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Study Finds the Dodo Bird Was Not the Bumbling Fool We Thought It Was

The study suggests they were likely to have been as smart as modern pigeons.  (Image:   FunkMonk via
The study suggests they were likely to have been as smart as modern pigeons. (Image: FunkMonk via Wikipedia / CC BY 2.0 )

The large dodo bird (Raphus cucullatus), which is now long-extinct, has been described as quirky, clumsy, and bumbling. However, it has now been discovered it was actually fairly smart.

The centuries-long reputation of being a stupid flightless bird has just been proven unfounded in a new study from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). The study suggests they were likely to have been as smart as modern pigeons, and had a better sense of smell.

The study, which was published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, discovered that the overall size of the dodo’s brain in relation to its body size was the same as its closest living relatives — pigeons, a bird that has the ability to be trained, which implies a moderate level of intelligence.

Side views of brain endocasts from the dodo (A), the Rodrigues solitaire (B), and Caloenas nicobarica (C), a type of pigeon. Enlarged olfactory bulbs, labeled “ob,” can be seen in the dodo and the solitaire. The scale bar is 15 millimeters. (Image: AMNH/E. Gold)

Side views of brain endocasts from the dodo (A), the Rodrigues solitaire (B), and Caloenas nicobarica (C), a type of pigeon. Enlarged olfactory bulbs, labeled “ob,” can be seen in the dodo and the solitaire. The scale bar is 15 millimeters. (Image: AMNH/E. Gold)

It was also found to have an enlarged olfactory bulb; this is the part of the brain that is responsible for smelling. This is an uncharacteristic trait for birds, where most of their brainpower is concentrated on their eyesight.

The dodo lived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, and was last seen in 1662. Eugenia Gold, lead author of the paper, a research associate, and recent graduate of the American Museum of Natural History’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, said:

According to the American Museum of Natural History:

When the researchers compared the size of the birds’ brains to their body sizes, they found that the dodo was “right on the line.”

Gold said in a statement:

The study furthermore revealed that the dodo and the Rodrigues solitaire (recently became extinct because of human activity) both had large and distinguished olfactory bulbs. The authors have also suggested, because dodos and solitaires were ground-dwellers, they would have relied on smell to find food.

An unusual curvature of the dodo’s semicircular canal, which is the balance organs located inside the ear, was also discovered, however there are no good hypothesis for this atypical feature.

Co-author Mark Norell, the Macaulay Curator of Paleontology and Chair of the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, said:

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