The Dodo

The Dodo in Alice in Wonderland was inspired by the Oxford Dodo – a Dodo on display at the Oxford University Natural History Museum.

Dodo’s were giant ground pigeons – flightless birds that only lived on the island of Mauritius. It is thought that the birds lost their ability to fly due to the lack of predators on the island and the abundance of food on the ground. The Dodo adapted to quite a laid-back lifestyle, without the need to fly. This all changed when humans arrived on the island in the late 16th century, bringing with them other animals that quickly populated the island. By the 1700s they were thought to be extinct. Between the introduction of new predators, the increase in competition for food and human overhunting, a new threat was established to the Dodos and sadly they couldn’t reverse their evolution to regain flight and avoid their predators.

Sadly, many species have been, and are still being wiped out by humans today. Passenger pigeons have a similar story to the Dodo’s, in that they were both in abundance before European settlers arrived. Within a matter of years, large populations were reduced to extinction due to mass overhunting. The passenger pigeons were once the most abundant birds in the world! Check out our Talking Treasures Passenger Pigeons episode here to learn more about their extinction story.

Modern day research has revealed that Dodos were fairly intelligent birds – like the one in Alice in Wonderland. They were also quite slim and athletic compared to the sketches and drawings shown around the world. After the first more accurate drawings, it became the ‘style’ to paint newly discovered animals in a more grotesque way – like meat. So, illustrators started to exaggerate the Dodo to make it look fatter and bigger in order to stand out.

Scientists are still unsure as to how this bird behaved and grew, as there is very little preserved evidence to refer to. New technology has allowed a virtual 3D model to be made based on the only near-complete skeleton that is located in the Durban Natural Science Museum.