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Comeback Bird

Tales from the search for the ivory-billed woodpecker

During the last week of April, an e-mail zinging through the bird-watcher community spilled the beans on one of the biggest and best-kept secrets in ornithology. It proclaimed that North America's famed ivory-billed woodpecker was not extinct after all, but Terry Rich of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wasn't excited. He had heard that story too many times before. Since the last widely accepted sighting in Louisiana in 1944, the bird had become the UFO of ornithology, with spottings claimed occasionally but not persuasively. Logging early in the past century destroyed most of old forests that nurtured the bird in the Southeast. Rich says that he and most other ornithologists had given up hope of finding an ivory-billed.

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