Chasing the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

Lindsey Liles in Garden & Gun:

The bird has many names, often divinely inspired: the Lord God Bird, the Lazarus Bird, the Ghost Bird, the Grail Bird. Bobby Harrison is a religious man, but he doesn’t like any of them. He prefers to call it what it is: an ivory-billed woodpecker. “Well,” he says with a shrug, “it is just a bird, after all.”

That might seem like an undersell for someone who on this steaming August day is preparing to shove off into the humid, murky shade of an Arkansas swamp on his two-thousandth-plus search for the ivorybill, whose last-agreed-upon sighting in the United States occurred in 1944. But Harrison’s undersell has the ring of the believer: To him, the ivorybill is, like any other bird, made of hollow bones, feathers, a bill. It doesn’t have celestial powers; it’s not a messenger from on high. Instead, it’s still out in the Southern wilds, doing bird things, flying around as it always has. Harrison will tell you all this because he’s seen one. Other people will tell you, very firmly, that he has not—and the clock is now ticking for him to persuade them otherwise.

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