Monty and Rose, who achieved local fame in 2019 as the first federally endangered plovers to start a family in Chicago in nearly 60 years, have disappeared from the North Side beach where they spent three summers.
But the hope the happy little shorebirds have sparked for their species continues to grow.
The Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team has announced a record-breaking breeding season in 2022, with 149 wild chicks reaching the fledgling — or flying — stage, the most since official counts began in 1984.
“I feel ecstatic,” said Jillian Farkas, the Great Lakes water plover coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, noting 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 airspeed, you get really excited for what’s to come,” Farkas said.
In addition, she said, there is another wild chick expected to fledge this summer, and there are 10 more captive chicks that have fledged, or are expected to fledge.
Declared endangered in 1986, the Great Lakes plovers likely benefited from this year’s lower lakes, creating more habitat as well as monitoring, predator management in several locations and a lack of major storm events, Farkas said.
In all, there are now 72 breeding pairs of pipe plovers in the Great Lakes region, Farkas said, less than half of the 150 pairs needed to remove the birds from the endangered species list.
A little larger than sparrows, with large dark eyes, stubby beaks, bold black and white markings, and orange legs, plovers are charismatic little birds, and Chicagoans quickly embraced Monty and Rose when they began breeding on Montrose Beach.
The birds appeared on shirts and beer cans, and in two documentaries.
The pair returned to nest in Montrose in the summers of 2020 and 2021 and gave birth to a total of seven young.
The pipe plover season started sadly this year. Rose never returned from her wintering grounds, and Monty died suddenly of a respiratory infection on Montrose Beach on May 13.
But even as they mourned at Monty’s funeral, fans noticed the presence of Monty and Rose’s son, Imani, born in 2021, who landed in Montrose 10 days after his father died.
“I hope the sadness melts away and gives way to joy and gratitude,” said Leslie Borns, a longtime Montrose Beach dune manager, as she watched Monty and Rose’s son.
Apparently ready for love, Imani dug shallow nests in the sand and chased away larger birds.
“He basically had an area close to (the) pier, and anyone who came near it was constantly chasing them away,” said Tamima Itani, chief volunteer coordinator for Chicago Piping Plovers’ monitoring program. “That was nice to see because it reminded me so much of Monty.”
Unfortunately, Imani did not find a partner in Montrose this year and left around July 11.
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Rose never showed up at Montrose this summer, a sign she likely died, although a very small percentage of plovers will miss a summer season near the Great Lakes, Itani said.
After Imani left Montrose, a young plover, who had just hatched this summer, landed for a few days.
The mysterious bird wasn’t striped, but it’s possible it hatched in a nest in Michigan where monitors hadn’t been able to connect the chicks, Itani said. The mysterious plover may also have come from an uncontrolled nest in the Great Lakes region, or even the Great Plains.
Although Montrose is the only place where pipe plovers breed successfully in Chicago, the birds have been spotted migrating through Rainbow Beach on the south side.
With the birds’ annual southern migration underway, there may be additional chances to see them at Lake County’s Montrose Beach, Rainbow Beach and Waukegan Municipal Beach, Itani said. She asked fans to continue taking measures to protect the birds, such as keeping dogs away from the beach.
“We want to give them safe passage,” Itani said. “Here in Chicago, we are really proud of how much we love our plovers.”