Indian Ocean: Dodo birds were once endemic of
Mass: 13 to 23 kg.
Our present day knowledge of what the dodo looked like
is based on several sources. There are accounts from the
diaries and writings of the sailors and captains who landed
on Mauritius in the 16th and17th century, drawings from
the few humans who were able to witness them alive (although,
it can't even be proven that all the artists who rendered
the dodo ever actually saw one) and the few fossils excavated
from the island, which are kept at the British Museum, and
a foot and a beak which are preserved at Oxford.
From these records and pictures, scientists and ornithologists
have pieced together a fairly detailed composite of the
dodo. The dodo was a large, plump bird covered in soft,
grey feathers, with a plume of white at its tail. It had
small wings that were far too weak to ever lift the dodo
off the ground. Because it was flightless, those who saw
the bird often thought it had no real wings at all, describing
them as "little winglets." Study of the skeleton reveals,
however, that the dodo did in fact have wings that were
simply not used for flight, much like penguins' wings.
The dodo's legs were short and stubby and yellow in color.
On the end of the legs were four toes, three in front and
one acting as a thumb in back, all with thick, black claws.
The head was a lighter grey than the body, with small, yellow
eyes. Many words have been devoted to the long, crooked
and hooked beak, which was light green or pale yellow in
color and was one of the most distinguishing features of
the dodo. Those who saw it, marveled at the unique shape
and size. One witness went so far as to describe it as grotesque.
(Strickland and Melville, 1848) (Fuller, 1987) (Greenway,
1958) (Britannica, 1986)
Scientists thoughts on the diet of the dodo are based mainly
on speculation. Some sailors' accounts talk of watching
dodos wade into water-pools to catch fish. They have been
described as "strong and greedy" hunters. What really fascinated
the visitors to Mauritius, however, was the fact that dodos
seemed to eat stones and iron frequently and with no trouble.
It is now surmised that the rocks eased digestion. (Strickland
and Melville, 1848) (Fuller, 1987)
Specifics about mating and incubation periods are not known.
Several people have described the nests the dodo made as
being deep in the forest, in a bed of grass. There, the
female would lay one egg, which she would protect and raise.
One sailor told about hearing the cries of a young dodo
in its nest, which sounded "like that of a young goose."
(Fuller, 1987) (Greenway, 1958)
The sailors who landed on Mauritius found much amusement
in watching the clumsy dodo's behavior. There is a story
one told of watching a dodo attempt to escape in a hurry.
When it tried to run away, (wobble may be a more accurate
term), its belly would drag on the ground and slow him down.
But for the most part, the dodo is described as a lazy,
rather dumb animal. It had virtually no defenses against
predators, except for its large beak which could deliever
a "fearsome bite" if the occasion arose, such as a threat
to itself or its young. (Fuller, 1987) (Strickland and Melville,
Although many pictures and stories place the dodo along
the shores of Mauritius, it was actually a forest-dwelling
bird. The island of Mauritius is home to a variety of biomes,
such as plains, small mountains, forests, and reefs all
along the shores. However, the dodo made its home primarily
in the forest. (Fuller, 1987) (Britannica, 1986)
Biomes: tropical deciduous forest, tropical
scrub forest, tropical savanna & grasslands, reef
The main purpose dodos served to humans, in the brief contact
between the two species, was as food. The sailors frequently
fed on wildlife from Mauritius while staying there, although
it has been said that dodo meat was not particularly tasty.
Still, they were hunted intensely, with sailors sometimes
bringing back as many as 50 at a time. What they couldn't
eat right away they would salt and bring back with them.
A few attempts were made to bring back a dodo alive. When
this was sucessful, entreprenuers would capitalize on the
unique looks of the bird and tour the dodos around Europe,
displaying them in cages and demonstrating how the dodo
could "eat" stones. (Strickland and Melville, 1848) (Fuller,
The first group of sailors believed to have arrived on
Mauritius were Portuguese, led by Captain Mascaregnas, in
1507. They had intended to land on the Cape of Good Hope
in South Africa, but stormy conditions had blown them off
course and they ended up finding respite on Mauritius. Several
other expeditions, Portuguese, Dutch, British and others,
made stops at the island in the following years. In the
dodos, the sailors found amusement and, when they were running
out of supplies, food. The Dutch colonized Mauritius in
1644 . Along with groups of people, the ships brought cats,
dogs, swine and sometimes monkeys. These animals quickly
invaded the woods, trampling the nests and frightening the
birds. These domestic creatures also devoured the dodo eggs
and young. The interference of the foreign animals coupled
with the continued overuse of the birds for food led to
its total extinction by 1693. (Strickland and Melville,
1848) (Britannica, 1986)
There are two speculations on where the name for the dodo
came from. The more accepted source is the Dutch word "dodoor"
which mean "sluggard." This word describes both the dodo's
looks and appearance. The other speculation is that the
name comes from the Portuguese word "doudo" which, meaning
foolish or simple. (Strickland and Melville, 1848)