UPTOWN — Chicagoans love Monty and Rose — a little too much, apparently.
Days after the Great Lakes piping plovers reunited at Montrose Beach for a third straight summer, the birds’ preferred stomping grounds have been fenced off from the public. The Park District closed access to the Montrose Beach Dunes Natural Area, the agency confirmed Thursday.
Too many people were flocking to Monty and Rose’s territory, creating a dangerous situation for the endangered, migratory birds, according to birders and the local office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which requested the closure.
“Unfortunately, bad behavior by birders and photographers, such as chasing the birds to get a photo and observing from too close range, has disturbed the birds and prompted a change in plan,” Leslie Borns, a birder who coordinates volunteer efforts at Montrose, wrote in her newsletter Thursday.
Protective fencing was erected around the dunes natural area, the protected area on the easternmost section of the lakefront park, near Montrose Point. Monty and Rose frequent a section of the beach just added to the protected area, but that section usually remains open to the public.
That area of the lakefront will be off-limits at least until Monty and Rose choose a final nesting place, said Park District spokesperson Irene Tostado.
“This will allow for the endangered piping plovers to successfully find a nesting place without the threat of onlookers trying to get close to the birds,” Tostado said.
Monty and Rose returned Sunday and Monday, delighting Chicagoans who have rooted for the birds’ successful attempts to nest in the city.
The birds have been spotted along the southern tip of the beach and natural dunes area, which is a “high-traffic” area, said Louise Clemency, field supervisor for the local office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They have been foraging on the protected portion of the lakefront, which has been “encroached” on by photographers, Clemency said in an email to Park District officials.
Because of the human activity in the area, the federal wildlife service asked the city to close the Montrose natural area until a nest and eggs are spotted.
“We realize we had prior hoped we could leave most of the natural area open until they commit to a nest spot, but the reports of numbers of photographers etc has changed our sense of the disturbance risk,” Clemency said in the email.
Once a nest is spotted, the fencing can be scaled back to a smaller area around the nest, officials said.
The bird couple has successfully nested along the beach for the past two years. Their presence at the beach in 2019 marked the first time a pair of endangered piping plovers had chosen to nest in Chicago since 1955.
Their first effort to nest at the beach resulted in a conservation effort, which caused beach volleyball games to be relocated and a music festival to be canceled. Last year, the birds had the beach free of human interaction, as much of Chicago’s lakefront was off-limits during the spring and summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.
To avert human disturbances, the Park District this month added a 3-acre slice of the beach favored by the plovers to the adjacent dunes natural area. That area now has fencing around it, with signs saying, “A pair of endangered piping plovers are currently nesting here.”
There are still ways for the public to see Monty and Rose, Clemency said.
They can be observed by standing along the public beach-side of the fencing, from the beach walkway and from the Montrose pier, she said.
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