(The Dodo, Yale Peabody Museum, New Haven, Connecticut)
The bird best known for its absence, the dodo, has died. While you may know it from such notable appearances in the classic grade-school "dodo brain" barb and the various incarnations of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, the dodo bird's real claim to fame is as the first species known to be driven to extinction as a direct result of its relationship with Man. (There have been many others since.)
For thousands of years it lived in a kind of flightless Eden on the island of Mauritius off the southeastern coast of Africa, but that changed dramatically in 1598 with the arrival of Dutch sailors and their domesticated animals. Unaccustomed to predators, the dodo and their eggs made for preposterously easy prey to both the sailors and their beasts. A similar slaughter of trees took place in the dodo's endeared forests. Killed off before anyone got to know it, sketches and bones are all that survive of the tragic bird, making it difficult to know with much certainty how it looked and lived.
What we think we know is this: it seemed to enjoy fruits and roots and berries; adult dodos could grow to around 3 feet tall and could weigh up to forty pounds; it is believed to have been brownish-grey in color with a tuft of tail feathers counterbalanced by a large, hooked beak; some accounts render it portly and slow, others, due to the particular strength of its leg bones, suggest thinner and fast; it is thought to have laid one egg at a time in a ground nest, a habit it developed out of an abundance of food and the luxury of how long it had lived with nothing inpursuit-the same reasons why, over time, its sternum became inadequate for flight; it seemed to prefer the island's drier, coastal forests; upon encountering humans for the first time, the uninformed dodo was reportedly tame, which was perhaps mistaken for a lack of intelligence.
No one knows exactly how or when the last dodo died, though it is believed they were gone by 1700. It's a haunting image, that lone bird, lingering softly at the perimeter of what used to be its forest, wondering if the world would always be like this. Of course, we know that's not quite how animals think, but we can't help it. There is so much we have to say to that bird. We are sorry. The world will not always be like this. O, invisible beast of magnificence, what have we done.
The dodo is survived by its closest living relative, the Nicobar Pigeon, who asks that, in lieu of flowers, Man do better. If you would like to learn how to do better, click here.