How and Why Did The Dodo Bird Go Extinct?

Unless you took a biology class a few centuries ago, you most likely didn’t learn about the dodo bird– an ostrich-like bird that died out due to callous sailors. While this bird is now extinct, you can still find the species few preserved bones in museums. What Dodos were, what they looked like, where they lived, and why they went extinct? 

Skeleton cast and model of dodo at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, made in 1998 based on modern research

Dods (Raphus Cucullatus)

Once residing on the untouched island of Mauritius, the Dodo (scientific name: Raphus Cucullatus) was a flightless bird. There are many arguments over the origin of Dodo’s name. This can come from either the Dutch dodaars, which means stumpy tail, or from the Portuguese doido, which means like a fool.

What Did Dodos Eat?

Based on the habitat and ecosystem of the island, dodos’ bodies were well-adapted to survive there. It is said that their diet was related to the tambalcoque tree, locally known as the dodo tree. Biologists believe dodos fed on the tambalacoque tree and nuts, fruits, roots, and small insects.

Luckily, there were no natural predators for dodos, which allowed them to lose the ability to fly. When people adapted to a land-bound lifestyle, their wings became smaller, and their tails got shorter.

They also stopped nesting their eggs in a tree and just put them on the ground. More tragically, that habit made it easy for humans and their pets to cause damage to the eggs as they were making their way around the island.

What Did the Dodo Look Like?

Evolutionary biologists claim that pigeons and doves are the closest relatives of dodos, but they are considerably different in size and weight than these other species.

Dodos are approximately 3 feet tall and weigh between 15 to 20 kilograms. Illustrations of dodos are predominantly a mixture of brownish-grey feathers, but scientists do not agree on the true color of the Dodo’s feathers.

Dodos also had a long beak- roughly 8 inches long- with a curved tip that matches its feeding habits. Experts theorize that their beaks may have been strong enough to break open coconuts.

Early explorers probably inaccurately depicted dodos as fat and lazy, but it is possible that they were misunderstood, considering they didn’t like the presence of humans.

This isn’t an exhaustive theory, but some experts are proposing that when the sailors and explorers first arrived, they captured the poor creatures and overfed them, which resulted in the typically inaccurate perception of the Dodo.

How Were Dodo Birds Discovered?

Many historians believe that Arab explorers traveled to Mauritius Island. However, their chronicles didn’t include any mention of the Dodo. Until 1601, the Dutch East India Company noted the animal in its travel journal. The first representation of a dodo bird showed up a few years later.

How and When Did the Dodo Go Extinct?

One possible cause of the Dodo’s extinction is a theory debated by biologists whether they are three separate causes or just a combination.

In a time before the arrival of humans on Mauritius—an island where the dodos had lived and evolved for centuries— the species had no natural predators.

Due to their inability to adapt to the impending threats and escape the way they should have, they became an easy target for human explorers. Unchecked hunting by sailors and explorers was a major reason why the dodos became extinct.

To be more specific, Western explorers and sailors also came to the island of Mauritius with domestic animals such as rats, cats, dogs, and pigs. Invasive animals wreaked havoc in the new environment of Mauritius, disrupting the routines of dodos who had no prior experience with them.

Dodo laid their eggs directly on the ground, so the invaders ate dodo eggs and ate Dodo’s young before they were born. Human activity and immigration from other parts of the world made this native creature a prisoner in its habitat.

During their trekking on the island, explorers exploited the natural resources. They harvested them, harming the dodos and other endemic species and plants, ultimately paving the way for the extinction of this odd bird. Loss of habitat, foreign animal encroachment, and invasion by explorers were the three major causes of the Dodo’s extinction.

Could We Have Prevented The Dodo’s Extinction?

As we’ve discussed already, there were many reasons behind the dodo bird’s extinction. Although the arrival of human invaders was their death knell, were there any ways that the dodo bird’s extinction could have been avoided?

Though dodos lived only on the island of Mauritius or were unaccustomed to natural predators, if they had existed elsewhere or had some way to protect themselves from predators, they may have found a way to continue and survive.

If humans had instead shown more compassion to these strange creatures and preserved them rather than preyed on them, we could have introduced them to other parts of the world, where they could have adjusted and flourished. Instead, they’ll become fodder for the pages of history.

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