Monty the Piping Plover Is Dead, Birding Community Stunned and Mourning

In a brief announcement on social media, news was shared Friday evening that Monty the piping plover has died.

Monty’s unexpected death left members of Chicago’s birding community stunned, as well as those who’ve been following his romance with mate Rose from afar for the past four years. 

The cause of death is unknown, but plover monitors said it was not due to predation. Plovers typically live fewer than five years, and Monty hatched in 2017. 

Leslie Borns, longtime steward at Montrose Beach Dune, was at the beach Friday and arrived at the scene minutes after Monty died. She spoke with plover monitor Daniela Herrera, who had been keeping an eye on Monty and witnessed his final moments, seeing him fall over a number of times in the dune habitat, appearing to gasp for air.

“She was just distraught,” Borns told WTTW News. “It happened so quickly. It was just complete shock and chaos.”

Borns immediately connected with agency partners at U.S. Fish and Wildlife and had the presence of mind to think to ask staff at the nearby Montrose Dock restaurant for ice and other materials needed to collect and transport Monty’s body. A group including Borns and lead plover monitor Tamima Itani, who had raced back from a birding festival in Indiana, rushed Monty to Lincoln Park Zoo for testing.

The veterinary team at the zoo will explore multiple potential causes of death and test results could take up to a week unless the cause is rapidly apparent, Borns said.

For Borns, the opportunity to be with Monty on his final journey provided a sense of peace and closure.

“Monty was a wild animal and nature is a very violent and precarious place. We are not in control of that. But to have been in the place to experience (Monty and Rose), that is a gift. I’m grateful to have helped create the space that attracted them here and I feel a great privilege to have been part of the experience and the lessons they imparted,” she said.

Among those lessons are the ways in which wildlife and cities can coexist.

“This incredibly rich habitat has been conserved and expanded over 22 years and provided an opportunity for endangered birds to nest. It shows the powerful effects of volunteer stewardship and conservation even in a huge urban area,” Borns said. “Hopefully other plovers will discover the site.”

Monty and Rose first captured attention in summer 2019, when they arrived at Montrose Beach and became the first pair of endangered Great Lakes piping plovers to nest in Chicago since 1948.

Piping plovers weren’t part of the average Chicagoans’ vocabulary, but birders immediately recognized the importance of the pair’s endeavors. Still, it took some doing to convince organizers of a music fest at the beach to pull the plug on the concert event and give the birds space to breed and raise their chicks.

The legend of Monty and Rose only grew in subsequent years, as the lovebirds returned to Montrose Beach in 2020 and 2021. Monty in particular gained almost mythic status for his epic migratory flights, covering the distance between Chicago and his wintering grounds in Texas in less than two days. 

He landed in Chicago this spring in late April, and expectations were that Rose wouldn’t be far behind. But Rose has yet to show. 

Reactions to his death poured in on social media, ranging from people who saw Monty daily, and paid tribute to his “curiosity and fierceness (and) his devotion to Rose,” to those who had never met Monty, but were inspired by the tale of the scrappy birds who picked the most improbable place to call home.

Plover stewards across the Great Lakes shared in Chicago’s loss. 

Many members of Chicago’s birding community are taking part in the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival this weekend. Filmmaker Bob Dolgan, who immortalized Monty and Rose on screens big and small, poured one out for Monty.

Reached via email by WTTW News, Dolgan said: “About one year ago, when I visited the beach in April, Monty practically walked up to me. It’s very unusual to connect with a wild bird in that way, especially one that is so endangered and in the middle of a metropolis.

“He gave us so much in the form of educating the public and helping people realize that there is wildlife on our beaches,” Dolgan continued. “He was also an incredible mate and father. I remember him going after so many bigger birds soon after arriving in 2019. I just had no idea that a little plover would chase off all the bigger birds on a Great Lakes beach. We all learned from him.”  

Monty’s avatar Twitter account thanked all of the stewards’ who safeguarded the plovers.

A thread from Vince Cavalieri, a wildlife biologist involved with the Great Lakes piping plover recovery effort, summed up Monty’s legacy.

Their choice of Montrose Beach in Chicago struck many experts as ill-guided, but in the end the pair showed that with help, an endangered species could successfully nest in Chicago — not just once, but three times, Cavalieri said.

The final words belonged to Tamima Itani, who led the community of plover monitors at Montrose Beach.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

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