What Did a Dodo Bird Look Like?

The dodo was a large grey flightless bird native to the island of Mauritius but is thought to have gone extinct by 1681. As such, modern knowledge of the dodo’s appearance comes from taxidermied remains and the writings of early sailors.

Dodos were large birds, approximately three feet tall, with downy grey feathers. The tail feathers were a white plume. Skeletal remains have shown that dodos had fully formed wings that were simply incapable of flight. The dodos legs were described as yellow and were short, with three forward facing toes and one toe in the rear. Dodos had a distinctive beak that may have been pale yellow or green. It was heavy, curved and probably the dodo’s only real defense; it was capable of delivering a fairly painful bite.

The dodo was endemic to the island of Mauritius, 500 miles from the eastern coast of Madagascar. The dodo was primarily a forest bird, occasionally venturing closer to the shoreline. The extinct bird’s closest living relatives are pigeons and doves.

There are several theories on the origin of the word “dodo.” One is that it came from a Dutch word meaning “sluggish,” in reference to the bird’s wobbly gait and slow speed. Another theory is that dodo comes from the Portuguese “doudo”: crazy or foolish. Sailors did believe the dodo to be stupid given the ease with which they could approach and kill the birds. In reality, dodos evolved for life on a small island with few natural predators and simply had no reason to have learned to evade enemies.

The extinction of the dodo was due largely to the introduction of domestic animals after Mauritius was colonized in 1644. Cats, dogs and pigs took a heavy toll on dodo nests and young. The island of Reunion was home to a similar bird, called the solitaire, which was extinct by the mid-18th century.