Race to save pip­ing plovers

Endangered birds’ habi­tats en­croach on hu­mans and can­celed Mamby mu­sic fest

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Christo­pher Bor­relli

Monty ran into Rose at Mon­trose Beach in early June and im­me­di­ately, right there in the chilly spring air, on a busy stretch of Lake Michi­gan, be­gan hav­ing a lot of sex. We know be­cause Tamima Itani, a re­tired vice pres­i­dent of a med­i­cal de­vice com­pany who lives in Evanston, was watch­ing. She took notes. As did oth­ers. In fact, a lot of peo­ple, for the past cou­ple of years, have taken a lot of notes on Monty and Rose. We know, for in­stance, that Monty was born in Sil­ver Lake State Park, near Muskegon, Michi­gan, in 2017, amid the dune bug­gies and tourists. And we know Rose was born in Muskegon, be­side a park­ing lot.

We know Monty and Rose first met in

Waukegan, in the spring of 2018. Both had flown into town sep­a­rately, though most likely, both win­tered in South Carolina. They set­tled for the sum­mer in a park­ing lot across from Waukegan Mu­nic­i­pal Beach. It wasn’t the loveli­est of va­ca­tion spots. The park­ing lot is made of loose rocks. Smokestack­s loom. The beach gets crowded, and the shore­line is not with­out Ari­Zona ice tea bot­tles and Star­bucks cups.

Yet Monty and Rose ro­manced there, Rose gave birth there; the Illi­nois De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources even fenced off their boudoir to pro­vide the cou­ple with pri­vacy. All was well.

Un­til lo­cals be­gan do­ing dough­nuts per­ilously close to the sum­mer res­i­dence of

Monty and Rose. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice , fear­ing worse, swept in and re­moved Monty and Rose’s fledg­ling clutch from their care and drove the un­hatched off­sprint into north­ern Michi­gan, to be raised in less chaotic cir­cum­stances.

As do­mes­tic bliss goes, Waukegan was a bust.

Monty re­turned to the park­ing lot this past spring. He was alone this time. It was Easter morn­ing. He stayed for a lit­tle while. Then he left and ren­dezvoused with Rose at Mon­trose.

Within weeks of their re­u­nion, Rose was preg­nant again. But life didn’t get hap­pier: Monty and Rose had made their home un­wit­tingly close to the planned lo­ca­tion of the Mamby on the Beach mu­sic fes­ti­val, not to men­tion acres of vol­ley­ball courts. They had set­tled in the path of the tens of thou­sands of beach­go­ers who flock to Mon­trose ev­ery sum­mer.

Monty and Rose are pip­ing plovers.

They’re small shore birds. Per­haps you’ve heard of Monty and Rose. Rose’s first clutch of eggs at Mon­trose, nearly swamped by spring rains and ris­ing lake lev­els, was re­moved and sent to Michi­gan, to a Univer­sity of Michi­gan re­search sta­tion near the Mack­inac Bridge, to be reared with more cer­tainty (alas, sev­eral weeks later, the clutch died).

Then Rose gave birth again. This sec­ond clutch of eggs has al­ready hatched three chicks; a fourth egg did not hatch, plac­ing Monty and Rose firmly into the 75% suc­cess rate for pip­ing plover eggs raised in the wild. If th­ese chicks are raised with­out in­ci­dent — about 50% sur­vive long enough to fly, with most tak­ing about 23 days to learn to fly — the birds should be air­borne by early Au­gust.

And that would be re­mark­able.

Be­cause pip­ing plovers are fed­er­ally endangered in the Great Lakes. Though there’s some ev­i­dence the species set­tled near Wolf Lake on the Illi­nois-In­di­ana bor­der as re­cently as 1961, Monty and Rose are the first pip­ing plovers con­firmed to nest in the city of Chicago; and their three new chicks are first pip­ing plovers born in Cook County in al­most 60 years.

