My sister was the first in our family of birdwatchers to hear the news. Up at 5 o’clock to get ready for work, she awoke to the National Public Radio broadcast that broke the story of the ivory-billed woodpecker’s return. “It could be pregnancy hormones that makes me all weepy at this news,” she wrote in an e-mail to us on the morning we heard that a kayaker in Arkansas had lived every birder’s dream. No, it wasn’t hormones that made her cry, I told her later—unless I was pregnant too, as well as all the other birdwatchers overcome with emotion at the news that the ivory-billed woodpecker wasn’t extinct after all.
More than 60 years had elapsed since the last conclusively documented sighting of the bird in the United States, and most birders chalked up anecdotal reports of sightings since 1944 as amateurish confusion with the similar pileated woodpecker. Desire can blur one’s vision—and many, many people have yearned to see this bird with an almost religious longing. In fact, the ivory-bill has been called the “Lord God Bird” because observers were moved to exclaim, “Lord God, look at that bird!”