After an anxious 24 hours, bird watchers can relax: Monty, one half of Chicago’s beloved piping plover lovebird duo, has arrived at Montrose Beach Dunes, and been reunited with his mate, Rose.
“We are so relieved. I’ve been like a nervous Nelly,” said Leslie Borns, site steward at the dunes.
In 2020, Monty and Rose returned to Chicago within hours of each other on May 1, despite setting out from Texas and Florida, respectively. This year, Rose was spotted at the dune on Sunday, but Monty lagged a full day behind.
The two, who haven’t seen each other all winter, will spend the next several days foraging for food, getting reacquainted and engaging in courtship behavior. Then they’ll go house hunting, searching for the ideal nest site, Borns said.
A plover nest is largely just a depression in the sand, surrounded by some rocks and twigs for camouflage. In the past, Monty has made nearly 20 “scrapes,” or pre-nest depressions, before the couple makes a final decision.
They’ll have even more options in 2021, between the recent addition of a sizable stretch of beach to the dunes’ protected area, and a stormy winter that pushed sand into an area previously underwater.
“Those are two huge areas they wouldn’t have considered before,” Borns said.
Depending on the weather, and on how long it takes the plover pair to decide where to nest, it may be a couple weeks before Rose lays eggs, said Louise Clemency, supervisor of the Chicago field office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Last year, eggs appeared two and a half weeks after the birds’ return.
Once an egg is spied, conservation officials from the Fish and Wildlife Service and Illinois Department of Natural Resources will coordinate with the Chicago Park District to secure the site.
A group of volunteer plover monitors, working in two-hour shifts, will then keep an eye on the nest to make sure no humans, dogs or predators disturb the plovers.
Monty and Rose have been joined, at least temporarily, by a third wheel: Another female plover, identified by her leg band, is hanging out at Montrose, resting up on her way to Sleeping Bear Dunes. She was first spotted at Rainbow Beach before continuing north, further proof, Borns said, of how importance natural areas along Chicago’s lakefront are to the endangered birds.