SOUTH SHORE — A rare Great Lakes piping plover was spotted this week at Rainbow Beach, which was recently named by birders as the most promising new nesting site for the endangered bird. Neighbors hope to encourage the plover to stay by cleaning the beach this weekend.
The tiny bird was spotted Tuesday at Rainbow Beach, 3111 E. 77th St., by Ian Sarmiento, a photographer and member of the Chicago Piping Plovers.
The group represents environmentalists’ efforts to care for Monty and Rose, who captured the city’s heart when they nested at Montrose Beach in 2019 — the first time piping plovers had done so in Chicago since 1955.
The Rainbow Beach plover, which has marking tags on its legs, is neither Monty nor Rose. Fans hope that pair will return to Montrose Beach for the fourth consecutive year in the coming days. Monty was most recently spotted in Texas, where he winters. Rose heads to Florida.
There’s no guarantee the new Great Lakes piping plover will decide to mate and nest at Rainbow Beach, said Edward Warden, president of the Chicago Ornithological Society.
Chicago is a hub for migrating birds of all species, and in most years “we get a couple [plovers] at least — and sometimes several — that stop here on our various beaches to feed, hangout and rest before they continue their journey to somewhere farther north on the Great Lakes,” Warden said.
But if the plover does stay at Rainbow Beach, “step one would be to freak out,” Warden said.
“Everybody will lose our minds if that happens,” he said. “Sure, Monty and Rose trailblazed in that regard, but the idea that we could have a second pair in Chicago would be mind-boggling.”
The next step would be to recruit volunteers to protect and monitor the plovers — though birders have a jump on preparing the space with a cleanup event this weekend.
The Chicago Audubon Society and the state and local ornithological societies will host a spring cleaning 10 a.m. Saturday at Rainbow Beach Park.
An RSVP is required to volunteer. For more information on the cleanup, click here.
Rainbow Beach Park “is a very promising space” for nesting plovers, with plenty of room and opportunities for the birds to find food and shelter, Warden said. Experts who assessed Chicago’s beaches after Monty and Rose’s arrival determined the South Shore park “was the top choice, following Montrose, for a site that has what it takes to host plovers,” he said.
Rainbow Beach provides “a combination of a fantastic restored dune habitat right next to an expansive, sandy beach,” Warden said. “They need both. They can’t just plop down on a bare sandy beach, and they don’t like those perfect dunes either.”
Though the South Side beach serves as prime real estate for plovers, “the same threats that Monty and Rose face at Montrose — stray frisbees, stray dogs, garbage [and] predators — are also going to be at play at Rainbow,” Warden said.
If the new plover and a mate settle on the South Side, volunteers would see where the birds nest and determine how to help them succeed, Warden said.
Birding experts don’t know quite where the bird is from, though they know it’s from the Great Lakes and not a member of the Atlantic coast or Great Plains populations, Warden said. He’s awaiting further details on where exactly within the Great Lakes region the plover came from.
About 70 nesting pairs of piping plovers live around the Great Lakes region, according to the Great Lakes Piping Plover Conservation Team.
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