Brian O’Dowd was born in Dublin. He lives in Toronto. O’Dowd is a Professor at the University of Toronto. His novel ‘A Wicklow Girl’, was published in 2017. Available on Amazon etc. Publisher: Tellwell, Canada. In 2019 he won the prestigious Prix Galien 2019 Canadian science award, as reported in the Irish Times.


Birds of a feather

By Brian O’Dowd


Hill on island of Mal’away, near Mauritius in 1681

Volquard Iversen, unshaven yet dignified, scans the peak of a volcanic mountain with his telescope.  In military uniform a soldier in the Portuguese army.  Four mast sailing ship rolls in waves anchored beyond the surf.  Another soldier Gardolf roasts a bird over a fire.  Movements in the foliage, dodo bird emerges, swings down the beach, flightless bird reaches a nest containing broken eggs.  Sailor with a club approaches, terrified bird finds no escape is pummeled.  Volquard observes this carry on.

“I’m sick killing so many doddaersen.”

“Keeping belly full, long journey home.”  Gardolf replies, bites a roasted leg.  “Bird for every meal.  Who cares, we’ll be gone soon.”

“You are a fool Gardolf, brain of a maggot.  Birds are scarce, whatever vile creatures your woman bears, they’ll never see their likes.”  Volquard despairs.

 “We to starve with pauper’s scavenge on these huge oceans?  On this island eat like Lords!  Kingfish, avocado and banana.  An oasis!”

Several tortoises upturned, waving in desperation and doomed.  Gardolf belches, throws a leg bone on a pile.


Set of Ireland’s ‘Saturday Night’ TV show with Stephen Burns.

“Next guest, up from Athlone is scientist Michael Iversen, Michael has a biotech company hidden away on his estate.  I’m told he is bringing something very unique this evening for us!”

Out I sauntered, full military uniform and medal regalia.  Pulling a cart with a cage covered by a blanket, sprawled on the famous couch like a big shot.

“So now Michael, tell us are you in the army or what?”

“Stephen I’m wearing the uniform of a Portuguese sailor from 1680.  What I have will shock the world!  Not just our wee Ireland!”

Stood tall to address the audience, ready to blow off their socks.

“My ancestor Volguard Iversen on the island on Mal’away.  Under his watch terrible travesty happened, my mission as an Iversen to correct that wrong.”  

Stephen hovering by the cart, fussing not attending to my blather.

“Is something moving?  Whatever do you have under this contraption?”

Ignored the ‘star’ geyser, carried on my declaration to the world.

“My aim to leave this planet a better place.  When a beauty died tragedy was born.  Let me quote from Volquard’s diary.” 

 “In my time we killed Mal’away birds, tried to save some from companions.  But we sailed those raging seas, needed sustenance for extreme endeavors.  Do not condemn us, we were brave alone in that unknown world.” 

“Michael if you don’t shut up, take off that cover I’ll throw you right out of here.”

Cheers!  Audience irritated by claptrap.

“Prepare!  Drum roll please!”  Says I to silent band fellas. 

Whipped off the cover, opened the cage door.  Out strolled dodo bird, big head, small wings, yellow legs, rear-end with curly feathers.

“Presenting Raphus Cucullatus, 350 years ago their hearts stopped.  Listen now, sounds not heard since.  Dodo is back!”

Bird’s recorded heartbeat amplified into the TV studio.

“Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.”

“Princess Ding-Ding, call her ‘D-D’.  Eve of her species begins again in field’s of Ireland.  How’s that!”

D-D answered my duck whistle as I fed her corn seeds.

“On the farm she rings the bell twice.  Ding-a-ding.”

 “Ah now Michael are you only with coddin us or what?  Is this real or a chicken with a papier-mâché beak and bit of yellow paint.  Lord save us, what is this creature at all?”

D-D wandered proud as a peacock.  Oblivious to cruel destruction inflicted by human and rodent on first contacts.  Exhibiting charm of her ancestors sounding like a tropical pigeon.

“If once a pigeon, now quacks like a dodo then the real McCoy!  After this night I will be a legend like our great Jonathan Swift!”

