How a pair of piping plovers can show us what’s possible for species around the globe
There’s something truly special about shorebirds. For one, at least here in the middle of the North American continent, most are only with us fleetingly. They’re generally passing through, first in the spring months, and then in a flash on their southward journey by mid-summer.
There’s also something about the great distances they travel. In the Western Hemisphere, there’s any number of species that breed north of the Arctic Circle and then winter in South America. These birds truly spend most of their lives on the wing.
Shorebirds’ mere existence seems precarious, perhaps more than many taxa. Our shorelines are dynamic environments, the conditions punishing for avian and hominid life alike. And there’s no doubt that habitat loss has affected these birds. Here in the Midwest, recreational use of shorelines puts them at odds with people more often than would be ideal.
Rose near the 2019 nest she had with Monty at Chicago’s Montrose Beach. Photo by Gordon Garcia.
One of the most resilient of all shorebirds has to be the Great Lakes Piping Plover, whose numbers dwindled all the way down to about a dozen pairs in the mid-1980s. These birds have survived generations of shoreline development around the lakes only to persist in a few pockets against the odds, aided by a systematic restoration effort led by an intrepid team of biologists, government agencies and volunteers.
All of these factors and more are what inspired us here in Chicago, Illinois, USA, when a pair of Piping Plovers decided to nest on one of our Lake Michigan beaches last year. It had been 64 years since we had nesting Piping Plovers, and they chose to nest on maybe the busiest beach in a city of nearly 3 million. These two birds, dubbed Monty and Rose, have rallied our city to support them, and have done volumes to educate the public about birds. They’ve also now reared a total of five chicks during the past two years, helping aid Piping Plover population growth with a dramatic urban area as the backdrop.
With World Shorebirds Day upon us, a thought keeps coming back to me: are Monty and Rose the most famous individual pair of shorebirds in the United States? Are they the most famous in the world? If so, it’s the iron will of these birds, and this species and their protectors, that have gotten them to this point. And here’s to their success showing what’s possible for shorebirds globally in the future.
Bob Dolgan is a birder, consultant and filmmaker based in Chicago. His film, “Monty and Rose,” chronicled Chicago’s first Piping Plovers to nest in the city since 1955. He is currently at work on a second film about the birds; for more information visit www.montyandrose.net or contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org.