Monty, the male Piping Plover that died on Montrose Beach in Chicago on May 13, had a severe fungal respiratory infection, including a laryngitis that restricted his airway. Lincoln Park Zoo announced the finding this week after it conducted a necropsy of Monty in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Zoological Pathology Program.
Additional testing is being conducted to identify the fungus. Zoo officials suspect that it’s environmental in origin. Further testing concluded Monty did not show any signs of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), also known as bird flu.
In addition, samples from the necropsy have been reserved for Dr. Francie Cuthbert and Dr. Sushma Reddy at the University of Minnesota as part of a genetic study of the Great Lakes Piping Plover population.
Cuthbert, a distinguished teaching professor at Minnesota’s Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, says the frequency of fungal respiratory disease in wild birds as a group is not well known.
“Fungal disease in birds has mostly been studied in domestic poultry,” she says. “The most common respiratory fungus in wild birds is referred to as Aspergillosis, which is a group of respiratory fungi. The spores of this group are very common in the environment.” She notes that Aspergillosis is not believed to be the fungus that Monty had.
“Monty’s case is the first fungal respiratory disease detected in Piping Plovers,” Cuthbert explains, “but that is simply because in-depth necropsies on this species (and other wild birds) are extremely rare and are usually focused on more common causes of death such as Botulism E or this year, avian Influenza. A thorough necropsy is simply not done routinely. So, just how rare or common this cause of mortality is, is not well known for all birds in general.”
Monty’s remains will be provided to the Field Museum’s avian department to be available for future studies that contribute to the recovery of Great Lake Piping Plovers.
The zoo’s statement concludes: “Lincoln Park Zoo, USFWS, and all those dedicated to Monty and the Piping Plovers are devastated by this loss but remain hopeful for the future of this species in Chicago and the Great Lakes region.”
While Monty’s loss is significant, as a group, Piping Plovers are nesting again all around the Great Lakes this spring. Stephanie Cabala Schubel, the banding crew leader of the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Effort, says surveys from May 19 through June 1 “recorded a total of 54 pairs and 54 nests (50 active pairs). There are eight rescued eggs currently being incubated in the captive rearing center. The first wild eggs are expected to hatch on June 8th. The first captive chicks are due to start hatching around June 9th. We currently have the same number of nests as we had on this date in 2021.”
Memorial celebrates Monty and Rose
Monty’s mate since 2019, Rose, has not been reported since she left her wintering site on Anclote Key, on Florida’s Gulf coast. Migrations are among the most dangerous activities for any bird, and it’s possible that Rose died on her flight north.
In the three summers that Monty and Rose nested on Montrose Beach, the pair had two successful clutches. One fledged three chicks and the other fledged two. One of their first fledglings, Nish, partnered with a plover named Nellie, and last year, the two of them became the first Piping Plover pair to successfully nest in Ohio in 83 years, having their own successful clutch.
Imani, one of Monty and Rose’s fledglings from 2021, was spotted in Duluth, Minnesota, on May 16, and has been back on Montrose Beach in Chicago since around May 22.
More than 150 volunteers monitored Monty and Rose over their summers in Chicago. Many of them got together for a memorial service at Montrose on May 25 to remember their famous plovers.
At the event, Louise Clemency, supervisor of the Chicago field office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said:
“Piping Plovers evolved to nest on big, empty beaches; big, wide empty beaches without people. Monty and Rose chose to nest in the middle of a Chicago beach, with people and volleyballs and kayaks and Killdeer and skunks and so many things going on around them. And they were successful.”
To support the Great Lakes Piping Plover Research and Recovery Fund, managed through the University of Minnesota, make a donation here.