“Now tell us where on this earth did you find such a yoke?”

“Waiting by the bird feeder there she was, chomping seeds and nuts scaring birds.  Only what I tell the neighbours!”

“Michael after 15 years and world ‘Stars’ on the show, I’m gob smacked!  Am I right folks?  Where would we see such likes?”

D-D delicate bobbing and waddling received a standing ovation.

“Stephen on my island in Lough Ree we’ve a flock, reared there using biological magics!  Getting first male and female hardest, caught a break in second generation, romance takes over!  That’s private, we dare not peak!”

“Sure is it legal at all?  For heavens sake doing this class of thing?”

“Proclamation of 1916 no where addressed this issue, ‘you shall not create a dodo’, our loop hole so in the clear.”  I laughed.  “As an Irish enterprise promise we will not be fooling with snakes.”

“Tell us now what kind of witches brew did you get up to in Athlone?”

“Two year ago my aunt in Howth handed me a box with remains of a dodo bird preserved, covered in salt.  Volquard carried this to Ireland in 1685 when he married Maddy O’Reilly, they lived in Celbridge many a year.  Where I got my mop of black hair!  Remains are scarce as hen’s teeth, safe in my family for centuries.  Intact DNA restored the species, my mission to return these birds to their native land.”

“Let me see if we have questions.”  Stephen checking an expectant crowd.

“Do they taste any good?”  Right dosser.

Appalling question, disrespect in front of precious D-D.

“Really?  Have we learnt nothing?  If partial to flightless birds stick with turkeys.”

“Make a leprechaun, know where pot of gold is buried.”

Already created my golden egg.  Fool!

“We’ve plenty of DNA from small minded morons.”

Batting them like Ping-Pong.

“Bring back Arkle?  I’m good for a fiver.”

Ireland’s finest race horse.

“Way ahead of you!  So far only with the horse’s arse.”

“You should not be doing this.”  Claimed a veiled nun.

“Nature having all the fun making cows into whales.  It’s not Frankenstein monster only restoring those lost.”

Gave D-D a pat. 

“Poodles from wolves all natural, GM tomatoes.  Know what I’m saying?”

“Only God makes life.”  She persists.  “Evil work.”

Pinning me for the count.

“No más Sister.”  I bailed.  “Cats out of the bag, sharks have jumped.  Och sure you better get used to this stuff.”

Stephen watching me getting wound up, cut for a break.

“Ladies and gentlemen Michael Iversen and D-D!”

Smiling head to toe, Stephen whispers.

“Best guest in years, all over Sunday papers!  Michael you’ll be back.”


Athlone study room, book lined, portraits-statues of dodos.  Made a decent not decadent biotech pile in the States, returned to forty acre birthright.  Every Zoo needed action we’d oblige for a price!  Profits better than Pandas even amazing red ones.  In sales office my Canadian wife Robin found her calling, taking orders like turkeys for thanksgiving.  We’d met at a twitcher festival on Pelee island, so well matched.  As news circled the globe Media descended, surveyed fields of birds, my mug ‘Birdman of Athlone’ graced magazines.  Patents secured, now time to give our game away.

“Dodo DNA in a virus converted pigeon eggs, worked with flying colours, humdrum tech these high flautin days.”  All blasé, despite extensive complications, determined and solved, I’d put many eggs in that basket.  No idea how it all worked.  How could I?

“Can virus infect other animals?”  Impudent nosey parker ‘journalist’.

“Not at all, safe in our hands.  We’ve safe guards.”

“How the hell do I know?”  I’m not that smart.

We went soon as we could, important to be first.  Suck it and see feathers crossed, may sound reckless to lazy people.  Some steps skipped for survival from financial pressure and competition rumors.  Pioneers take risks us explorers in same boat.  Hillary’s climb on Everest, Apollo lads on the moon, Columbus sailing off a flat earth, Michael Collins seeking Home Rule, Titanic’s ‘full steam ahead’, Nicola Tesla dealing with ‘what’s electricity good for?’

