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Dodos were flightless birds, rather famously known for becoming extinct in the 16th century, due to humans, dogs and rats. The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) was a flightless bird endemic to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. Related to pigeons and doves, it stood about a metre tall, weighing about 20 kilograms (44 lb), living on fruit and nesting on the ground. The dodo has been extinct since the mid-to-late 17th century. It is commonly used as the archetype of an extinct species because its extinction occurred during recorded human history, and was directly attributable to human activity. The adjective phrase "to be as dead as a dodo" means undoubtedly and unquestionably dead, whilst the phrase "to go the way of the dodo" means to become extinct or obsolete, to fall out of common usage or practice, or to become a thing of the past.

The first descriptions of the bird were made by the Dutch. They called the Mauritius bird the walghvogel ("wallow bird" or "loathsome bird") in reference to its taste. Although many later writings say that the meat tasted bad, the early journals only say that the meat was tough but good, though not as good as the abundantly available pigeons. The name walgvogel was used for the first time in the journal of vice-admiral Wybrand van Warwijck who visited the island in 1598 and named it Mauritius.

The etymology of the word dodo is not clear. However, there is a consensus that the name is probably pejorative. Some ascribe it to the Dutch word dodoor for "sluggard", but it probably is related to dodaars ("knot-arse"), referring to the knot of feathers on the hind end. The first recording of the word dodo or dodaerse is in captain Willem van Westsanen's journal in 1602, but it is unclear whether he was the first one to use the word dodo, because before the Dutch, the Portuguese had already visited the island in 1507, but did not settle permanently. According to Encarta Dictionary and Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, "dodo" comes from Portuguese doudo (currently doido) meaning "fool" or "crazy". However, the present Portuguese name for the bird, dodô, is taken from the internationally used word dodo. The Portuguese word doudo or doido may itself be a loanword from Old English.

Yet another possibility is that dodo was an onomatopoeic approximation of the bird's own call, a two-note pigeony sound like "doo-doo". In 1606 Cornelis Matelief de Jonge wrote an important description of the dodo, some other birds, plants and animals on the island.