Fiche Thématique du Dodo

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Dodo by Muséum d'histoire naturelle, Genève

I have no idea how or when did I found this, but probably a long long time ago a saved a link the following PDF: Fiches Thématiques De la Bibliothèque du MHNG nº2 – Le Dodo. The MHNG in question is the Muséum d’histoire naturelle de la Ville de Genève. I tried to find a page that links to that PDF without any luck, so I choose share it directly.

The thematic card is all in French, but if you already know the dodos history there are not many news on it. It tells the sad story of our so much loved bird, the researches all over the years, more ornithology info about it, suggestion of books, and 3 images. One is the cute dodo above, and the other two are:  Facsimile of Savery’s figure of the Dodo in his picture of the Fall of Adam in the Royal Gallery, Berlin and a dodo image from The dodo and its kindred by A.G.Melville (1848).

The Voyage of the Odyssey

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

replicas of the dodo

The Way of the Dodo is a 2003 log from PBS‘ program “The Voyage of the Odyssey” written by environmental educator Sara Earhart. The page contains some images, the audio and the log transcript. It starts with:

The Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is arguably the most common icon associated with the island nation of Mauritius. Although it was only about 300 years ago that the dodo became extinct, very little is known about this bird. Ironically, even though the dodo lived into the time of written history, more is known about the natural history and behaviour of some dinosaurs than is known about the dodo. Its appearance, life history, and the history of its extinction all remain a mystery. The written reports and illustrations of sailors and ship’s naturalists who visited Mauritius in the 17th century are the basis of all known information. Primary sources, such as these, should not be accepted without question as they are subject to inconsistencies, elaborations, and artistic interpretation-thus the difficulty in creating a true picture of this unique relative of the pigeon.

Ok, nothing new until now. The log goes with the description of their history, habitat, the Dutch, their description and there it goes. It’s interesting, but we all know this story – if you don’t know visit the archives of this blog! To conclude the log:

Over a period of 40-50 years, human influences exerted more and more pressure on the dodo population. The last known written encounter with a dodo was recorded in 1662 by Volquard Iverson, a Dutch sailor stranded on Mauritius. He and his fellow castaways searched the island high and low for food and only encountered a small group of dodos on a coastal islet just off shore. Unfortunately, this was also the last known record of the dodo.

The dodo is the most famous animal extinction in human history. With its death came the realization that humans have the ability to extinguish an entire species. Ironically, once the dodo was declared “extinct” there was a surge in dodo research lasting more than 150 years. Today the dodo lives on in Mauritius only as a national symbol and as an image on textiles, woodcarvings, and souvenirs in local markets and shops. However, it is always present in one’s imagination to remind us that resources are not infinite and that humans must protect the world’s species, lest they too go “the way of the dodo.”

Gigantic pigeons

Monday, January 29th, 2007

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)

Een dodo

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

Een dodo

Een dodo (1602), “Afbeelding van een Dodo op het eiland Mauritius uit het reisverslag van het schip ‘Gelderland’“, from Over NiB2

A brief history of the dodo

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

A brief history of the dodo bird:

The Dodo were huge birds of unknown species that existed only on the island of Mauritius which had no human habitation prior to 1598. Due to its short wings and bulky body the dodo could not fly or flee in the face of danger. […]

The story of the Dodo is indeed a tragic one. Firstly, human visitors, mainly the Dutch, used to kill them for food. Those that survived became prey to animals such as pigs, rats and monkeys that had been introduced into the island by sailors. By the year 1681 the last Dodo had died. The manner in which the Dodo were obliterated from the surface of the earth has left a lasting impact on the natural history of our global eco-system: in fact a lesson in extinction to humanity. So much so, that the English expression ‘As dead as the Dodo’ had to be coined to emphasize the concept of total annihilation or non-existence (by death) of something, or someone, or some idea, either in the literal or abstract sense.

The text doesn’t add many addition information, if you already read the other texts posted here, but it’s good to know that the The Mauritius Web Directory has some info about dodos.

