The ivory-billed woodpecker, last seen in 1944 and long assumed to be extinct, is alive and well and living in Arkansas.

One is, at least.

A male ivory bill was seen by a lone kayaker on Feb. 11, 2004, in a cypress and tupelo-gum swamp in northern Arkansas. Since then there have been six other sightings. A year ago this week, a video camera mounted in a canoe recorded four seconds of the bird in flight, catching its distinctive white wing patches.

"This is confirmed. This is dead solid confirmed," said John W. Fitzpatrick, head of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the lead author of a paper describing the discovery published online yesterday by the journal Science.

Word of the woodpecker's survival -- long rumored, never proved -- came at a news conference here featuring two Cabinet secretaries, two senators, half a dozen biologists (including one who moved from the Netherlands to pursue the elusive bird), representatives of several conservation organizations and the kayaker. They spoke with amazement, ardor and reverence.

"I can't begin to tell you how thrilling it is. It's thrilling beyond words," Fitzpatrick said.

"The great thing about this discovery is that it fills us with the hope that just perhaps we did not destroy one of the most enchanting ecosystems in the United States," said Craig Manson, assistant secretary of the interior for fish, wildlife and parks.

"This bird has materialized miraculously out of the past but is also a symbol of the future," said Steve McCormick, president of the Nature Conservancy.

Few creatures have been more celebrated by American naturalists or shrouded in mystery as the ivory-billed woodpecker. Rediscovery of the bird, the subject of one of John James Audubon's paintings, marks the end of nearly 60 years of hoaxes, false alarms and frustrating searches.

Despite the unambiguous new report, much mystery remains.

The only confirmed sightings have been of male birds, all in a two-mile radius of the first glimpse in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. Scientists do not know whether it was the same bird each time.

Thirty scientists are now in Arkansas's 500,000-acre Big Woods ecosystem -- land intermittently flooded by tributaries of the Mississippi River -- looking for ivory bills. The last sighting was Feb. 15. One team recently heard what sounded like two birds calling to each other but did not see them. Everyone involved was sworn to secrecy until the Cornell team's analysis of the sighting and video was written, peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in a journal.

The Interior and Agriculture departments said they will spend about $15 million on preserving the bird's habitat.

Ivory bills rarely live longer than 15 years, so there have clearly been breeding pairs as late as the 1990s. Whether any remain is unknown. Young birds stay with their parents about two years and afterward are not prolific.

"If a pair raises two young in a year, it will be a good year," said Martjan Lammertink, 33, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Amsterdam sojourning in the United States. Observations from the 1930s suggest that a pair needs about 4,000 acres of forest. Because only 10 to 15 percent of the Big Woods system is ideal habitat, it seems likely there could be, at most, a dozen pairs.

The ivory bill is the largest woodpecker in North America, about 20 inches in height and with a wingspan as wide as 33 inches. It has piercing yellow eyes and a white pattern on its glossy black body that looks like a white heel when the wings are folded. The male is especially distinctive because of its brilliant, blood-red crest. The bird has an unusual, nasal toy-trumpet call.

Nancy Tanner, widow of famed Cornell University ornithologist James J. Tanner, who chronicled his encounters with the vanishing bird in the 1930s and '40s, once recalled that the ivory bills were nicknamed "King of the Woodpecker" and "Lord God Bird" because "that's what people blurted out when they saw the bird."

Tens of thousands of ivory bills once prowled the nation's southern forests. With their strong necks and sharp bills, they lived on a hard-to-exploit food source -- the insects and larvae invading newly dead, but not yet rotten, hardwoods. A description of ivory bills in a 1917 book noted that at the foot of the ancient trees, "huge piles of bark and slabs of wood are found which give convincing evidence of its power as a feathered axman."

As the old-growth bottomlands were logged, the habitat disappeared, and with it the bird. There were occasional reports of sightings in Texas, Florida, South Carolina and elsewhere, but invariably they proved impossible to confirm.

In January 2002, a team of the world's most experienced bird experts spent a month wading through 35,000 acres of southern Louisiana swamp in hopes of confirming a reported sighting by a 21-year-old forestry student at Louisiana State University. The team, organized by LSU, Cornell University and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, failed to turn up conclusive evidence.

"It was not only like looking for a needle in a haystack," said James Van Remsen Jr., an ornithologist at LSU, "but a moving needle in a haystack."

Then Gene M. Sparling, 49, a red-bearded father of two from Hot Springs, Ark., got lucky.

He was on the second day of a four-day solo paddle through the Big Woods in February 2004. It was about 1 p.m. and overcast. He was drifting down a small stream that had flooded the woods.

"I had just set my paddle down and had leaned back in my seat and was thinking what a beautiful, fantastic, awe-inspiring place this was," he said yesterday.

Out of the treetops came a huge woodpecker, straight at him. It landed on a tree trunk about 60 feet away. Sparling's camera was in rubber bag on his lap, but he did not go for it. Instead he looked at the bird and noted its markings before it moved up the trunk, playing peekaboo with him, and flew away.

For the next two days, Sparling argued with himself. He knew what he had seen was not a pileated woodpecker -- the ivory bill's almost-as-impressive cousin -- but he could not believe it was an ivory bill.

When he got home, he wrote up his trip for the Arkansas Canoe Club's Web site. He described what he had seen but did not name the bird. Word got around.

"I'm here to tell you wonderful amazing things can happen in this world," Sparling said.

An illustration highlights the ivory-billed woodpecker's unusual plumage. Video of the bird in flight is at washingtonpost.com.Filmmaker Timothy Barksdale, left, and the Nature Conservancy's Scott Simon search for signs of the woodpecker.