Why,' said the Dodo, 'the best way to explain it is to do it.'
The Dutch settlers name for the dodo was walgvogel, meaning ‘disgusting bird’.
The Natural History Museum’s dodo specimen in London is a bogus bird from the 1950s largely based on a painting. At the time there were no complete dodo skeletons and there are still no dodo feathers in existence. The museum curators decided that swan feathers were just what was needed to make the model look convincing. The trouble is, Thames swans belong to the Queen and should not be harmed. This didn't deter Barney Newman from the museum, who, with an accomplice, grabbed a large cygnet from under Hammersmith Bridge when nobody was looking, and stuffed it into a bag.
It used to be that there were only a few dodo bones in museums. The remains of the last known stuffed dodo were at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford but the specimen was in such a state the that curators threw it away, save the foot and head which contain the only known soft tissue remains of the bird.
In 2007, a nearly complete skeleton was found in a cave in Mauritius.
It appears that the birds were probably not normally as fat as drawings suggest, as they were of overfed captive specimens: in the wild, the birds probably ate a lot of ripe fruit at the end of the wet season to live through the dry season when food was scarce. When given food more readily, they would gorge themselves silly all year round.
Dodos (Raphus cucullatus) lived in Mauritius, which had no human habitation before 1598. The birds were almost twice as big as swans. They could not fly. They had big legs and a big head. Hunting them was very easy and this is perhaps where their Portuguese name originated – dodo – idiot.
Their DNA suggests they descended from pigeons and doves and lost the ability to fly as they did not need to once they got to Mauritius, which had no predators and plenty of food. Their closest cousin was the solitaire, another flightless bird that lived only on the nearby island of Rodrigues.
The extinction of the dodo is usually assumed to have come about because the Dutch hunted them for food and those that survived were eaten by pigs, rats and monkeys introduced into the island by sailors, though it is possible that their population might have been substantially reduced by some natural disaster before the humans arrived. In any case, by 1681 the Dodo was no more.
The name 'dodo' comes from the archaic Portuguese word doudo, meaning ‘simpleton’.
The Dodo appears on the coat of arms of Mauritius.
In modern Portuguese doido means a fool, or mad.
The last confirmed sighting of the dodo was in 1662.
The Mauritian dodo tree’s age can’t be determined because it has no growth rings.