Gigantic pigeons

Dodo Dutch engraving

Gigantic pigeons.

The attached illustration is taken from this publication. The Dutch noticed on the island, apart from the great variety of birds and tortoises, a very peculiar creature – a huge bird, one and half times bigger than a swan (some descriptions say twice as big), that could not fly as instead of wings it had only three symbolic feathers, similar to the quill that were used for writing at that time. The round body was decorated with a few curly feathers that suggested the signs of a tail. They had massive legs, as all flightless birds and a large head that looked as if it was covered with a cap. Hunting them was easy, and this is probably where their Portuguese name originated – dodo – idiot. The Dutch ethymology of dodo relates to their heaviness – it means ‘fat bottom’.

At the time sea voyages would bring back more interesting memoirs of the foreign countries and islands, and so a couple of live dodo were brought back to Europe. Unfortunately, not long after, they all died and all that is left of them are random bones and incomplete skeletons in various museums. Painters became interested in the strange bird, and there are some quite intricate drawings and paintings depicting the dodo. Roeland Savery, in his oil painting (1626) depicting the inhabitants of paradise, did not hesitate to include this strange bird.

As the sea voyagers were always partial to meat, many birds ended up in the pot. The opinions of the meat varied greatly – some loved it, while others loathed it. It why the Dutch called dodo a wallowbirdes, which means abominable bird. It had the strange property that the longer you boiled it, the tougher it got. […]

Dodo (Raphus cucullatus)

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