There are many extinct species that the layman is familiar with. The Tyrannosaurus Rex. The carrier pigeon. The Neanderthal. In this series of nature articles, I will be writing about the species that for some reason have been deemed not worthy of remembering. In today’s entry, I will evoke the majesty that was the dawdle bird.
Imagine: A royal purple bundle of silky feathers floats lazily through the air with not a care on its mind. It listlessly approaches an oak tree, landing on the first branch its sharp talons find. It slowly darts its crested head back and forth, looking for prey. It spots a field mouse, but decides to wait for the brown rodent to approach the tree. As the noble, flighted creature waits for its supper, it preens itself, revealing a myriad of colours underneath its lavender outer coat. Gold. Maroon. Red. Turquoise. The variety of colours never ceases to amaze. The tasty morsel of a mouse is deemed close enough to catch. Our bird leaps from the branch but does not spread its sweeping wings. It comes within centimetres of hitting the ground before opening its wings, thus slowing its fall and allowing it to gracefully land on the soft soil. It pauses while eyeing the mouse. It continues to wait. The mouse loses interest, deciding that this creature is not a threat. It is wrong. After several minutes of no motion, the bird darts a few steps toward its prey. It pauses, then runs another metre. The mouse has renewed its caution and has begun to scurry back toward its burrow. The bird makes one more sprint, but the mouse has already escaped. The bird ponders the predicament, then, after deciding nothing more can be done, it flies back to its perch on a low hanging branch.
This beautiful Ave that we have just mentally observed was known as the dawdle bird. It lived from 300 to 150 years ago, a sadly short existence. However, its memory lives on in our retellings of the dawdle bird’s magnificent appearance. It was truly a sight to behold.
The dawdle bird weighed in high at 24 kilograms but had a relatively short stature of 1.3 metres. This size put it among the heaviest birds in the world at that time and in the upper midrange for height.
On average, the females would lay 3 eggs, though 9 eggs in a nest was once spotted and recorded unofficially. The eggs took on a light shade of lavender, foreshadowing the birds’ later bright purple feathers. Fledglings lived with the parents for up to five months, longer than any other related bird, before leaving the nest. It has been speculated that the young had the ability to fly as early as three days, but the juvenile dawdle birds never had the need or urge to take off.
The dawdle bird’s preferred diet consisted of small rodents, but it ended up eating nuts and berries, which were easier to catch. In fact, its inability to trap live prey eventually brought its demise.
This bird was always in some state of starvation. Despite its lack of nutrition, the dawdle bird maintained its preened and plump look by creating more layers of feathers, which only served to weigh down the bird further, making it more difficult to fly and find food.
Poachers also contributed to its extinction. The wealthy were enthralled with the dawdle bird’s beautiful magenta feathers, creating a high demand for them. Some entrepreneurial chefs decided that they could use the meat of the trapped birds in fancy dishes, and many began serving the dawdle bird at gourmet restaurants. However, the fad only lasted a few days due to critical reviews, including the infamous one by Pierre Duchamp, who said the bird “tasted of laziness.”
Conservationists attempted to hold the dawdle bird in captivity to help them replenish their health and numbers, but this was a failed attempt. The birds would only eat if the handler brought the food directly to them, resulting in the keepers giving up on any work to rescue them from their imminent demise.
It was only a matter of time before the dawdle bird killed itself off. Although a few purple feathers still exist today, there are not enough to remind the public of this beauteous bird. The dawdle bird was remarkable in its time, and its memory deserves to be cherished.
Join me in the next entry for a eulogy to a fantastic amphibian named the dilly-dally.