For the first time since 1955, Piping Plovers in Chicago have hatched chicks.
One young bird hatched on Wednesday, July 17, and two more emerged the following day. A fourth egg in the nest didn’t hatch. After the 2018 breeding season, the Great Lakes population of Piping Plovers numbered only 67 breeding pairs, so every new chick is a cause for celebration. And that’s especially true when the birds breed in a big city.
The adult plovers arrived at Montrose Point (Hotspot Near You No. 74), one of the city’s best birding locations, in early June. In honor of their nesting site, local birders nicknamed the birds Monty and Rose. The birds first laid eggs in mid-June, but rising waters of Lake Michigan spurred wildlife officials to remove the eggs from the beach and send them to a captive rearing facility. Unfortunately, those eggs didn’t develop.
Monty and Rose tried again and now three young plovers are exploring their corner of the Windy City’s lakeshore.
We noted last month that a two-day concert was planned for late August in the vicinity of the nest. On Friday, after the new chicks had hatched, the organizers announced that the concert was cancelled. Conservationists had called for the concert to be moved because it would have brought 20,000 people to the beach each day.
The hatchlings are doing well, so far. “We’re probably about 14-16 days from the young birds being able to ‘hop-fly,’ and 16-20 days from the birds being able to sustain flight,” says Chicago birder Scott Judd. “Adult shorebirds will often begin their fall migration soon after hatching, so we are beginning to watch for signs that Monty or Rose may soon depart.”
He also tells me that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources decided not to band the young birds “to minimize stress/risk for the birds amidst an already stressful/risky situation as they fledge on the edge of a heavily used public beach area.”
Plover monitors keeping watch
About 200 plover monitors have been keeping watch on Monty, Rose, and the chicks in a coordinated effort of the Chicago Audubon Society, Chicago Ornithological Society, and Illinois Ornithological Society.
The monitors also perform “public outreach and education about the plovers from dawn till dusk every day, with at least one or two monitors covering every session, and often several more whenever possible,” Judd says.
“As the hatchlings grow and expand their range, additional monitoring will be added as much as possible to assure we can keep tabs on the birds and keep them as safe as possible from human or canine disturbance, predation, etc.,” he says.
Judd adds that monitors receive explicit instructions, which are updated as the situation evolves, from volunteer coordinators and state and federal wildlife officials.
“A recent example of this has been a once-daily ‘gull sweep’ to clear as many of the local Herring and Ring-billed Gulls as possible from the immediate protected area in which the plovers are feeding and resting.”
In a blog post about the plovers, Bob Dolgan, a board member of the Chicago Ornithological Society, says the presence of the plovers has helped educate many people about birds:
“One of the great outcomes of Monty and Rose nesting has been the opportunity to educate the public about the birds. People of all ages and all interest levels stop by to check out the nest. Some people have never heard of a plover. Other people have been coming to Montrose daily for years but have never stopped to look at birds. It’s taken on a life of its own, and I believe we now have a template to host these birds for years to come.”