The Tragic Tale of the Dodo Bird: 10 Facts About How Human Interference Led to Its Extinction | History Hit

The Tragic Tale of the Dodo Bird: 10 Facts About How Human Interference Led to Its Extinction

Peta Stamper

10 Feb 2023
Painting by the Mughal artist Ustad Mansur from c 1625, which may be one of the most accurate depictions of a live dodo

Known for its flightless nature, large size, and unique appearance, the dodo is one of the most famous extinct species. Despite having been extinct for some 300 years, the dodo bird continues to capture the imagination of people around the world, and its legacy serves as a reminder of the power of human actions and the importance of conservation efforts.

Here are 10 fascinating facts about the dodo’s distinctive biology, tragic extinction and enduring cultural impact.

1. The dodo bird was native to the island of Mauritius

The flightless bird lived exclusively on the small island in the Indian Ocean, and was not found anywhere else in the world. Mauritius was discovered by the Portuguese in 1507, although the Dutch declared its name in 1598, naming it after Prince Maurice van Nassau.

That year, the dodo was discovered on the island. Sir Thomas Herbert the English traveller, historian and courtier of Charles I, wrote about the dodo in his 1634 book, A Relation of Some Yeares Travaille into Afrique, after visiting Mauritius in 1627. His is one of the best records of 17th century travel, and among its illustrations are sketches of the dodo.

2. A dodo weighed around 20 kilograms

With blue-gray feathers, a big head, a 9 inch long black bill with a hooked tip, a plump body, short wings and a large beak, the dodo was certainly a distinct-looking species. They were typically bigger than a turkey, weighing around 20kg. Although dodos could not fly, their bone structure was hollow, like birds that could.

3. The dodo bird had no natural predators

Due to its flightless nature and isolation on the island of Mauritius, the bird was not equipped to defend itself against predators and had no natural predators prior to human interference. Dutch settlers reported that dodo birds were so innately trusting that they would actually waddle up to the armed (and hungry) settlers.

Copper engraving from ‘Het Tweede Boeck’ (made in the Netherlands) showing Dutch activities on the shore of Mauritius during the 1598 voyage of Admiral Jacob van Neck, as well as the first published depictions of a dodo.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

4. That did not mean dodos were unable to defend themselves when threatened

Settler accounts also describe one particular occasion where sailors killed and carried back to camp as many as 25 dodos. One sailor said the birds retaliated by inflicting terrible wounds on their attackers with their strong beaks.

5. Dodos only laid one egg at a time

Because the dodo bird had no natural enemies, female dodos only laid one egg at a time. Most other birds lay several eggs to increase the odds of at least one egg hatching, escaping predators or natural disaster, and surviving into adulthood.

6. Humans were responsible for the dodo’s extinction

Unfortunately for the dodo, as the number of settlers on the island increased, the hunting for their meat intensified. The forests on the island of Mauritius were also cleared to make way for crops and settlements, destroying the bird’s habitat and contributing to its rapid decline.

By 1681, the dodo was extinct.

7. The dodo has been depicted in famous works of art and literature

The bird’s unique appearance and tragic extinction have made it a popular subject in art and literature, and it has been depicted in numerous works, including the famous illustration in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

8. An Oxford Museum nearly completely destroyed one of the last remaining dodo specimens

In the 1680s, a whole dodo bird specimen was donated to the Oxford University Natural History Museum. The museum burned the rest of the bird on 8 January 1755 due to severe decay, not realising this was the last complete specimen in the world.

Today, only the head, with its surviving soft tissue, and a foot remain.

Skull of the Oxford Dodo specimen.

9. Scientists have considered bringing the dodo back

The dodo’s extinction has had a lasting impact on the scientific community. Advances in genetics that could allow for its resurrection and subsequent de-extinction have led scientists to consider the possibility of bringing the dodo back. In 2016, the sequencing of the dodo genome by geneticists provoked an ethical debate over altering natural history.

10. The legacy of the iconic dodo bird serves as a reminder of the importance of conservation efforts

Today, there are around 22,000 polar bears left in the wild, but man-made climate change and global warming are making conditions ever-harder for these predators to survive. The rapid decline and extinction of the dodo bird serves as a cautionary tale, reminding us of the power of human actions and the importance of protecting and conserving the natural world, such as species on the verge of extinction, such as polar bears.

Peta Stamper