Extinct in end of 17th
  • Dodo
  • Dodo

Dodo – the most famous extinct bird

Almost everybody knows the extinct Dodo, since it was featured in 1865 as a character in Lewis Carroll's “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland”. Later the Dodo as a character became the famous star in several films about Alice’s adventures or as a special character for children books.
Today, the Dodo is used as a mascot for many kinds of products and also as a watermark on all Mauritian rupee banknotes, but also as logo of many environmental and nature conservation organizations, like the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Also our LOST ZOO has chosen the dodo as its logo.
But what do we really know about the Dodo? The Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is an extinct, flightless bird which is endemic to the island of Mauritius. Its closest genetic relative is another endemic, flightless bird on the neighbor island of Rodrigues, the Rodrigues solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria) which became extinct in the 1750ies.

Several paintings and drawings of Dodo

Several paintings and drawings of Dodo(Click to view larger image).

Besides a third species, the White Dodo (Raphus solitarius), was described as an endemic species on Réunion Island, which is near to Mauritius. But whereas Mauritius and Rodrigues, with each their flightless Raphine species, are 8-10 million years old, the volcanic island of Réunion is only 3 million years old. Therefore it is hard to imagine that Réunion have been colonized by flightless birds from these both islands. First subfossil remains which are found in 1974, they showed that the bird which was originally called a White Dodo or Solitaire in reality was a large, almost flightless ibis. In 1987, this extinct ibis, endemic to the island of Réunion, was first scientifically described as Réunion ibis (Threskiornis solitarius). Its closest relatives are the Malagasy sacred ibis (Threskiornis bernieri), the African sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) and the Straw-necked ibis (Threskiornis spinicollis).
But the both birds from Mauritius and Rodrigues, the Dodo and the Solitaire, belong genetically definitely to the pigeons and doves and form in this group the special subfamily Raphinae. Their closest still living genetic relatives are the Southeast Asian Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica), followed by the Crowned pigeons (Goura spec.) from New Guinea.
The Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica) found on small islands and in coastal regions in Southeast Asia. They roam in flocks from island to island, usually sleeping on offshore islets where no predators occur and spends the day in areas with better food availability. Its food consists of seeds, fruit and buds and likes especially grain on the fields. A gizzard stone helps to grind up hard food items.

Skeleton of Dodo Head and foot of Dodo

Nicobar Pigeon
Caloenas nicobarica
(Click to view larger image).

Western crowned-pigeon
Goura cristata
(Click to view larger image).

Unlike other pigeons, Nicobar pigeons fly mostly in columns or a single file.The pure white tail of this large, dark grey and green iridescent pigeon is prominent in flight and serves as a signal keeping flocks together. - They breed in dense colonies on extremely small, wooded offshore islands. A loose stick nest is built in the tree and one elliptical faintly blue-tinged white egg is laid.
The Nicobar pigeon is the only living member of the genus Caloenas and is distinct from all other living pigeons since about 56-34 million years. But from subfossil bones found on New Caledonia and Tonga, a second, extinct species, the Kanaka pigeon (C. canacorum) was described, which became extinct by overhunting around 500 BC.
Closely related with the Nicobar pigeon and therefore also with the Dodo are the three species of crowned pigeons (Goura). They are native to New Guinea and a few surrounding islands. The three crowned pigeon species are alike and replace each other geographically. The Western crowned pigeon (Goura cristata) is endemic to the lowland rainforests of the Indonesian Papua Province , whereas the Southern crowned pigeon (Goura scheepmakeri) lives in the southern lowland forests of New Guinea and the Victoria crowned pigeon (Goura victoria) in the lowland and swamp forests of northern New Guinea and surrounding islands.

Skeleton of Dodo Head and foot of Dodo

Southern crowned-pigeon
Goura sheepmakeri
(Click to view larger image).

Victoria crowned pigeon
Goura victoria
(Click to view larger image).

With the size of a turkey (length: 70-75 cm, weight: 2.1-3.5 kg) they are the largest, still existing pigeon species. They forage in groups up to ten birds on the forest floor eating fallen fruit, seeds and snails, but sleep and build their nests up in the trees. Both parents incubate one egg for 28 to 30 days, the male during the day and female during night. The chick takes another 30-36 days to fledge. After chick has fledged, the whole family together will rest overnight in the nest and the male pigeon will feed the fledged chick for another 2 months.
In zoos these elegant, impressive and colorful pigeons are often kept in groups in large aviaries. The Singapore Bird Park for example keeps 100 specimens of the three species together in one large aviary where they breed too. The European zoos succeeded already in the 19th century with the breeding of crowned pigeons. In 1850 the Western crowned pigeon was bred in the zoos of London, Paris and Rotterdam, the Victoria crowned pigeon in 1881 in the Paris Zoo again and in 1903 the Southern crowned pigeon in the London Zoo.
Also today crowned pigeons are a highlight for every birdhouse, but become more and more a rare species in zoos today because they are endangered in the wild. The most pressing threat to the species is continuing habitat loss due to logging.

Dodo in Mauritias money and stamp

Dodo in Mauritias money and stamp(Click to view larger image).

