The name Dodo is derived
from the Portugues word Doudo, meaning a simpleton, the Portuguese
being the first to discover this bird in Mauritius. It was between
50cm to a meter in height, with a weight of 13 to 25 kg. Being unable
to fly, this unusual bird seemed to exclusively inhabit the Mauritius and
Reunion Islands in the Indian ocean, but is now sadly extinct.
The Dodo mainly lived on
fruits and seeds, and made its nest on the ground. It is usually
described as an extremely fat bird with stubby wings. This traditionally
recognised fat appearance, however, is probably the result of animals
which were overfed and came as provisions on ships to Europe. In
their natural habitat, the Dodo was quite possibly a slimmer and relatively
more atheletic bird.
The first Dodo arrived in
Europe in 1599. As well as the bird being often used for food, its
eggs were eaten in great numbers by sailors.
Discovery of the Dodo
The exact year that the Portuguese
discovered the Dodo is not certain, but was probably in 1507 according
to M. Codine in his Mémoire géographique sur la mer des
Indes, chapter vii, published in Paris in 1868. The Portuguese
originally called the bird Cerne,
after one of their ships
so named from an island mentioned by Pliny (Hist. Nat.
vi. 36; x.
9), though many authors have insisted that the island was known to the
seamen of that nation as Ilha do Cisne, meaning Island of the Swan.
This name of the island is possibly a corruption of Cerne, and so-given
as a result of the seamen discovering the island full of large sized fowls
which were described as similar to swans although not aquatic.
However, the original discovery is unfortunately
lost to the proverbial mists of time, and no definite assertions can be
made regarding the island or its inhabitants (of which none were human)
until the year 1598 when, under the captainship of Jacob Cornelisz van
Neck, the Dutch arrived and renamed the island Mauritius after Prince
Maurits of Orange-Nassau, the son of
William of Orange. A description of the journey to the island
was published in 1601 (although an earlier original publication date is
possible). In this, birds which appear to have been Dodos were detailed
as being as large as swans and having big heads, a few curly feathers on
the tail and no wings. They were named Walghvogels by the
Dutch. Although this word has been spelled in a number of different
ways, it is designated as meaning "nauseous birds". It is thought
that this name was given due to the the Dutch having discovered that whatever
method of cooking them they used, they could find no way of making them
palatable. Despite this, the Dutch carried Dodos in their ships in
order to have a good reserve of food. A different, and considered
by some to be better, reason for the name is the explanation that the island
was abundantly populated by animals (and plants) which provided much better
tasting food than the Dodo, even though the breast of the Dodo was of a
reasonable taste and tender.