Dodos were large birds, shaped something like a football with an aneurysm. They were about equally closely related to ostriches and puffins. They were were known for performing their annual migrations in large flotillas, frequently traveling long distances across the open ocean. This was particularly true in years when the sky was overcast and navigation was difficult.
Significant Peculiarities and Stranded Birds
- When a flotilla took off, whichever bird was in front of the flotilla was treated as the leader. Anywhere the leader went, the flock would follow, without question, until they next landed. If the flock happened to head off after a confused dodo, or one that just wanted to head over to the next lake to take a leak, or, worst of all, a "bird" that was actually a misplaced weather balloon, they ran the risk of never getting anywhere useful at all. Such a misguided migration was referred to by aviologists as a disaster.
- Though strong fliers once airborne, dodos had a hard time getting into the air, as you might expect given the resemblance of a dodo to a puffin that had been blown up with a bicycle pump. In fact a dodo typically required a runway about 1500 feet long to take off.
- With their short wings and pumpkin-shaped bodies, a dodo could glide and soar about as well as an exceptionally dense brick. Consequently, just like big feathery bumblebees, they had to keep flapping if they wanted to stay airborne.
Flapping your wings is hard work. If you want to get an idea how hard it is, go outside, walk to the nearest intersection, step off the curb, and start flapping your arms up and down, just as fast as you can do it. Yell "Hey Hey!" every few seconds, to keep your spirits up while you flap. Keep that up for at least ten minutes. How do you feel? (Tell us about it on this page's Talk page.)
One tragic consequence of these facts was that many dodos ended their lives stranded on small Pacific islands.
When a migrating flotilla of dodos went astray, they'd fly until they had to rest, and then land on the nearest available surface, whether it was an island, the back of a passing turtle, or a floating beer bottle. The trouble was, if the thing they'd landed on didn't have a flat surface at least 1500 feet long, they were Hotel California'd: They could never leave.
Much of what we know about dodos came from the historic voyage of Edward Weston to the islands of the South Seas. Though best known for his photographs of bell peppers shaped like naked women and naked women shaped like bell peppers, Weston's lesser known works were also of great historical importance, and included clear documentation of the migration habits of dodos.
As we just started to say, before we interrupted ourselves, on his 1773 voyage to the South Seas, Weston stopped over briefly on Ascension Island (about halfway between New Zealand and the Galapagos Atoll). While there, he took several wet-plate photographs of dodo flocks running rapidly across the planes in pursuit of an ostrich, as well as some truly amazing shots of dodos playing at Whist with several members of the ship's crew. Unfortunately, the box containing the glass photographic plates was dropped by a crew member as a result of being dive bombed by an angry dodo while returning to the ship, and the only image which survived was the one we've shown below, in which a flock of dodos is seen heading out to sea on their annual migration to the Canary Islands.
In their last days, dodos were restricted to a few small island communities, as the main population of birds was wiped out in the terrible Bird Flew epidemic of 1818. The great migrating flotillas vanished, never to be seen again, and only a few birds who had been stranded on islands out of the path of the pestilence survived.
Scientists studying the stranded remnants drew the obvious, but incorrect, inference that dodos had evolved on islands to start with. They also came to the not so obvious but equally incorrect conclusion that dodos had gone extinct some time in the 1600's. Since this conclusion came from studies done on bird colonies in the middle 1800's, how they arrived at it remains one of the little mysteries of the history of science, something like how Marsh managed to set up an elasmosaurus skeleton in the British Museum of Science with the head stuck on the wrong end, without anyone noticing the error for nearly two decades.
- However, there are unconfirmed stories about very strange birds been seen all over France. These stories are unconfirmed. The unconfirmed existence of a place called France is also unconfirmed, as well.