My intentions positive, small people could clean up later.  Otherwise how we progress?  These birds once plentiful, where was the risk?  Fixed in my mind if doing drastic wrong expected aliens would stop us, not allowing to create havoc on the planet.  You say I’m crazy but as reported aliens apparently interfered with US and Soviet nuclear weaponry.  This knowledge served as our quality control.  That’s logical, leave it to them.  How many dodo birds could we flog in a world with none?  With mankind being okay since 1861.  Dinosaur movies showed anything could be restored to ‘life’ by computer.  So risky business, but that’s how we roll.  Entrepreneur buddies already with private jets, supermodel high life down Caribbean islands, some were flim-flam artists.  I wanted to mingle there, this being my best shot. 

‘To dig I am unable, to beg I am ashamed.


Honourable Mal’away President Namby called, Robin dealt with his requirements.

“Even you pay. Well yes.”  Robin insisted, devoid smidgeons of Iversen guilt. “If no money pawn family silver or glittering diamonds.  You’ll have more tourists, we’ll need a Hotel percentage contract negotiated.”

Feeling no remorse nor sentimental baggage.

“We’re morose people, since dodo no Calvaria trees grow in Mal’away.  Only very old tree left.”   Namby’s sad tale.

Hard tree seeds broken only when swallowed by dodo gizzard could fertilize.  Now knew she had him over a barrel, bird in our hands none in their bush.  Cry me a river, once we Celtic island people starving now belly full.

“Where is anything free?  Also sign breeding rights contract many clauses.”  Says my Bird.

Better pony up!   Not be expecting gift bird with that perfect beak.

“Sorry there’s no Santa Claus.”  She persisted.

“We’ll send two breeding birds for gold coinage, no malarkey Mal’away notes.  Pay TV of birds released in forest tossed in for free.  Our pillows with dodo feathers exclusive for sale in the hotel.  Risky assets invested now necessary substantial returns.”

Busy milking our silk purses, needing life on easy street. 


STAT emergency Island Tech team summoned, meeting at Big Table forged from ebony hardwoods.

“Boss we’ve problems.”  Whilly Booster says.

Whilly with me from USA success, tech maestro.  Got hooked up with sister of Miss Galway runner up, living the life.

“Video of the lake from surveillance cameras on Island hill.”

Deer stops by to take a drink, out from the surface terrifying bird appears, monster’s massive beak grabs the animal, blood in the water.  Loud curdling noises.  Two monster birds shriek over remains on the sands.  Stunned then excited, watching to determine where our sun could shine brightest.

“Tadpole to frog, metamorphosis occurred!  Could have anticipated.”

More feathers in my cap, two for one.  Genius!

Do not falter or lose, carry on regardless.  My motto!

“We found gangs of feral cats scaring the dodos.”  Observant Whilly.


“Now ain’t that something, perchance exciting times!  Gain of function!  Titanius Walleri!  Monster bird lived over two million years ago in South America reached 6 feet tall.  Hell with Volquard it’s Walleri time.  Fear induced genes expressed, ingrained for protection.  Genetic evolutionary reversion from dodo to Walleri,  for survival make perfect sense!  What a bonus.” 

Vestigial genes expressed, six week human embryo’s have a tail, gone by 8 weeks.  Look I’m not making this up.

“Wait till Hollywood get a load of this.”

Customers big bucks not tiny islands. 

“When you go down to the woods today watch for Walleri.”  Says I with a grin.

Money in the bank.

“Have no fear, run faster than the other guy!  Situation is no different than pythons infesting Everglades.”

Meteor led to Walleri destruction, now against the odds we rescued them.  Miracle not cockatoos.

“Protect the shores, don’t want pirates coming.”

“Birds full of virus, maybe not stable.  Boss?”  Worry wart Whilly.

“Set cats amongst the pigeons!  Scare dodo out of them.  Find out best diet for Walleri.”

Monster Birds market potentials.

“Get more cats!”


Invited back on ‘Saturday Night’ show, royalty smug ready for shenanigans. Green polo sweater, pistol holstered on my hip.  Stephen had the floor. 