Dodo in 1911

Friday, January 12th, 2007

What is a dodo according to Classic Encyclopedia, based on the 11th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (pub. 1911):

DODO (from the Portuguese Doudo, a simpleton), a large bird formerly inhabiting the island of Mauritius, but now extinct – the Didus ineptus of Linnaeus. When, in 1507, the Portuguese discovered the island which we now know as Mauritius they named it Ilha do from a notion that it must be the island of that name mentioned by Pliny; but most authors have insisted that it was known to the seamen of that nation as Ilha do Cisne- perhaps but a corruption of Cerne, and brought about by their finding it stocked with large fowls, which, though not aquatic, they likened to swans, the most familiar to them of bulky birds. In 1598 the Dutch, under Van Neck, took possession of the island and renamed it Mauritius. A narrative of this voyage was published in 1601, if not earlier, and has been often reprinted. Here we have birds spoken of as big as swans or bigger, with large heads, no wings, and a tail consisting of a few curly feathers. The Dutch called them Walgvogels (the word is variously spelled), i.e. nauseous birds, either because no cooking made them palatable, or because this island-paradise afforded an abundance of fare so much superior. De Bry gives two admirably quaint prints of the doings of the Hollanders, and in one of them the Walgvogel appears, being the earliest published representation of its unwieldy form, with a footnote stating that the voyagers brought an example alive to Holland. Among the company there was a draughtsman, and from a sketch of his, Clusius, a few years after, gave a figure of the bird, which he vaguely called “Gallinaceus Gallus peregrines,” but described rather fully. Meanwhile two other Dutch fleets had visited Mauritius. One of them had rather an accomplished artist on board, and his drawings fortunately still exist (see article Bird). Of the other a journal kept by one of the skippers was subsequently published.

This in the main corroborates what has been before said of the birds, but adds the curious fact that they were now called by some Dodaarsen and by others Dronten. 1 Henceforth Dutch narrators, though several times mentioning the bird, fail to supply any important fact in its history. Their navigators, however, were not idle, and found work for their naturalists and painters. Clusius says that in 1605 he saw at Pauw’s House in Leyden a dodo’s foot, 2 which he minutely describes. In a copy of Clusius’s work in the high school of Utrecht is pasted an original drawing by Van de Venne superscribed “Vera effigies huius avis Walghvogel (quae & a nautis Dodaers propter foedam posterioris partis crassitiem nuncupatur), qualis viva Amsterodamum perlata est ex insula Mauritii. Anno M.DC.XXVI.” Now a good many paintings of the dodo drawn from life by Roelandt Savery

(1576-1639) exist; and the paintings by him at Berlin and Vienna – dated 1626 and 1628 – as 1 The etymology of these names has been much discussed. That of the latter, which has generally been adopted by German and French authorities, seems to defy investigation, but the former has been shown by Prof. Schlegel (Versl. en Mededeel. K. Akad. Wetensch. ii. pp. 255 et seq.) to be the homely name of the dabchick or little grebe (Podiceps minor), of which the Dutchmen were reminded by the round stern and tail diminished to a tuft that characterized the dodo. The same learned authority suggests that dodo is a corruption of Dodaars, but, as will presently be seen, we herein think him mistaken.

And that is just the first part of the article. The image used to illustrated is the Solitaire of Rodriguez (Pezophaps solitarius), from Leguat’s figure, and that’s the reason:

The Solitaire of Rodriguez (Pezophaps solitarius)

The dodo is said to have inhabited forests and to have laid one large white egg on a mass of grass. Besides man, hogs and other imported animals seem to have exterminated it. But the dodo is not the only member of its family that has vanished. The little island which has successively borne the name of Mascaregnas, England’s Forest, Bourbon and Reunion, and lies to the southward of Mauritius, had also an allied bird, now dead and gone. Of this not a relic has been – handled by any naturalist. The latest description of it, by Du Bois in 1674, is very meagre, while Bontekoe (1646) gave a figure, apparently intended to represent it. It was originally called the “solitaire,” but this name was also applied to Pezophaps solitarius of Rodriguez by the Huguenot exile Leguat, who described and figured it about 1691.

The solitaire, Didus solitarius of Gmelin, referred by Strickland to a district genus Pezophaps, is supposed to have lingered in the 3 E. Newton and H. Gadow, Trans. Zool. Soc. xiii. (1893) island of Rodriguez until about 1761. Leguat l has given a delightful description of its quaint habits. The male stood about 2 ft. 9 in. high; its colour was brownish grey, that of its mate more inclined to brown, with a whitish breast. The wings were rudimentary, the tail very small, almost hidden, and the thigh feathers were thick and curled “like shells.” A round mass of bone, “as big as a musket ball,” was developed on the wings of the males, and they used it as a weapon of offence while they whirled themselves about twenty or thirty times in four or five minutes, making a noise with their pinions like a rattle. The mien was fierce and the walk stately, the birds living singly or in pairs. The nest was a heap of palm leaves a foot high, and contained a single large egg which was incubated by both parents. The food consisted of seeds and leaves, and the birds aided digestion by swallowing large stones; these were used by the FIG. 3. – Skeleton of a male Solitaire, Pezophaps solitarius, Museum of Zoology, Cambridge.

