CHICAGO — Monty the piping plover has returned to Chicago.
The beloved Great Lakes piping plover was spotted at Montrose Beach on Thursday, according to a tweet from the Chicago Piping Plovers group. A video shows Monty dashing along the lakefront.
There’s no sign of Monty’s longtime mate, Rose, yet, but the two have been coming to Montrose Beach every spring and summer since 2019 to raise chicks.
Bob Dolgan, a Chicago birder who made a documentary about Monty and Rose, said it’s naturally for the couple’s fans to worry about the birds when they’re gone. The two are getting older, and they face threats at their breeding grounds and in the spots where they winter, he said.
“You do worry about the birds throughout the winter,” Dolgan said. “When they do come back, it’s just a thrill that never gets old.”
But it’s no mystery as to why Chicagoans love the plovers, Dolgan said.
“I think it’s an underdog story, for sure,” Dolgan said. “It’s an endearing story. They’re incredibly charismatic birds. They’re tenacious, in their own way. Monty’s a really beautiful father; Rose is a really tough mother. And I think that people just had gotten into it because it’s just such a unique story.
“Also, I think that there’s a pretty big group of people who love nature even in the most urban sections of Chicago, and I think this is reflective of that. A lot of people consider Montrose Beach Dunes and the lakefront as a whole as sort of their backyard. When an interesting pair of birds show up in your backyard, people tend to kind of fall in love with them. It just happens this is one of the most rare species in North America, and they happen to choose Chicago.”
Birders knew Monty might be on his way, but it’s a mystery what happens between when he leaves Texas and arrives in Chicago, Dolgan said.
“He’s flying 1,000-plus miles,” Dolgan said. “When he gets here — and you’re talking a 7-inch-long bird that weighs just a couple of ounces — it’s always exciting.”
Rose was last seen in February in Florida, when a former Chicagoan kayaked to the spot where she winters, Dolgan said. The weather is warming up Saturday, and it’s possible she’ll choose to leave for Chicago then, he said.
“This is one of the true wonders of, I think, plovers but a lot of bird species in that these pairs come back to the same place even after spending winter apart, and oftentimes it’s within one to two days of each other,” Dolgan said. “How that’s possible is still an amazing mystery.”
It’d be “such an exciting outcome” if Monty and Rose’s chicks or other piping plovers eventually nest in Chicago, but it’s “really random” as to where they settle, Dolgan said. He’s excited about the potential for plovers nesting in the Indiana dunes, where they haven’t had chicks in almost a century, he said.
Monty and Rose stole Chicago’s heart when they first nested at Montrose Beach in 2019, becoming the first Great Lakes piping plovers to nest in the city since the ’50s. They’ve returned every year since to raise chicks.
The city has rallied around the plovers. A music festival that was supposed to happen in 2019 at Montrose Beach was canceled to ensure the birds would be protected. Bird watchers regularly keep guard over Monty and Rose at the beach and try to ensure their eggs don’t get eaten by other creatures.
The two have successfully hatched several chicks over the years — including one who has been seen nesting in Ohio, making Monty and Rose grandparents.
Members of the Chicago Piping Plovers group have asked fans to give the birds space, seek monitors who can guide people to a safe spot for viewing the plovers and keep the beach clean.
The plover mania has spread, too. Another plover — this one a Great Plains plover — was spotted at Montrose Beach on Wednesday, and a plover was seen Tuesday at Rainbow Beach in South Shore, though it has now moved on to its usual spot in Michigan.
“I think there is enough habitat [at Rainbow Beach], and I think there’d be enough of a fanbase, volunteer base, to look over a piping plover pair,” Dolgan said.
But officials would need to expand natural areas for the birds and stop actions that aren’t good for them, like beach combing, Dolgan said. Its “likely” plovers nested all along Chicago’s lakefront before Europeans settled the area, he said.
The Chicago Piping Plovers group identified the Rainbow Beach plover as a 5-year-old female called Of,bY:X,G. Though she’s moved on, bird lovers are organizing a weekend cleanup of Rainbow Beach to ensure it’s in good condition for potential plovers.
An RSVP is required to volunteer. For more information on the cleanup, click here.
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