Big dodo news out of the science world this week. Yes, it's still extinct, but a study published Thursday in Scientific Reports finally sheds light on the life cycle of the famously dead bird. “We know so little about these birds that everything was basically a surprise,” paleontologist and study author Delphine Angst tells New Scientist. The dodo, a "large flightless pigeon," lived in the swamps and caves of the island of Mauritius until the arrival of Europeans in the 1500s, at which point it promptly went extinct within the next century. During those 100 years, humans spent a lot of time hunting the dodo but not a lot of time studying it. That's where Angst's research comes in.
By studying 22 bones from 22 dodos, Angst determined that the bird's life cycle was built around surviving the lack of food and extreme weather of Mauritius' summer, which lasted from November to March. After the summer, dodos would completely lose their feathers and regrow new ones, as evidenced by cavities in some the bones where calcium was extracted for feather growth. Females would lay eggs in August, and those eggs would hatch in September. Juvenile dodo bones had a large supply of immature cells showing that young dodos grew quickly to be ready for the impending summer. The Telegraph reports this life cycle explains why Europeans of the time offered such differing descriptions of the dodo, from having "downy feathers" to "three or four black quills" to no feathers at all—they were seeing the bird at different stages of moulting.