Dodo (Raphus cucullatus)
The Dodo was native to Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean. Despite being the most famous extinct species we know remarkably little about this large, flightless bird. There are no known dodos specimens in existence. Contemporary accounts of the bird describe the taste of their meat and little else.
The few accounts that do describe the bird state that the dodo had greyish or brownish plumage, with lighter primary feathers and a tuft of curly light feathers high on its rear end. The head was grey and naked, the beak green, black and yellow, and the legs were stout and yellowish, with black claws. The Dodo was a large bird, three feet tall and is believed to have weighed anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds!
While Mauritius island was visited throughout human history and the Portuguese had a base on the island in 1507 it was not until 1598 when the Dutch came to the island that the Dodo was first described. In just over 50 years the last sightings of the bird would be recorded around 1662. It was not noticed at the time that the species was extinct. In fact, for many years afterwards the dodo was considered a mythical animal. It was not until the 19th century that its extinction was recognized.
The Dodo’s flightless nature and unfamiliarity with humans, and other introduced species made it vulnerable. It was easily hunted by sailors and colonists who also began to destroy its habitat. More devastating were the effects of the non-native animals brought to the island. Pigs, cats, dogs, rats, and macaques introduced to the island all thrived at the expense of the Dodo and other native animals. Dogs killed adult Dodos, while the rats, monkeys, and cats preyed on eggs and chicks.