Posted by our ornithology correspondent Richard Rawlinson
With its alliterative similarity to Shakespeare’s phrase ‘dead as a doornail’, the term ‘dead as a dodo’ also remains in usage.
The extinct bird has become a symbol of obsolescence. Unable to fly and laying just one egg at a time, this three feet-plus tall, 20-plus pound woodland forager didn’t have a chance once Man, or hungry Western explorers, discovered its habitat on the island of Mauritius.
The first recorded sighting was by Dutch sailors in 1598. Less than 100 years later, it was observed that the dodo had disappeared without trace, flagging up the previously unrecognised problem of human involvement in wiping out entire species.
Paintings and sketches of dodos vary considerably, implying some were drawn from hazy memory. Study of fossils in the 19th century gave us a more accurate picture. Sadly, we’ll never know exactly how they waddled and quacked.