Ashleigh Blackford has seen her share of dramatic bird releases over the years. She vividly recalls California condors soaring high into the sky and San Clemente loggerhead shrikes fluttering free. The tiny Florida grasshopper sparrow, on the other hand, merely hopped out of an open screen and skittered along the ground, says Blackford, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. Still, it was a thrilling moment to witness: one of the most endangered birds in the continental U.S.—one that just two years ago seemed doomed to extinction—had begun a remarkable comeback.

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