Flight Into Oblivion
It wasn't the most beautiful of birds, at least it doesn't seem so from what illustrations remain 300 years later, but it was unique in many ways. The famed dodo bird, only found on the island of Mauritius off the southeast coast of Africa, has been just a memory since the last bird died, circa 1681.
Few specimens were ever preserved, with the exception of one full bird that belonged to Oxford's Ashmolean Museum. But it deteriorated so badly, the director ordered it thrown out in the mid 1700s. However, an astute staff member managed to save a foot and the head, which are displayed today in Dublin's Natural History Museum. Other than that, all that remains are...well, remains such as bones and fossils.
According to descriptions, the Dodo was a short, squat bird, with a nine inch gray beak tipped in red, short and useless wings, and a prominent tuft of feathers on its rear end. A flightless bird, DNA material taken from the scarce remains of that lone stuffed bird show that it was more closely related to the African pigeon, than such birds as the Kiwi and Ostrich. But it was flightless, and may have evolved that way because there were no natural predators on the island.
That was until Man arrived in the form of Portuguese sailors in 1505. Later, the Dutch made the island a penal colony, and not only brought with them more humans, but pigs, goats, and via their ships, rats. The environmental balance swung wildly, and the ungainly slow birds who had no fear of Man, began disappearing at an alarming rate.
There is some debate about how the bird acquired its name. Some feel that it came from what is described as a doo-doo sound that the bird made. Others attribute it to the Dutch word "dodaars", which meant a grebe, or bird of similar appearance with feathers on the upper portion of its hind end. And other factions claim it is derived from the Portuguese "duodo", or fool, hence use of the term "don't be such a dodo", implying that someone is rather dense.