Monty and Rose, who rose to local fame in 2019 as the first federally endangered piping plovers to raise a family in Chicago in nearly 60 years, set out from the North Side beach where they spent three summers .
But the hope the carefree little shorebirds have raised for their species continues to grow.
The Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team announced a record breeding season in 2022, with 149 wild chicks reaching the fledgling – or fledgling – stage the most since official counts began in 1984.
“I feel ecstatic,” said Jillian Farkas, Great Lakes piping plover coordinator with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who noted that in 2020, only 87 wild chicks survived to become fledglings.
“The fact that we had almost 150 fledged chicks – just with the wild population – is fantastic. When you have such a high fledgling rate, it makes you really excited for what’s to come,” said Farkas.
Plus, she said, there’s one more wild chick set to fledged this summer, and there are 10 more captive-bred chicks either fledged or expected to fledged.
Declared endangered in 1986, piping plovers in the Great Lakes region likely benefited from lower lake levels this year, which created more habitat, as well as monitoring, predator management at several sites and the absence of major storms, Farkas said.
Overall, there are now 72 breeding pairs of piping plovers in the Great Lakes region, Farkas said, less than half of the 150 pairs needed for the birds to be delisted as endangered. .
Slightly larger than sparrows, with big black eyes, stubby beaks, bold black and white markings, and orange feet, piping plovers are charismatic little birds, and Chicagoans quickly embraced Monty and Rose when they started breeding at Montrose Beach in the summer of 2019.
The birds have appeared on shirts and beer cans, as well as in two documentary films.
The pair returned to nest at Montrose in the summers of 2020 and 2021 and produced a total of seven fledglings.
This year’s piping plover season got off to a sad start. Rose never returned from her wintering grounds, and Monty died suddenly of a respiratory infection at Montrose Beach on May 13.
But even as they wept at Monty’s funeral, fans noted the presence of Monty and Rose’s son, Imani, born in 2021, who landed in Montrose 10 days after his father’s death.
“I hope the sadness will dissipate and be replaced by joy and gratitude,” said Leslie Borns, longtime Montrose Beach dune steward, as she gazed at Monty and Rose’s son.
Seemingly ready for love, Imani dug shallow nests in the sand and chased away the larger birds.
“He basically had a territory close to (the) pier and anyone who got close to it, he was constantly chasing them,” said Tamima Itani, senior volunteer coordinator for the Chicago Piping Plover Monitoring Program. “It was fun to watch, because it reminded me so much of Monty.”
Unfortunately, Imani did not find a mate in Montrose this year and left around July 11.
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Rose never showed up at Montrose this summer, a sign she is likely deceased, though a very small percentage of piping plovers will miss a summer season in the Great Lakes, according to Itani.
After Imani left Montrose, a young piping plover, born this summer, rested for a few days.
The mystery bird was not banded, but it’s possible it hatched in a nest in Michigan where monitors were unable to band the chicks, Itani said. The mysterious plover could also have come from an unguarded nest in the Great Lakes region, or even the Great Plains.
While Montrose is the only place where piping plovers have been observed successfully breeding in Chicago, the birds have been spotted passing by Rainbow Beach on the south side.
With the birds’ annual southward migration underway, there may be additional chances to see them at Montrose Beach, Rainbow Beach and Waukegan Municipal Beach in Lake County, Itani said. She asked fans to continue taking steps to protect birds, such as keeping dogs away from the beach.
“We want to give them safe passage,” Itani said. “Here in Chicago, we are truly proud of the love we have for our Piping Plovers.”