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dodo bird

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The large, flightless dodo was first spotted by European sailors in 1598 and has since become synonymous with clumsiness and backwardness.

© AZ-Animals.com

The dodo may have become synonymous with stupidity in popular culture, but these birds have adapted and survived for millions of years in the relatively harsh environment of Mauritius. If anything sealed the dodo's fate, it was an unfortunate victim of circumstance. After years of relentless hunting by humans and exotic species, the dodo became extinct around 1688. Much of what we know about the dodo comes from contemporary records and modern studies of its anatomy. Some specimens were brought back to Europe, inadvertently helping to preserve bones and soft tissues for study.

Fantastic Bird: 3 Facts About the Dodo

Artists' depictions of the dodo vary widely.

© Dutch School, 17th century – public domain

  • The dodo gained popularity around the world after appearing as a minor character in chapters two and three of Alice in Wonderland. In the book, the dodo starts a dogfight, and everyone is a designed winner. The character is believed to be a stand-in for Lewis Carroll himself.
  • Despite the dodo's reputation for being clumsy, studies of its anatomy have shown that it was actually able to run at speed.
  • The origin of the term dodo is unclear. It probably comes from the Dutch word for lazy (the Dutch also call it a wallowbird). Another potential source is the Portuguese word meaning crazy, fool or fool. Regardless of its origins, the word dodo entered the English language in the early 1600s.

Habitat and Evolution

Indian Ocean Island - Mauritius Island
Mauritius is the only known place where the dodo once lived.

©Myroslava Bozhko/Shutterstock.com

When it was alive, the dodo lived alone in its colony on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, about 500 miles east of Madagascar. At the time, Mauritius was covered in dense forests, so the dodo probably adapted to living around dense foliage. The island was completely uninhabited when European sailors arrived, so they may have been the first humans to see the dodo

According to contemporary records, the dodo built its nest in the ground and surrounded it with grass. It also makes them very vulnerable to wild mammals introduced to the island. The dodo is likely to lay only one egg at a time, so each egg taken by a predator can be devastating to the population.

Because the island is a hotspot for tropical storms, the dodo had to evolve to be able to stay low to withstand strong winds before the stormy season and quickly raise its young. This means that weight and stability become more important to the dodo than flight.

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scientific name

Some scientists believe the dodo is related to modern pigeons.

© Ballista at the English language Wikipedia / Creative Commons

The scientific name of the dodo is Raphus cucullatus . The scientific name is derived from the Latin cucullus, meaning "hood," which probably refers to the cape-like head. The dodo is closely related to the unidirectional birds that live on the islands of Rodrigues and Reunion to the east and west of Mauritius. These species became extinct around the same time as the dodo. Most taxonomists consider the dodo to belong to the pigeon family with pigeons and doves, but others place it in a different classification entirely.

Size, Appearance and Behavior

Dodos are easily recognized by their long, distinctive beaks.

©Roelant Savery (1576-1639) – Public Domain

Based on reconstructions of its anatomy, the dodo was about the size of a turkey or chicken, with a plump body. It also has slender legs, curly tail feathers, bare yellow feet, powerful claws and a featherless head. The short, rudimentary wings were obviously too small to support the body in flight, but they were probably used for balance at top speeds. The large hooked beak, which is gray near the face and has a yellow or green rounded tip, may have played an important role in hunting prey or in resolving conflicts with other dodos.

Sailors gave conflicting facts about the color of the dodo. At various times, they mentioned that it was black or gray. But that may not be a contradiction, as a modern study suggests that the dodo likely had brownish-gray plumage that turned black as it molted. The bird may have stood 3 feet tall and weighed as much as 50 pounds. The beak alone is about 9 inches long.

Most of the dodo's unusual features can be attributed to its isolation. With no known predators, the dodo gradually grew in size and lost its ability to fly. The rest of the body then adapts to compensate for the inability to fly. Although it can run fairly fast, this species has few special defensive adaptations, either physically or behaviorally, and nests directly in open spaces. This makes it completely exposed and vulnerable when settlers arrive.


A stuffed dodo, an extinct flightless bird, from Mauritius, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.
The dodo is thought to hold stones in its beak to help grind fruit and nuts.

© Image Arts/Shutterstock.com

Not much information has been recorded about the bird's diet. Much of what we know is based on a single description, coupled with modern inferences drawn from its anatomy.

What does the dodo eat?

Dodos most likely ate fruits, nuts, seeds and roots. It has also been suggested that they may have eaten crab and other shellfish, but this is only speculation. Reports suggest that the birds may have circled stones and iron in their beaks to help break down food for digestion. This unusual behavioral quirk is actually common among many animals.

Predators and Threats

The Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is an extinct flightless bird endemic to the island of Mauritius.
Non-native species introduced to Mauritius seals dodo's fate

© life_in_a_pixel/Shutterstock.com

Before the arrival of humans, these birds were almost completely immune to any form of predation pressure. Its island habitat is too far out to sea to have access to predatory mammals and reptiles, so isolation is its main means of protection. It has also been reported to enhance the impressive strength of the biter. Before they began to face the threat of invasive species introduced by settlers, the biggest threat to the dodo was the environment. Most agree that Mauritius is a difficult place to live due to volcanic activity and frequent cyclones forcing the dodos to alter their lives accordingly.

