The nesting site of Chicago’s beloved piping plover duo, Monty and Rose, has come under attack from a threat no one saw coming: a balloon.
Surveillance cameras recently captured images of a mylar balloon bumping up against the wire enclosure that protects the plovers’ clutch of four eggs. Monty and Rose were both off the nest, likely a defensive move after perceiving the balloon as a predator, said Louise Clemency of the Fish & Wildlife Service, who headed down to Montrose Beach in the pre-dawn hours of May 17 to remove the balloon, which she described as the size of a gull or skunk.
The 2021 breeding season of @MontyPlover and @RosePlover was almost brought to an end this weekend by, not a predator or natural forces, but a balloon. Trash like balloons kills countless birds every year. Say no to balloons!https://t.co/BOl8N4RbXz
— Chicago Ornithological Society (@chicago_birder) May 24, 2021
Wildlife officials have no way of knowing whether the balloon scare disrupted the plovers incubation schedule to the point that it will have any effect on the chicks.
“If the plovers are off the eggs longer than they would have otherwise been, there could be delays in growth or development,” Clemency said. “What we don’t know is what would have been the incubation schedule that night in the absence of the balloon. Early in incubation, the plovers are not always on the nest at night, though pretty much since the balloon incident there has been a plover incubating the eggs almost every time a photo is taken.”
News of the invasive balloon spread among members of the birding community. A website chronicling the adventures of Monty and Rose stated: “We do not know whether the incident will have a long-term deleterious effect on the eggs. What we do know is that the balloon should have never been there.”
Wildlife advocates have long been critical of such inflatables and the dangers they pose not just to plovers but to all birds and other animals such as turtles, whether startling a bird off nest, entangling creatures in a string or rubber, being mistaken for food or disintegrating into microplastics.
Balloon releases have been outlawed in several states, with Illinois poised to pass a prohibition against releasing balloons outdoors. The legislation, which has cleared the Illinois House and is now being considered by the Senate, sets fines at up to $1,000 per offense.
One of the most controversial balloon releases occurs every Memorial Day weekend, as part of the celebrations surrounding the Indianapolis 500 race. Thousands of balloons are sent soaring during pre-race festivities over the objections of environmentalists.
According to IndyStar, the release has been canceled for the second year in a row due to COVID-19 restrictions. Officials from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway previously told The Star that discontinuing the release wasn’t on the table, but then reversed course, saying the practice is being reevaluated.
After taking a neutral stance for many years, The Balloon Council — an organization representing retailers, distributors and manufacturers — recently came out against releases, stating: “Americans love balloons, but for many reasons no longer support balloon releases…. We stand with communities by encouraging that balloons be weighted, not released outdoors, and disposed of properly when broken or deflated. Whether it’s a single balloon or hundreds, let’s keep them from flying away.”