CHICAGO — Monty, half of the beloved piping plover duo who stole Chicago’s heart and made Montrose Beach their home, has died, birders said.
Monty died Friday. A bird watcher at the beach saw Monty breathing heavily; he stood, took a few steps and collapsed, said Tamima Itani, a bird watcher who has been active in protecting Monty and his mate, Rose.
Monty’s body has been taken to Lincoln Park Zoo to determine what happened to him, Itani said. There will be a memorial event in his honor, but the details have not yet been finalized. Fans of Monty and Rose can follow the Great Lakes Piping Plover group on social media for updates about the memorial.
“You know how dear he was to all of us,” Itani said through tears Friday. Monitors gathered at Montrose Beach, “just wanting to be where he was.”
Monty hatched in June 2017, so he was just shy of 5 years old, Itani said. Piping plovers do typically live to be about 5, Itani said, though she has seen some get as old as 16.
Itani said she’s also growing less optimistic Rose, Monty’s longtime mate, will return to the beach this year. Monty returned April 21 after spending the winter in Texas, but birders have not yet seen Rose in Chicago.
“There are still Great Lakes piping plovers coming back, but it’s getting late,” Itani said. “I’m afraid — I don’t know at this point; it’s hard to tell.”
Monty and Rose stole Chicago’s heart when they first nested at Montrose Beach in 2019, becoming the first Great Lakes piping plovers to nest in the city since the ’50s. They returned in 2020 and 2021 to raise chicks.
The city rallied around the plovers. A music festival that was supposed to happen in 2019 at Montrose Beach was canceled to ensure the birds would be protected. Bird watchers regularly kept guard over Monty and Rose at the beach and tried to ensure their eggs wouldn’t get eaten by other creatures.
Monty and Rose successfully raised several broods of chicks at the beach; at least one has settled nearby — in Ohio — and found a mate.
“They’re very rare birds,” Itani said. “We don’t get a chance to see many of them. And then they have such cute personalities, just the way they walk and behave.”
People who stopped by Montrose would light up when they saw Monty, Rose and their chicks, Itani said.
“They just have a really sweet personality,” Itani said. “Monty had so much — he had so much character. He was used to busy beaches and navigated them very well. Sometimes he would literally come and land on the wall, not too far from us, and show off.
“It was like he was the king of Montrose. He just had so much personality.”
Documentaries and books were made about the birds, and people would gather at the beach to watch them — though birders strived to keep people at a distance so the birds would be safe and wouldn’t get stressed.
“I think it’s an underdog story, for sure,” Bob Dolgan, a birder who made a documentary about the duo, said in April. “It’s an endearing story. They’re incredibly charismatic birds. They’re tenacious, in their own way. Monty’s a really beautiful father; Rose is a really tough mother. And I think that people just had gotten into it because it’s just such a unique story.”
Chicagoans called the news of Monty’s death devastating and sent their condolences to the birders who have passionately watched over the plovers.
“Not an exaggeration, this is devastating,” one person wrote on Twitter. “These birds gave a face to local environmental issues and really changed the way people in Chicago viewed our beaches and how they should be treated. One can only hope we will be lucky enough to see another set of plovers again soon.”
It’s possible Chicago will see other Great Lakes piping plovers, Itani said. The city gets two to three other plovers who come by the area every year, she said.
“We certainly hope that other piping plovers will come and settle a nest,” Itani said.
Those who wish to honor Monty’s life can donate to the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery program, Itani said. Donations can be made online.