The dodo was a flightless, ground-dwelling bird that lived only on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. It became extinct in the 17th century, less than 100 years after it was discovered. What we know of its appearance comes mostly from drawings and written accounts from that time, which vary considerably, but new analysis of a complete skeleton is helping to complete the picture. It may have been a rather stout, brownish-grey bird, a little over 3 feet (0.9 meters) tall, with a large, naked head, a heavy beak, short wings and thick legs.
As with its appearance, little is known about the dodo’s diet — it is thought that it may have fed on seeds, bulbs, nuts and fallen fruit. This is very similar to the diet of the dodo’s closest living relative, the Nicobar pigeon.
Very few bird species are or have been flightless, because for them, flight can be a very useful skill. But flying takes a lot of energy. Because of the lack of predators on the island, and also because food was readily available on the ground, it is possible that in the process of its evolution, the dodo outgrew the necessity of flight.
When the Portuguese and Dutch sailors who landed on the island went in search of food, it is possible that the dodo (which didn’t know to shy away from humans) made an easy target, though archaeologists say they have found little evidence that hunting by humans took place to any large extent. Human contributions to the extinction of the dodo are more likely to have been habitat destruction and the introduction of predatory animals, such as dogs, cats, pigs, rats and macaques, which hunted adult birds and plundered nests for eggs. It is also now thought that a large-scale natural disaster may have occurred before the arrival of humans, depleting the dodo population to a vulnerable state.
Since the dodo couldn’t fly, it couldn’t escape these predators and disasters, and it couldn’t spread its population to other islands. It might be said that the dodo was the most defenseless animal ever, since it didn’t have any natural abilities to protect itself from predators.
The dodo is featured in the following book:
25 Extinct Animals… since the Birth of Mankind!
The YouTube video below is a collection of videos about the Dodo. The list of videos featured is underneath.
- Why did the dodo die out?
- A Dodo’s Guide to Extinction – Dara O Briain’s Science Club