Letters to Paula

Leigh-Ann Waughtel, San Diego, Calif.:

How tall was the dodo (you know, the extinct, flightless bird)? My friends and I have a bet going as to whether it is more or less than 3 feet tall, and we would appreciate any information you could get us so we can settle the bet.

A: Leigh-Ann, I see your problem. Most reference books brag about the weight of the dodo, but it seems that in polite reference company, height is not mentioned.

I was working (i.e., telling my little jokes) at Loyola University the other night, and after the show I went to the library with a bunch of students and set about trying to find the height of the dodo. (Didn’t Elvis used to buy Cadillacs for his fans? He probably knew the height of the dodo off the top of his head and, therefore, had time to buy baubles for his fans.) Anyway, most books just said, “extinct bird.” One brainy young student, however, found a book for me that had all of the earliest recorded dodo sightings. It’s fascinating that old diaries, letters, and paintings are often our only sources of information about things before our time. I don’t think my letters and writings would be of any use to future generations. I write stuff like, “It’s 2:00 p.m. I just fixed the vacuum cleaner. I’m so tired. Are my foster daughters too young to watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? I think if they could see the Bancini character who keeps wandering around saying he’s tired, they’d understand me better.” It would never occur to me to write a letter saying, “It’s 3:30 p.m. I just started a load of laundry. There is a large bird with straggly gray plumage on the front lawn.”

Oh, about the dodo? It says here, “The male stood about 2 feet 9 inches high.”

Shannon McGovern, San Francisco, Calif.:

What is the difference between white eggs and brown eggs?

A: I’m tempted to say, “They’re different colors,” but I feel that would just be yet another example of how badly I was brought up. According to the Commercial Chicken Production Manual, egg coloring is genetic. White eggs come only from the chicken breed known as single-comb white leghorns. Brown eggs come from white Plymouth Rock chickens, New Hampshire chickens, white and dark Cornish chickens, Rhode Island reds, barred Plymouth Rock chickens, and light Sussexes.

Some egg color can also be determined by the Easter bunny. I did not read of any differences between white and brown eggs other than color, but I did learn from the Humane Farming Association that few, if any, white leghorns are commercially raised free-range poultry, as some brown-egg layers are. It may be that white leghorns are the most irresponsible kind of chicken and require stricter supervision- heavy doses of drugs, beak removal, crowded cages, that kind of thing- than some of the brown-egg- laying chickens. It seems, for whatever reason, that the odds of a brown egg coming from a healthier, more humanely treated chicken are greater.

Thanks for the question. I’ll be strangely sorry to return the Commercial Chicken Production Manual to the library.


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