“Tonight’s show on the satellites.  Cead mile failte, delighted to have youse all.” 

Old blarney chit-chat.  Nation transfixed as when our World Cup penalty scored against Romania in 1990!  Bellowing from behind the scene.

“Michael what have you back there?  Heaven help us.  Are we safe or what?  Tell me now what on earth is the gun for?”

“Tranquilizer pellet like you might need sometimes.”

Stood for momentous revelation await further acclamations.

“Massive surprise tonight will change our world.  You know me, no trickery computer baloney!”

Large cart trundled out.

“Are you ready?”

Tarp whipped off, displayed Titanis Walleri!  Crowd amazed, but not anticipated TV studio scary for prehistoric birds.  Pea-sized brain of producers stressed now generating confusion.  Our horse trailer safely transferred Walleri, six feet, huge wing span, vicious bone snapping beak from the lake.  TV experts promised to construct a steel bar cage, instead ramshackle, wood painted silver!  Sensing fear and being hungry Walleri flipping about busted out, wing tip talons, bone shattering beak.  Audience sat as sitting ducks. 

Pearl in the crown, causing peril.

Must reveal monster now D-D morphed to a beast.  What a scardy cat.  Ferocious carnivore predator loose, stalwart cameras recording the melee.  What a sales pitch!

“Michael shoot that thing!”  Demanded Burns.

Investment damaged, assets invested?  Not happening until last resort.  Needed ‘Go Viral!’  ‘Savage beast insurance’, TV bosses signed off, influenced by somnambulant D-D dodo experience.

What’s worse that could happen?

Elderly bodies whacked tossed by the beak, no lethal bruises.  Given high stakes collateral damage inevitable. Bit of concussion few aspirin great memories.  Bore the neighbours for ages.  Boisterous night out for pensioners sat in way of progress. Once in a life time experienced rampaging ancient birds.  That’s something else.  Most got off easy. 

No pain no gain, important it’s on TV!  Finally I sprung to action, whistle and sunflower seeds.  In a grossly enlarged brain D-D had déjà-vu moment.  Pirouette twirled licked the seeds.  Seizing trusting moment whacked her with a dart.  Beast collapsed hot heavy as Icarus.

“Sorry dear D-D, humans now rule the roost.”

Stephen crawled from under the desk, tickled pink with blood spatters.  With ratings through the roof, as ambulances arriving.

Iversens ruling the waves. 


That journey home sharing notions.  Have Walleri fights ‘bread and circuses’ coliseums as Bullfights. Better than Aussie sharks and saltee crocs.  We’d seen pandas sit eat bamboo, Zoo’s under water with seals and dolphins, morose elephants, constrained tigers and motionless pythons.  Cream of the crop T Rex, potential tissue under Antarctica reported could be leap and bounds.  Hope it’s not a penguin or Southern polar bear.  Not one trick ponies, or obsolete.

Need get beyond ancient birds.


Fly appeared in the ointment

Shower next morning, suffering from celebration hang over, noticed feathers growing on my chest before only whispy hair. Maybe good for insulation in cold climates, suspected I’d laid an egg, even one mouse tail spoils the broth.  Island workers panicking with their feathers.  Folks saying we were too far advanced resurrecting species.  Hatching my plan to leave on a private plane from Shannon airport.  One bright spark lad instructed by his mother, on a daily dose of cod liver oil escaped the epidemic.  Panic subsided, that therapy useful for every malady.  Second generation birds with no virus, tabled a memo buy stock in cod liver oil.  Back on track but prohibited from Walleri breeding.  Dreams shattered, deemed a menace.  However proud that we found a way.  Faced by authorities I will not be killing two birds with one stone.  That had to be stated.

Eventually Robin and I travelled to Mal’away, two dodos in a sound proof container.  Nation delirious, promise fulfilled, greeted by crowds like Rock stars.  Birds free to enter the forest free of rats. 

“In my time I restored Mal’away birds, for generations.  Endured difficulties for extreme endeavors.  Do not condemn we were brave alone in that strange world.”