ivory-billed woodpeckersIt’s not often that people who love and want to preserve wild land and wild species get to enjoy unmitigated good news. Every battle won is only a temporary win, while battles lost are permanent failures. Today’s wildlife preserve might be tomorrow’s oil field, but a housing development is never going to turn back into a habitat.

That’s why I’ve been savoring last week’s announcement (with video) that ivory-billed woodpeckers have been seen, heard, and videotaped in the eastern Arkansas swamps. The last time anyone saw one, for sure, was in 1944 — which means the bird has been gone, and thought extinct, for longer than most of us have been alive. And then, suddenly, there it is, winging around in a remote swamp. The news seems so unexpected and so incredible that I’ve had trouble believing it–much as my great-grandmother doubted the moon landing, figuring that it was all a Hollywood stage production–and, strangely, the pictures that get beamed back every week from Cassini seem more real to me even now.

There’s no telling how many ivory-bills there are left, and the awful thing may be that that the bird could still disappear, for a second time, and this time forever. But for now, at least, the bird–a huge, beautiful woodpecker with a wingspan of 30 inches–is back.