Extinction of the Dodo Bird Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The flightless Dodo bird was the first animal whose extinction was known to have been caused by human beings. With its tragic disappearance occurring less than a century after its first encounter with humans, the Dodo has become a cultural icon and symbol of endangered species.

Summary of Event

Dodos (Raphus cucullatus) were flightless birds of the pigeon family. They were native inhabitants of Mauritius Mauritius , the largest of three volcanic islands known as the Mascarene Islands, located east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. These islands were discovered in the early fifteenth century by Arab seamen, whose ships had been blown off course by storms. In the early sixteenth century, Portuguese expeditions explored this area as well, but the Portuguese never created settlements on the islands. They stopped there to restock their ships with food. In September of 1598, the first Dutch ships arrived in Mauritius, and in less than a century the dodo bird became extinct. [kw]Extinction of the Dodo Bird (c. 1690) [kw]Bird, Extinction of the Dodo (c. 1690) [kw]Dodo Bird, Extinction of the (c. 1690) Environment;c. 1690: Extinction of the Dodo Bird[2980] Biology;c. 1690: Extinction of the Dodo Bird[2980] Africa;c. 1690: Extinction of the Dodo Bird[2980] Mauritius;c. 1690: Extinction of the Dodo Bird[2980] Dodo bird, extinction of Warwijck, Wybrant van Savery, Roelandt Savery, Jan Iverson, Volquard Tradescant, John Herbert, Thomas

The commander of this first fleet of five ships from Holland was Vice-Admiral Wybrant van Warwijck, Warwijck, Wybrant van who claimed Mauritius as a Dutch possession. Exploration;Netherlands of the Indian Ocean His report about this trip contained the first known account of the dodo. Warwijck’s narrative, and his illustrations of the dodo, were published in True Report of the Gainefull, Prosperous, and Speedy Voyage to Java in the East Indies True Report of the Gainefull, Prosperous, and Speedy Voyage to Java in the East Indies (Warwijck) (1599?) and Het tweede boeck: Journael oft dagh-register Tweede boeck, Het (Warwijck) (1601; later published in De tweede schipvaart der Nederlanders naar Oost-Indië onder Jacob Cornelisz. van Neck en Wybrant Warwijck, 1598-1600, five volumes, 1938-1951). These first descriptions of the dodo depicted large-headed but thin, swift birds as big as swans. In place of wings, dodos had small quills. They were grey, with thick bowed beaks and long legs. Biology;extinction and

The exact origin of the name “dodo” is unknown. One possibility is the Portuguese word duodo, which means “foolish” or “idiot.” The dodo had lived in a predator-free environment before the arrival of humans, so it was easily captured. The bird’s innocence might have appeared to be stupidity. A more commonly accepted origin is dodoor, the Dutch word for “sluggard” (lazy).

For more than forty years, the Dutch used Mauritius, with its fresh water and food supplies, as a call (or restocking) station for ships of the Dutch East India Company Dutch East India Company;Mauritius .

Dutch sailors hunted dodos for food, but written accounts indicate that dodo meat was tough, not very tasty, difficult to digest, and even nauseating. On his return voyage from Persia in 1629, the English traveler and author Sir Thomas Herbert Herbert, Thomas visited Mauritius. He described the dodo in his celebrated travel book, A Relation of Some Yeares Travaile, Begvnne anno 1626 into Afrique and the Greater Asia (1634; A Relation of Some Yeares Travaile into Afrique, Asia, Indies Relation of Some Yeares Travaile into Afrique, Asia, Indies, A (Herbert) , 1971), which includes fine drawings.

Besides being a source of food on Mauritius Island, live dodos were taken to Europe for entertainment purposes. Live birds in cages were used for touring exhibitions. The dodo’s unusual habit of eating stones, probably to help digestion, fascinated the public. The dodo also fascinated European artists. The Flemish painter Roelandt Savery Savery, Roelandt produced numerous paintings Painting;Netherlands of the dodo from life. In 1651, his nephew, Jan Savery, Savery, Jan created the well-known dodo painting now at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford, England. Unlike the illustrations of sailors and others who saw the dodos in Mauritius, the European paintings depict plump, immobile, and apparently “stupid” dodos, portrayals of the dodo that have become the bird’s popular image. There is speculation that the “exhibition” dodos in Europe had been overfed or that many of the paintings were based on stuffed specimens instead of live birds.

With the destruction and exploitation of the dodo in both Mauritius and Europe, the bird became rare by 1640. In 1644, the Dutch colonized Mauritius. The new settlers brought to the island cats, dogs, rats, chickens, swine, cattle, and monkeys. Since dodos could not fly, their nests were built on the ground. Many of the new animals destroyed dodo nests and ate the eggs or young dodos. With the introduction of the new predators, the extinction of the dodo was inevitable.

