Skip to Content

Is This How the Dodo Bird Sounds?

dodo bird sounds
Dodo: Illustration by Tim Worfolk. Credit:


The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is one of the most famous extinct animals in history. This large, flightless bird inhabited the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean until its rapid extinction in the late 17th century. Despite its notoriety, the dodo remains somewhat of an enigma due to the limited historical evidence of its existence. 

Understanding the Dodo

To understand the dodo, it helps to know a bit about the evolution of birds. Birds evolved from feathered dinosaurs over 150 million years ago during the Jurassic period. Many transitional fossils document the gradual adaptations from dinosaur to early bird. Some key adaptations include the development of feathers, wings, and a lightweight skeleton for flight. The earliest birds retained features like teeth and long bony tails. But over time, birds lost many ancestral traits as they specialized for flying, swimming, and perching. 

The dodo represents an unusual reversal of some of these avian adaptations. Most birds evolved for aerial life – lightweight, streamlined bodies with long wings suited to flight, and aerial vocalizations to communicate while on the wing. As an island species, the dodo went on its own evolutionary course, becoming larger and flightless. It gained a sturdier skeleton but lost its ability to fly. With no predators, it did not need strong wings or long-distance calls. Dodos were essentially returning to the lifestyle of their terrestrial dinosaur ancestors.

What does a Tyrannosaurus rex have to do with the dodo? All modern birds come from a group of dinosaurs called Theropods, which includes T. rex (although birds evolved from smaller theropods, so there’s no direct lineage).

This pattern of island flightlessness is common in many island bird species over evolutionary time, from penguins to kiwis. Islands provide refuge from mainland predators, allowing birds to thrive without flight. But such ecological isolation leaves island species extremely vulnerable if new predators arrive or environments suddenly change. The dodo was well-suited to its island home until humans arrived and disrupted its evolutionary path. With no defenses against predators or fear of humans, the dodo’s luck quickly ran out, showing the fatal consequences of isolation. The dodo’s sad demise was a warning sign of the dangers islands and their species face in our modern, human-dominated world.

The Dodo’s History in Science

First described by Dutch sailors in 1598, the dodo was abundant on Mauritius when humans first arrived. It evolved in isolation on the island, which led to its inability to fly. The dodo stood about a meter tall and weighed around 20 kilograms. It had grayish plumage, a big head, a 23-centimeter blackish bill with reddish markings, stout yellow legs, and black feathers on its tail. Its wings were tiny in proportion to its bulky body.

The dodo was part of the pigeon and dove family, but it lost the ability to fly over time, as there were no natural predators on Mauritius to threaten it. Their terrestrial, flightless existence made the dodos and other island species especially vulnerable to invasive species and human activity.

When humans landed on Mauritius, they immediately took advantage of the defenseless dodo. Sailors easily captured and ate these large, naïve birds, introducing rats, cats, dogs and monkeys to the island, which also devastated dodo numbers. Within a century of their discovery, the last dodo had died out. Only a few museum specimens and contemporary sketches and accounts exist today to provide evidence that this unique creature ever existed.

The Way a Dodo Bird Sounds (or Doesn’t Sound)

One major mystery surrounding the dodo is the sound it made. Extinct animals often leave behind fossilized bones and teeth, but their behaviors and voices are lost to time. Since the dodo was last seen over 300 years ago, no recordings of its voice exist. However, scientists can make educated guesses about dodo acoustics based on its anatomy and its closest living relatives. Dodos were likely mute due to adaptations of their beak, tongue and larynx. Researchers who studied dodo skulls determined that they had small openings for vocalization, indicating a limited vocal ability similar to their closest living relative, the Nicobar pigeon.

Both dodos and Nicobar pigeons lacked hollow chambers in their beaks that other birds use to amplify calls. Scientists performed acoustic tests on Nicobar pigeon vocalizations to predict the probable sounds made by dodos. They concluded that dodos may have made soft cooing or hoarse grunts, particularly during mating. But the dodo’s call was probably not loud or elaborate. Since it lacked natural predators before humans arrived, the dodo did not need to evolve complex vocalizations for survival.


The story of the dodo provides an important cautionary tale about human colonization and its damaging effects on island species. The dodo represents one of the first recorded cases of human-caused extinction of a widespread animal. Its disappearance marked the end of a unique animal that had lived for thousands of years in isolation on Mauritius.

Scientists still have much to learn about this peculiar extinct bird. With limited historical evidence to go on, many details about dodos remain hypotheses and inferences. Yet the dodo continues to captivate people hundreds of years after its extinction. Its lasting mystique reminds us of the fragility of island ecosystems in the face of invasive species and human intervention. The dodo will likely remain an icon of extinction and an example of humankind’s heavy impact on nature.

(So much for extinct birds – we’ve got tons of articles on birds you can go see today!)