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Common Name: Dodo
Scientific Name: Raphus cucullatus

Size: 39 inches (100 cm)

Habitat: Africa; Island of Mauritius

Status: Extinct. Global Population: 0. The dodo has been extinct since 1681. Its extinction was caused by humans hunting the bird to near-extinction and then introducing dogs and pigs, which became feral and finished the job. Few took particular notice of the bird immediately after its extinction. By the early 19th century it seemed altogether too strange a creature, and was believed by many to be a myth. In 1848, H. E. Strickland and A. G. Melville published a book titled “The Dodo and Its Kindred; or the History, Affinities, and Osteology of the Dodo, Solitaire, and Other Extinct Birds of the Islands Mauritius, Rodriguez, and Bourbon” in which they attempted to separate Dodo myth from reality. With the discovery of the first batch of dodo bones in the Mauritian swamp, the Mare aux Songes, and the reports written about them by George Clarke, government schoolmaster at Mahébourg, from 1865 on, interest in the bird was rekindled.

Diet: Fruit. It is believed that the dodo probably fattened itself on ripe fruits at the end of the wet season to live through the dry season when food was scarce.

Breeding: Breeding habits were never observed prior to its’ extinction.

Cool Facts: The dodo is commonly used as the archetype of an extinct species (“go the way of the Dodo”) because its extinction occurred during recorded human history and was directly attributable to human activity.

The first known descriptions of the bird were made by early Dutch travelers. It was known by the name "walghvogel" ("wallow bird" or "loathsome bird"). This name was in reference to its taste. Although many later writings say that the meat tasted bad, the early journals only say that the meat was tough but good, though not as good as the abundantly available pigeons.

The Dodo, having been isolated by its island location from contact with humanity, greeted the new visitors with a child-like innocence. The sailors mistook the gentle spirit of the dodo, and its lack of fear of the new predators, as stupidity. They dubbed the bird "dodo" (meaning something similar to a simpleton in the Portuguese tongue).

According to artists' renditions, the dodo had grayish and brownish plumage, a 23-centimeter (9-inch) bill with a hooked point, very small wings, stout yellow legs, and a tuft of curly feathers high on its rear end. Dodos were very large birds, possibly weighing from 23 to 50 pounds (10.6-23 kg). The sternum was insufficient to support flight; these ground-bound birds evolved to take advantage of an island ecosystem with no predators.

The traditional image of the dodo is of a fat, clumsy bird. The general opinion of scientists today is that the old European drawings showed overfed captive specimens. A 17th century painting attributed to the Mughal artist, Ustad Mansur, shows a dodo alongside native Indian birds. It depicts the dodo as a slimmer, brownish bird, and is regarded by scientists to be one of the most accurate depictions of the bird.

Two live specimens were brought to India in the 1600s according to Peter Mundy, and the painted specimen might have been one of these. As Mauritius has marked dry and wet seasons, the dodo probably fattened itself on ripe fruits at the end of the wet season to live through the dry season when food was scarce; contemporary reports speak of the birds' "greedy" appetite. In captivity, with food readily available, the birds became overfed very easily.

There is a plaster cast at the Brighton Museum of a dried head and leg of a dodo specimen which was brought alive to Europe about the year 1600; the originals are housed in the Natural History Museum. Until recently, the most intact remains, currently on display at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, were one individual's partly skeletal foot and head which contain the only known soft tissue remains of the species. These remains of the last known stuffed dodo had been kept in Oxford's Ashmolean Museum, but in the mid-18th century, the specimen – save the pieces remaining now – had entirely decayed and was ordered to be discarded by the museum's curator or director in or around 1755. The remaining soft tissue has since been severely degraded, as the head was dissected in the late 19th century, and the foot is in a skeletal state. Until recently, few associated dodo skeletons were known, most of the material consisting of isolated and scattered bones. Dublin's Natural History Museum and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, among others, have a specimen assembled from these disassociated remains. A dodo egg is on display at the East London museum in South Africa. Manchester Museum has a small collection of dodo bones on display.

In October 2005, part of the Mare aux Songes, the most important site of dodo remains, was excavated by an international team of researchers. Many remains were found, including bones from birds of various stages of maturity, and several bones obviously belonging to the skeleton of one individual bird and preserved in natural position. These findings were made public in December 2005 in the Naturalis in Leiden.

In June 2007, adventurers exploring a cave in Mauritius discovered the most complete and well-preserved dodo skeleton ever.

Found in Songbird ReMix Dodo

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