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David Wingate is known in Bermuda as the birdman and in the international conservation community as a living legend for single-handedly bringing back the cahow, or Bermuda petrel – a seabird that flies up to 82,000 miles a year, drinking seawater and sleeping on the wing.
For millennia, the birds came ashore every November to breed on this tiny North Atlantic island. But less than a decade after Bermuda's 1612 settlement, the cahows had vanished. Or so it was thought until the early 1900s, when tantalizing hints of their continued existence began to emerge. In 1951, two scientists invited fifteen-year-old Wingate along on a bare-bones expedition to find the bird. The team stunned the world by locating seven nesting pairs, and Wingate knew his life had changed forever. He would spend the next fifty years battling natural and man-made disasters, bureaucracy, and personal tragedy with single-minded devotion and antiestablishment outspokenness. In April 2009, Wingate saw his dream fulfilled, as the birds returned to Nonsuch, an island habitat that he had hand-restored, plant-by-plant, giving the Bermuda petrels the chance they needed in their centuries-long fight for survival.