However, we can be happy to see the next relatives of the extinct Dodo still alive in our zoos of today and all of us should work that these beautiful birds will not become extinct by human destruction of their habitat. At the time when the Dodo lived on Mauritius nobody thought about nature conservation.
Therefore the The Dodo's appearance in life is evidenced only by drawings, paintings and written accounts from the 17th century. Because only a few illustrations are known to have been drawn from live specimens, its exact appearance in life remains unresolved. It has been depicted with brownish-grey plumage, yellow feet with black claws, a tuft of tail feathers, a grey and naked head, and a black, yellow, and green beak. Remained bones show that the Dodo was about 1 m tall and may have a weight of 10–18 kg in the wild. - The bird has sex dimorphism: males are larger and have longer beaks. The beak was up to 23 cm in length and had a hooked point.
On an Indian Mughal painting which was rediscovered in the 1950s, a Dodo along with native Indian birds is shown. It depicts a slimmer, brownish bird. This drawing is regarded as one of the most accurate picture of a living Dodo, because all the other birds on this painting are clearly identifiable and depicted with appropriate colors too. This painted Dodo probably lived in the menagerie of Mughal Emperor Jahangir, who ruled 1605-1627.

Several stuffed Dodos all over the world

Several stuffed Dodos all over the world(Click to view larger image).

The earliest known descriptions and illustration of the Dodo were provided by Dutch travelers in 1598. Their reports (1601) contain also the first published illustration of the bird. Of course the sailors’ interest in these large birds was mainly culinary. One of the first reports (1602) mentioned that 24-25 Dodos were hunted for food, which were so large that only two could scarcely be consumed at mealtime.
The earliest known picture of a Dodo specimen, which was kept in Europe, is in 1610 on a collection of paintings depicting animals in the Royal menagerie of the Emperor Rudolph II in Prague. The Dodo had probably lived in the emperor's zoo for a while together with the other depicted animals. Because whole stuffed Dodos were present in Europe is another indication that they had been brought alive to Europe and died there.
One Dodo was reportedly sent in 1647 as far as to Nagasaki in Japan. It was always unknown whether it arrived alive or not. Contemporary documents, published in 2014, proved the story, and showed that it had arrived definitely alive. This bird is the last recorded live Dodo in captivity.

Skeleton of Dodo Head and foot of Dodo

Skeleton of Dodo
@Paris Natural History museum
(Click to view larger image).

Head and foot of Dodo
Oxford university museum of Natural History
(Click to view larger image).

Like many other animals that evolved in isolation from significant predators, the Dodo is entirely fearless of humans. This fearlessness and its inability to fly made the Dodo an easy prey for sailors. Instead of some scattered reports about mass killings by sailors, it is considered today that overhunting was not the reason for the Dodo’s extinction, but the destruction of its forest habitat by humans and especially the impact of their introduced animals like pigs and macaques.
In October 2005, after a hundred years of neglect, a part of the Mare aux Songes swamp in Mauritius, which was known as the habitat of Dodos, was excavated by international researchers. Many remains were found there, including bones of at least 17 Dodos, and several bones belonged obviously to the skeleton of one individual bird.
In June 2007, adventurers exploring a cave in Mauritius discovered the most complete and best-preserved Dodo skeleton ever found.

Dodo enclosure in LOST ZOO

Dodo enclosure in LOST ZOO
(Click to view larger image).

Worldwide, 26 museums have significant holdings of Dodo material, almost all found in the Mare aux Songes swamp. Some NH Museums have almost complete specimens assembled from these dissociated subfossil remains. In 2011, a wooden box containing Dodo bones from the Edwardian era was rediscovered at the Grant Museum in London.
Although the Dodo is the logo of our LOST ZOO, it needed months to acquire this rare bird for our collection. We are extremely happy that our visitors can observe now this very special and famous bird in its enclosure near to the South African Quagga and Blue buck.

Executive Curator


The earliest known descriptions and illustration of the Dodo was given in 1601 by Dutch travelers who have been to Mauritius in 1598. Less than 100 years later the Dodo was already extinct. Its last accepted sighting was in 1662.

Even though the rareness of the dodo was reported already in the 17th century, its extinction was not recognized until the 19th century. Only in 1865 when the first Dodo fossils were excavated the Dodo became well known and since Lewis Carroll gave the Dodo a character role in his “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, since this poem the Dodo is really famous worldwide.

Height: About 100 cm, but females were smaller than males.

Body weight: Up to 23 kg, but it estimated that wild birds weighted 10.6-21.1 kg, depending on the sex and the season. During the wet season the birds fattened to survive the dry season.

Dimensions of the beak: 23 cm long with a hooked point. The strong beak is used for defense.

Nest and clutch size: Only 1 egg on a grass bed on the ground

Habitat: Forests in the drier coastal area of South and West Mauritius

Extinction: Since the end of the 17th century. Although some reports describe a mass killing of dodos as food for the sailors, the destruction of its forest habitat and the impact of introduced animals like pigs and crab-eating macaques are the main factor for the Dodo’s extinction.