What is a Dodo?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The dodo was a large flightless bird native to the island of Mauritius, located in the Indian Ocean. The first birds were seen around 1600, and less than 100 years later, they were entirely extinct. Many people like to use the animal as an archetypal example of an extinction event caused by humans, cautioning that other animals could go the way of the dodo without prompt action to protect endangered and threatened species.

The dodo bird was from the island of Mauritius.
The dodo bird was from the island of Mauritius.

According to surviving specimens, research on Mauritius, and numerous contemporary accounts, the dodo appears to have been around 3 feet (1 meter) tall, with grey plumage, white markings, and a heavy hooked beak. The birds were closely related to pigeons, sharing the squat body and stubby legs. Several skeletons are held in natural history museums, and some museums have built models to show visitors what the birds might have looked like.

Brass sculptures of two dodo birds.
Brass sculptures of two dodo birds.

Dodos were apparently very gentle, friendly birds. This is probably the result of evolving in an isolated island environment without any predators; many island animals suffer greatly when humans enter their environment, introducing new and previously unknown concepts to their world like guns, rats, and cats. Many people considered the bird to be stupid, because they were so friendly, and the term “dodo” is sometimes used to describe someone who is particularly dopey, although this is probably a bit unfair.

The extinction of the dodo was probably caused by a number of factors. First of all, sailors ate them when they visited the island, hunting the slow, friendly birds quite easily. Apparently, the meat didn't taste very good, but this obstacle was minor to hungry, bored sailors. Humans also introduced cats and rats, who preyed on the gentle bird, along with goats, which damaged the ecosystem that had evolved on Mauritius. These combined factors proved to be too much for the highly specialized bird, and it vanished.

The dodo was probably not the first animal to go extinct because of human activities — and it certainly wasn't the last — but in the 20th century, the case began to be explored more closely in the hopes of learning more about extinction events and warning signs that could be heeded in the future. Today, a complex system is used for classifying animals as threatened or endangered, and these animals are closely regulated in the hopes of preventing further human-caused extinctions. Increasing human populations are putting immense pressure on the global environment, however, and the rate of extinction is likely to increase, despite the best efforts of many conservationists.

The Tasmanian tiger is another animal that became extinct during the 20th century.
The Tasmanian tiger is another animal that became extinct during the 20th century.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Has anyone read the novel "The Last Dodo?" It's a fiction about Dr. Who's search for the last dodo. It's really good.


@ZipLine-- I have no idea but I saw a really funny cartoon in the paper today about dodo birds. In the cartoon, the dodo was saying that they weren't extinct but had evolved. And the cartoonist picturized the dodo with large claws to protect himself.

There might be birds resembling the dodo in the wild but I'm sure they are not completely defenseless like the dodo was. Every animal has a way to defend itself, I guess the ones that don't, don't survive.


Which bird species that is alive today is most similar to the dodo bird?

Is there a chance that a bird like the dodo still exists somewhere on the planet?


I don't know why people get so emotional about the dodo. They were plump birds who couldn't fly much like chickens and turkey. We eat these animals on a regular basis now, so why are we upset that people ate dodos?

Their only misfortune was that they couldn't reproduce fast enough.


@wavy58-- I know, I agree with you!

We learned about the dodo in class and my teacher said that when the Portuguese sailors landed on the island, the dodo were really excited and literally "welcomed them." There are accounts about this in history books and it says that the dodo birds would go really close to the sailors and not run or hide from them. They must have been the first animals ever who didn't need to be domesticated to interact with humans.

But the sailors named them "dodo" which apparently means "simpleton" in Portuguese.


If we think about it, there are many animals that have gone extinct and most of them, we never had a chance to see. But we don't usually know them by name or have them portrayed in popular culture.

The case of the dodo is really interesting because almost everyone has heard of this bird even though it became extinct before 1700. It's portrayed in cartoons, books and movies. Heck, they even have stuffed dodo toys at toy stores!

I think as a culture we have a liking for this bird and wish it was still alive. Why else would we be so interested in it?


@wavy58 – It is also unfortunate that this bird is often portrayed in cartoons as stupid. If being harmless and unafraid makes you stupid, then I guess that most children could be called stupid, as well as all gentle people who have reached a place of peace in their lives. This is a bad assumption.

Maybe this bird was slow moving because he was relaxed and had nowhere to go. I know that many people who live on island paradises are really laid back and in no hurry. They also wouldn't hurt a fly.

It is so sad that the dodo became extinct in this way! I have never seen a friendly bird in the wild, but I would have loved to have had the chance to interact with a dodo.

This just shows the cruelty of humans. How could you shoot something that was trying to befriend you? I just don't understand the mentality of some folks toward animals!

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