Bird brain? Dodos were not so dumb after all

Wed Feb 24, 2016 4:09pm EST
 
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By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The dodo is an extinct flightless bird whose name has become synonymous with stupidity. But it turns out that the dodo was no bird brain, but instead a reasonably brainy bird.

Scientists said on Wednesday they figured out the dodo's brain size and structure based on an analysis of a well-preserved skull from a museum collection. They determined its brain was not unusually small but rather completely in proportion to its body size.

They also found the dodo may have had a better sense of smell than most birds, with an enlarged olfactory region of the brain. This trait, unusual for birds, probably let it sniff out ripe fruit to eat.

The research suggests the dodo, rather than being stupid, boasted at least the same intelligence as its fellow members of the pigeon and dove family.

"If we take brain size - or rather, volume, as we measured here - as a proxy for intelligence, then the dodo was as smart as a common pigeon," paleontologist Eugenia Gold of Stony Brook University in New York state said. "Common pigeons are actually smarter than they get credit for, as they were trained as message carriers during the world wars."

The dodo lived on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. The weird-looking, ground-nesting bird had a pointed beak and rounded head, stood about 3 feet (1 meter) tall and weighed up to about 50 pounds (23 kg).

Driven into extinction largely by human hunting, the last dodo was seen in 1662.

Gold said dodos exhibited no fear of humans when people reached Mauritius in the 1500s.   Continued...

 
A skeleton of a Mauritius Dodo bird which was found by E. Thirioux, a barber, in a cave at the foot of Le Pouce Mountain at Pailles, which is in the vicinity of the town of Port Louis in year 1900, stands at an exhibition in the Mauritius Institute Museum in Port Louis in this December 27, 2005 file photo.  REUTERS/Files