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What ate the dodo?

Unaccustomed to preying, the birds were easy targets for settlers, who hunted them in large numbers and kept what they didn't eat immediately for later use. Reports indicate that sailors could walk right up to the birds and kill them without resistance. But what may have sealed its fate was the introduction of deer, pigs, mice, cats and monkeys, which relentlessly preyed on naked eggs or trampled nests.

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

Some scientists believe the dodo can live to be around 20 years old in the wild.

© Pearson Scott Foresman – Public Domain

Because the bird went extinct before the advent of modern scientific methods, not much is known about the dodo's breeding habits.

Contemporary observers wrote that it lay only one egg at a time, probably because it would lay more eggs in the absence of particular predation pressure. Based on studies of their bone structure, a scientific study suggests that the chicks likely hatched in August and then grew very rapidly. This may be because the chicks need to develop into adults before hurricanes arrive and hit the island between November and March. Hurricanes likely reduced the availability of fruit and other plants. According to very rough estimates, the bird may have lived in the wild for over 20 years.


Close-up portrait of dodo bird on artistic background


The birds likely became extinct shortly after they were last seen in 1688, about 90 years after they were first discovered. It may not have had a large population to begin with, but the onslaught of new threats eventually led to its demise. Some scientists have raised the possibility of reviving the dodo using the few fragments of DNA that still remain from the remaining soft tissue. The program entails the use of a pigeon as a surrogate mother. But some scientists think that's impractical and unlikely to work.

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about the author

Corinna Seibel

My name is Corinna! In my profile photo you can see me with one of my two cats, Bisky! The other is Yma, a beautiful black Bombay cat. I'm 24 years old and live in Birmingham, Alabama with my partner, Anastasia, and enjoy making music, collecting records, and reading in my free time. Some of the other animals I own are a hamster, two chihuahuas, and many different kinds of fish.

Dodo FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Is the dodo a herbivore, carnivore or omnivore?

Dodos are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and other animals.

Do dodos migrate?

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The dodo never migrated from the small island of Mauritius. In fact, it's almost completely flightless.

How many eggs does the dodo lay?

The dodo lays one egg at a time. It is not known whether the dodo can have twins.

How fast does the dodo fly?

The dodo bird can't fly, but it runs very fast.

What is the wingspan of the dodo bird?

The wingspan of the dodo seems to be nearly two feet, but the wings are somewhat shrunken, and the characteristics of the juvenile are still retained.

When does the dodo leave the nest?

Dodo birds leave their nests months before the destructive hurricane season, according to a study.

What kind of animal is the dodo bird?

The dodo is a flightless bird. Although it evolved in unique ways to meet the challenges of its island habitat, scientific classification places the dodo in the exact same family and order as pigeons and doves. But not every taxonomist agrees with these classifications. Some believe that the physiology and behavior of the dodos justify their classification as a separate family.

When did the dodo go extinct?

The last known sighting took place in 1688, but the dodo likely survived for several more years before becoming completely extinct.

How did the dodo become extinct?

The dodo became extinct in part due to hunting by humans, but also because their eggs were eaten or destroyed by many exotic, non-native species.

How big is the dodo bird?

The dodo stands about 3 feet tall and weighs about 50 pounds. Its beak is also extended to about 9 inches long.

Where does the dodo live?

The dodo only lives on the island of Mauritius in the east of the African continent.

To what kingdom does Dodos belong?

The dodo belongs to the animal kingdom.

What door does the dodo belong to?

The dodo belongs to the phylum Chordate.

What family does the dodo belong to?

The dodo belongs to the pigeon family.

What order does the dodo belong to?

The dodo belongs to the order Pigeoniformes.

What genus does the dodo belong to?

The dodo belongs to the genus Raphus.

What type of mulch do Dodos have?

The dodo is covered with feathers.

What is the main prey of the dodo?

Dodo eats tambalacoque fruit.

Who are the dodo's natural enemies?

Natural enemies of the dodo include humans, cats and dogs.

What are the distinctive features of Dodos?

The dodo has a hooked beak and cannot fly.

How many babies does Dodos have?

The average number of babies a dodo bird has is 1.

Any interesting facts about the dodo bird?

The dodo is native to the island of Mauritius!

What is the scientific name of the dodo bird?

The scientific name of the dodo is Raphus cucullatus.

What is the lifespan of the dodo bird?

The dodo can live 10 to 30 years.

How did the dodo give birth?

The dodo lays eggs.

How do you say Dodo in

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  1. Animal Diversity website, available here: https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Raphus_cucullatus/
  2. Encyclopedia Britannica, available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/dodo-extinct-bird
  3. Thought Co, available here: https://www.thoughtco.com/facts-about-the-dodo-bird-1092144
  4. BBC News, available here: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-41002562