The exact date of the dodo bird’s extinction is not known. Traditionally, 1662 was believed to be the year of the last known encounter with a dodo, recorded by the sailor Volquard Iverson, Iverson, Volquard a survivor of the shipwrecked Dutch vessel, the Arnhem. Stranded on Mauritius, Iverson and several other sailors were searching for food when they discovered several dodos on a coastal islet offshore. Another accepted date of extinction was 1681, when Benjamin Harry, Harry, Benjamin the first mate on the ship Berkley Castle, reported a dodo sighting.

However, other records and analyses have supported a later extinction date of 1690. Seventeenth century archives in The Hague and in Cape Town indicate that live dodos existed in 1689. In 2003, using a statistical test based on the last ten recorded sightings by sailors and others, zoologists David Roberts of Britain’s Royal Botanical Gardens and Andrew Solow of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts concluded that the actual extinction date of the dodo most likely was 1690. They determined that in the case of a species whose sightings become increasingly sporadic, species members might exist unseen for years; the last sighting does not necessarily indicate the date of extinction.





John Tradescant, Tradescant, John a renowned naturalist and traveler, stuffed the last dodo specimen. The bird had been brought to Europe for exhibition. When Tradescant died in 1662, his unique collection of plants and other curiosities were bequeathed to Elias Ashmole Ashmole, Elias (1617-1692), who then donated the collection, among other items, to Oxford University, creating the Ashmolean Museum (1683). This was the last intact, complete dodo specimen in the world. Unfortunately, the condition of the stuffed dodo continued to deteriorate and decompose until most of it was burned as a discarded item in 1755. A curator was able to save a head and the right foot, both with skin, the only known surviving soft tissues of a dodo. The specimens are now at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Some skeletal remains of the dodo, most of which come from Mare aux Songes, a four-acre swamp near the southeast coast of Mauritius, were discovered in 1865 by George Clark, a naturalist and teacher. He found enough bones to reconstruct a complete dodo skeleton, which can be found at the Natural History Museum of Mauritius.


The dodo painting by Savery and dodo pieces at the Ashmolean Museum inspired Victorian author Lewis Carroll. His 1885 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland featured “Dodo,” a character illustrated by the English caricaturist Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914). This popular book gave the dodo it first widespread recognition and prominence. Subsequently, the dodo appeared in various cartoons, advertisements, and newspapers.

The dodo has become Mauritius’s national symbol. On August 25, 1906, Mauritius’s coat of arms was granted, depicting the dodo. Countless successful commercial enterprises in Mauritius revolve around the dodo image, which appears on souvenirs, woodcarvings, textiles, and other popular products.

The first known animal to disappear because of human intervention, the dodo rivals the dinosaurs as the most “famous” extinct animal. Surrounded by mythology, the dodo has become a cultural icon, appearing in literature, the arts, and popular culture. There are dodo posters and illustrations, music boxes, toys, jewelry, tea towels, cookie jars, and even a clothing company label. Children’s books include Lynne and Brian Edward’s Dead as the Dodo (1973) and In Search of the Last Dodo (1989) by Ann and Reg Cartwright. In 1985, Sesame Street produced a movie called Follow That Bird, in which “Big Bird” lives with the “Dodo family.” In 1996, Dick King-Smith and Nigel Lambert composed a musical for children called “Dodos Are Forever,” in which a pair of dodos named “Beatrice” and “Berty” dream of their future happy life together on an island in the Indian Ocean. The two are oblivious to the ship anchored in the harbor. Dodo bird, extinction of

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fuller, Errol. Dodo: A Brief History. New York: Universe, 2002. This comprehensive, scholarly study of the Dodo bird provides the complete history and mythology of this creature and discusses how it became a cultural icon. Beautifully illustrated throughout, with a bibliography of both primary and secondary sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hachisuka, Masauji. The Dodo and Kindred Birds: Or, The Extinct Birds of the Mascarene Islands. London: H. F. & G. Witherby, 1953. An excellent resource providing the historical and pictorial evidence for the Dodo, its habits, and extinction. Includes maps, drawings, color plates, and a bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Moree, Perry. A Concise History of Dutch Mauritius, 1598-1710. London: IIAS/Kegan Paul International, 1998. Moree discovered records showing that there were living dodos in 1689, which proved that their extinction was decades later than previously estimated. Includes illustrations and a bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pinto-Correia, Clara. Return of the Crazy Bird: The Sad, Strange Tale of the Dodo. New York: Copernicus Books, 2003. This illustrated work describes the discovery, history, and legacy of the dodo bird, plus the rise of “dodology.” Includes a bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Quammen, David. The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction. New York: Scribner, 1996. This scientific analysis of the distribution of species on islands and their extinction discusses the slaughter of the dodo bird. Includes a glossary source notes, maps, and a bibliography.

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