The Dodo is a lesson in extinction. First sighted around 1600 on
Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean, the Dodo was extinct less
than eighty years later.
Thus while the skeleton (above) on view in the Museum is real, the model (below) is
not, as there are no complete Dodo specimens. Some of the birds may have been eaten by the Dutch sailors who discovered them. However, the primary causes of their extinction were the destruction of the forest (which cut off the Dodo's food supply), and the animals that the sailors brought with them, including cats, rats, and pigs, which destroyed Dodo nests.
The Dodo's stubby wings and heavy, ungainly body tell us that the bird was flightless. Moreover, its breastbone is too small to support the huge pectoral muscles a bird this size would need to fly. Yet scientists believe that the Dodo evolved from a bird capable of flight into a flightless one. When an ancestor of the Dodo landed on Mauritius, it found a habitat with plenty of food and no predators. It therefore did not need to fly, and, as flying takes a great deal of energy, it was more efficient for the bird to remain on the ground. Eventually, the flightless Dodo evolved.
Scientists at the American Museum of Natural History and other institutions around the world continue to study and document the impact of human activities on the environment. It is hoped that the lesson of the Dodo can help prevent similar extinctions, and aid us in preserving the diversity of life on earth.