MONTROSE BEACH — Good news for bird lovers: the pair of endangered Great Lakes Piping Plover chicks are thriving.
When Monty and Rose, two Great Lakes Piping Plovers, chose to nest at Montrose Beach, it captivated bird lovers across Chicago. A pair hadn’t been seen in the area for decades and there are only around 70 known mating pairs in existence.
Despite the threat of a major music festival impacting their nest, rising lake levels, a frigid and rainy June, off leash dogs and predatory birds, two fledglings (out of 8 eggs laid) have managed to survive.
Tamima Itani, Board Member of the Illinois Ornithological Society, said the chicks are nearly as big as their father. Since they have survived the crucial first 23 days after hatching, they are no longer fledglings.
“You would not believe how big they are,” she said.
Instead, they are referred to as “immature” birds until they reach close to a year in age. In other words, they are plover teenagers.
And like any teenager, the plovers are learning fast. Itani said they began flying over the weekend and are already soaring to great heights. She estimated the plovers flew the length of three football fields and were at least 6 to 12 feet off the ground.
Just this morning, a Peregrine falcon was spotted soaring over Montrose Beach. Itani said the plovers knew exactly what to do. They froze in place, blending in with the sand and not moving until the falcon had moved on to other prey.
“When they were much younger their parents would have to alert them,” she said.
The birds are spending most of their day outside their enclosure, even feeding near the edge of the lake.
Now, the birds are just days away from being left alone at Montrose Beach. Rose flew south over a week ago, as the mother usually leaves first. Monty won’t be a stay-at-home dad for long though — he could leave any day now, said Itani.
“Right now, Monty is feeding and fattening up for his journey south,” she said.
Since the chicks are no longer fledglings, The Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Plan has recorded that Chicago has successfully fledged two chicks. This is a big deal, said Itani, because Chicago hasn’t successfully recorded fledged plover chicks since 1955.
“It’s excellent news,” she said.
Itani said the piping plovers would not have been so successful this summer without the help of the Plover Watchers. Since June 3, 189 volunteers have taken shifts around the clock in order to help keep the plovers safe.
And there have been some close calls.
Over the weekend, an off-leash dog (which is illegal at Montrose Beach) came charging towards the enclosure. Plover Watchers sprang into action and stopped the dog from wreaking havoc.
“The plovers were clearly shaken,” she said.
One of the plover fledglings remained frozen for over 35 minutes. Later, the chick had trouble eating regularly from the stress. There have also been some cases of illegal fireworks, but Itani thanked the Chicago Police for their rapid response.
Scary moments aside, the Great Lakes Piping Plovers have acted as “ambassadors” for the Montrose Beach Bird Sanctuary, Itani said.
She said Chicagoans have come from all over, many with zero bird watching experience, to see Monty, Rose and their fledglings.
The bird sanctuary at Montrose Beach has housed more than 340 species of birds. It’s an incredible place that needs to be protected, said Itani.
According to Carl Giometti, president of the Chicago Ornithological Society, in just two and a half months, volunteers gave over 1,200 hours of time to ensure the success of the birds.
But now, their full-time watch is over, he said. In a Facebook birding group, one commenter called the end of the watch “bittersweet.”
But Plover Watchers will still be out there, just not around the clock. They will be especially vigilant during the Chicago Air and Water Show, he said.
The plover chicks will likely stay at the beach for another one to two weeks. They will eat and continue to gain confidence until they are ready for their long journey. Many Chicagoans will wish them good luck, hoping they visit Montrose Beach again next summer.
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