Were Dodos as Dumb as They Looked?

SCIENCE

Dodos, best known for being dead and, well, dumb, may not have been total doofuses. (Washington Post)

Use our resources to catch up on other bird-brains.

Scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

The dodo never looked more dignified than in it does in this gorgeous watercolor by the Dutch Old Master Cornelis Saftleven. The painting was completed in 1638, just 24 years before the species was driven to extinction. This is probably the last illustration of a dodo drawn from life. Painting by Cornelis Saftleven, courtesy the Boijmans Museum and Wikimedia. Public domain.

The dodo never looked more dignified than in it does in this gorgeous watercolor by the Dutch Old Master Cornelis Saftleven. The painting was completed in 1638, just 24 years before the species was driven to extinction. This is probably the last illustration of a dodo drawn from life.
Painting by Cornelis Saftleven, courtesy the Boijmans Museum and Wikimedia. Public domain.

Discussion Ideas

 

 

  • If dodos weren’t dumbos, how did they get their dim-bulb reputation?
    • Well, look at them.
    • Just 30 years before their extinction, most dodos had never encountered the world’s Apex Predator #1. (Although dodos’ native habitat, the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, had been visited by Arab traders for centuries, the first permanent settlement—a Dutch colony—was not established until 1638. The last dodo died in 1662.)
      • In other words, the birds had “never encountered humans and didn’t know enough to fear us—and they looked comically plump because hungry sailors fattened them up . . . [H]umans were able to . . .keep them docile and overfed until slaughtering time.” (The meat, it’s worth noting, was not very good, and hunters had to watch out for that great big beak.)

 

Dodo_1

Fun Fact: The name “dodo” probably doesn’t refer do the big bird’s intelligence. Dodo is most likely related to the Dutch word “dodaars,” which means “fat-ass.” (Science!) Dodaars probably referred to the tuft of feathers on the bird’s backside.
Photograph by Ballista, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-3.0

Teachers’ Toolkit

Washington Post: Were dodos as dumb as they looked? New research suggests otherwise.

Nat Geo: All About Birds

Wikipedia Featured Article: Dodo

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