Carter Roberts, president of the World Wildlife Fund, summed up the emotions of many Thursday: "For a passionate birder like me, the search for the ivory-billed is the stuff of North American legend. This is monumental news for those who spent years trying to confirm that the species was still soaring through the swamps of Arkansas."
Scientists do not know how many ivory-billed woodpeckers there are in the region or, indeed, whether they have actually seen many or just one male. Because their lifespan is about 16 years, however, Fitzpatrick speculated that there was at least one breeding pair.
And why now? Researchers said the Big Woods area had been in the process of restoration for several years and was now about 40% along the way toward maturity. Restoration has probably provided new food and nesting sites for what might have been a very small group of the birds, allowing their numbers to expand to a point where they began to come into more contact with humans.
"In the end, these incredible birds remind us of a fundamental truth of biology -- life finds a way, if we just give it enough room," said Jamie Rappaport Clark of Defenders of Wildlife.