from being right in their assumptions. The closest anyone came to pinpointing the origin of the dodo was Johannes Theodor Reinhardt who was mocked in 1842 for claiming dodos were ground pigeons. His hunch was later reinforced by researchers trying to separate myth from reality. After a dissection on a specimen’s preserved head and foot from Oxford University, it was proved that the dodo bird and pigeons share some important features.
What does a dodo bird look like?
Since we have no actual dodo bird pictures, only drawings, it’s all guesswork when it comes to its plumage and more distinct features. We’re used to imagine the birds as greyish or brown, with a green beak and black claws, but we can’t be certain if this is how the real dodo bird looked like. The illustrations and stories about it also talk about some curly feathers on the dodo’s rear end, as well as stout legs that had a yellow tint. With a 23 cm (9.1 inch) long beak, the dodo birds were pretty large, with males being bigger and heavier than females.
Other dodo bird facts
Although we’re in the dark with the dodo’s behavior and diet, scientists have pieced things together and managed to work out how the birds led their lives. In the absence of real dodo bird images, we’re relying on contemporary depictions which could’ve been inspired either by stuffed or live specimens. We can deduct the dodo bird was a pretty good runner and showed a preference for the forests in the drier coastal areas of Mauritius. A Dutch document dating from 1631 sheds some light on the dodo birds’ eating preferences: fruit. Besides these, they most likely also fed on nuts, seeds and roots, occasionally indulging in crabs or shellfish.
Dodo bird sightings
You’re probably used by now with the fact that nothing about the dodo bird is certain. This also applies to the dodo bird sightings. The last record of dodo sighting (that is also accepted by the vast majority) dates from 1662. The Arnhem Dutch vessel shipwrecked in Mauritius in February 1662, making Volkert Evertsz and his fellow mariners the last people believed to have seen real life dodos. Evertsz’s report talked about friendly dodos, who weren’t scared by humans. Depicted as large geese, the mariner wrote the dodo birds couldn’t fly but could walk very fast, though they were easy to catch with one’s hands.
Dodo bird extinction
If you haven’t guessed it by now, the dodo bird extinction date is still unknown. Scientists believe we no longer have dodo birds around because they were already a rare species, vulnerable to natural catastrophes like floods. They also represented an easy pray for sailors. A hypothesis about the dodo bird extinction points the finger at the Dutch sailors who only had to reach out their hands and they would effortlessly catch the docile bird. Pleased with its taste, the sailors are believed to have eaten the bird to extinction.
Dodo bird verdict
Despite the fact that we don’t know anything for sure about the dodo bird, one thing is certain: we can’t expect a dodo bird clone too soon. While scientists handle remains and subfossils to work out things like height, weight and diet, resurrecting the bird sounds a bit far fetched. The dodo remains one of the best known extinct species, and it has even grown into a symbol of something that is outdated, leading to the expression “dead as a dodo”.