Dodos Weren't Bird Brains! New Study Reveals They Were Intelligent

First Posted: Feb 24, 2016 07:14 AM EST

The dodo bird may have been more intelligent than previously thought. Scientists have found that the overall size of the dodo's brain in relation to its body size was on par with its closest living relatives: pigeons.

The dodo was a large, flightless bird that lived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Yet these birds went extinct around 1662, largely due to human interference.

"When the island was discovered in the late 1500s, the dodos living there had no fear of humans and they were herded onto boats and used as fresh meat for sailors," said Eugenia Gold, lead author of the new study, in a news release. "Because of that behavior and invasive species that were introduced to the island, they disappeared in less than 100 years after humans arrived. Today, they are almost exclusively known for becoming extinct, and I think that's why we've given them this reputation of being dumb."

In this latest study, the researchers examined the dodo brain. They tracked down a well-preserved skull of a dodo and then imaged it with high-resolution computed tomography (CT) scanning. The scientists also CT-scanned the skulls of seven species of pigeons, ranging from the common pigeon found on city streets to more exotic varieties.

"It's not impressively large or impressively small-it's exactly the size you would predict it to be for its body size," said Gold. "So if you take brain size as a proxy for intelligence, dodos probably had a similar intelligence level to pigeons. Of course, there's more to intelligence than just overall brain size, but this gives us a basic measure."

The findings reveal a bit more about these birds and show that, contrary to popular believe, they weren't as stupid as made out to be.

The findings are published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

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