The Dodo Life of Long Ago

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Bones found recently on its home, Mauritius

A New York Times‘ article from July about the new expedition to explore Mauritius’ sites: Newfound Island Graveyard May Yield Clues to Dodo Life of Long Ago:

The origins of the dodo are mysterious. Studies on its DNA indicate that it descended from pigeons. The dodo’s closest relative was the solitaire, another extinct flightless bird that lived only on the nearby island of Rodrigues. […]

Plant-eating mammals play a major role in shaping their ecosystems. Dodos may have thinned the Mauritius forests, and some plants may have come to depend on them to spread their seeds.

With almost no fossils to study, scientists had been unable to test these ideas. Now it will be possible, thanks to the discovery of the dodo graveyard. Dr. Rijsdijk and Frans Bunnik, also of the Geological Survey of the Netherlands, found it almost by accident. […]

Based on the underlying geology of the site, Dr. Rijsdijk estimates that it is 3,000 years old. More precise dating based on carbon isotopes is now under way.

Dr. Rijsdijk said that the fossils appeared to have formed in a forest lake. A big storm may have washed the animals and plants into the lake, where their bones settled into a single layer.

“Think of it like a snapshot,” Dr. Burney of Fordham said. “You set up a big camera and photograph the landscape at a particular instance. You’ve got the dodos and the other species, all captured in a moment.”

The scientists are now studying the material more carefully. Some are looking for ancient DNA, while others will analyze the dodo bones to get clues to their diet. “We may be really be able to shine a light on the dodo’s role in the ecosystem,” Dr. Rijsdijk said. The scientists will present early findings at the University of Oxford in September and will return to Mare aux Songes in 2007.

By understanding the Mauritius ecosystem before humans arrived, they hope to find clues to the dodo’s extinction. Dodos were easy to hunt, but hunting alone probably did not wipe them out. Recent research indicates that the early Dutch settlers rarely ate dodo meat. Nor did the deforestation of the island doom the dodo. Major forest clearing did not begin until after the dodo became extinct.

BTW, use Firefox and the bug me not extension to read the article if you don’t want to create an account there.

Dodos at AMNH

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Dodo Model Dodo Squeleton

The Dodo at the American Museum of Natural History. I bet you saw that page before, many times (if you ever made a search for dodos). I saw it, many times before, and that’s a good reason for post it.

Something there sounds funny for me: the dodos are in the same area as the dinosaurs. Hum… giant dodos! Ok, silliness apart, here is part of the short text about dodos there:

The Dodo’s stubby wings and heavy, ungainly body tell us that the bird was flightless. Moreover, its breastbone is too small to support the huge pectoral muscles a bird this size would need to fly. Yet scientists believe that the Dodo evolved from a bird capable of flight into a flightless one. When an ancestor of the Dodo landed on Mauritius, it found a habitat with plenty of food and no predators. It therefore did not need to fly, and, as flying takes a great deal of energy, it was more efficient for the bird to remain on the ground. Eventually, the flightless Dodo evolved.

Der Dronte

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Der Dronte nach

Dodo illustration found at Maps of Australia: Manuscript map in ink, watercolour and gouache, with 18 marginal insets and panel depicting people and fauna in the Pacific by Otto Staab, 1812. Available at the State Library of New South Wales. (Thanks Paul!)

Dodo by Dionisio Minaggio

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

Dodo and hunter collage Dionisio Minaggio

Minaggio 76Although the bird is tentatively labelled Dodo? on the picture, this more likely represents a bustard being hunted by a mounted oriental gentleman with a scimitar. From Il Bestiario BaroccoFeather Book: Made in 1618 by Dionisio Minaggio, Chief Gardener of the State of Milan, the Feather Book consists of 157 collages of birds, hunters, tradesmen, musicians and Commedia del’Arte figures.

The 112 birds consist of the feathers, beaks and claws laid down in true-to-life fashion. The majority of the birds depicted were native to Lombardy although some are no longer common there. One of the birds is identified as being a representation of a Dodo – and indeed a web site on the dodo seems to accept this attribution without question. However, the bird is not particularly well drawn, uses Lombardy bird feathers rather than ones from an actual Dodo and is obviously copied from either a drawing or a description. I suspect it is done from an illustration because the costume and weapon of the Arabian hunter is so accurately depicted. Various other ornithologists who have seen the original have declared the bird to be either a Reunion Solitaire, which is at least a close relative of the Dodo, or a Great Bustard.

More about it at The Feather Book of Dionisio Minaggio. (Thanks Jaime!)