As of early July, there are a mere 73 pairs of pip­ing plovers across the Great Lakes. Monty and Rose are the only two nest­ing on the Chicago side of Lake Michi­gan. But the birds, once fa­mil­iar on its west­ern shore­line, were never ubiq­ui­tous here. Ac­cord­ing to Fran­cie Cuth­bert, a pro­fes­sor of wildlife bi­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Min­nesota who has spent the past four decades try­ing to re­vive this bird’s for­tunes in the Mid­west, the en­tire Great Lakes pop­u­la­tion likely never topped 400.

Their prob­lem is, pip­ing plovers like what we like.

Their pre­ferred habi­tat is our pre­ferred habi­tat — wide, sandy beaches with pleas­ant shore­lines. So, wher­ever they go — tourist haunts in the Great Lakes, re­sort is­lands on the Atlantic — they gen­er­ate tiny speck­led eggs and big con­tro­ver­sies. In Chicago, that has meant that the Mamby at the Beach mu­sic fes­ti­val, set for Mon­trose in late Au­gust, was was can­celed, af­ter weeks of spec­u­la­tion about how it might af­fect the birds. In a state­ment on Fri­day, or­ga­niz­ers cited the plovers as one rea­son for the de­ci­sion.

Luck­ily, for the plover, a small army of al­lies has been lead­ing a long­time con­ser­va­tion ef­fort through­out the Mid­west, to re­turn the bird to some nor­malcy in the Great Lakes, how­ever slowly. In the early 1990s, the pop­u­la­tion was about 15, and en­tirely in Michi­gan. To­day, plovers are in ev­ery Great Lakes state (as well as on the Cana­dian side of the lakes).

But af­ter 33 years on the endangered list, only 73 pairs is gla­cial progress, and the goal for com­plete re­cov­ery is mod­est — a mere 150 pairs. That’s for all of the Great Lakes.

So, th­ese al­lies, they sweat ev­ery bird.

“Com­pared with other endangered birds, plovers are hard,” says Vince Cava­lieri of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, who co­or­di­nates plover re­cov­ery in the Great Lakes. “With a lot of birds, health is tied to health of habi­tat. But plovers are in con­stant con­flict be­tween what hu­mans want and what’s best for plovers.” In other words, in an age of species de­cline, as wa­ter lev­els rise and habi­tat shrinks, as cli­mate change re­shapes our world, the fate of one species of bird is more than a sin­cere cause. It’s also a help­ful les­son: How much will or­di­nary peo­ple do to save an endangered species?

Alice Van Zo­eren has been catch­ing, band­ing and track­ing plovers for 15 sum­mers; Stephanie Schubel has been do­ing it for 16 sea­sons. They are two of the dozen or so peo­ple in the Great Lakes fed­er­ally li­censed to band the pip­ing plover, and they rarely seem far apart. In the field, they com­mu­ni­cate on walki­etalkies among them­selves, and to ad­di­tional ban­ders, bird mon­i­tors and park rangers, most in long-sleeve trail shirts and light pants, lug­ging tele­scopes, their sa­fari vests sag­ging low with gear.

On a morn­ing in June, they are mov­ing slowly along the east­ern shore of Lake Michi­gan. They are shad­owed on one side by the tow­er­ing sands of Sleep­ing Bear Dunes Na­tional Lakeshore in north­ern Michi­gan, hemmed in on the other by a sliver of swamped beach.

You hear plovers be­fore you see plovers.

Pleep … pleep, pleep … pleep …

The sound is mourn­ful and sweet. It also serves as a GPS. The birds are like Magic Eye puz­zles, so seam­lessly in­te­grated into their palate of wet sand and rip­pling marsh, they are re­vealed only af­ter star­ing for a while at where you guess they are. The day is bright and windy, and sand kicks across the face of Stephen Brede, a re­tired Michi­gan news­pa­per­man who works now as a plover mon­i­tor about 30 hours a week. He tugs a scarf onto his nose. He’s flanked by Schubel, whose eyes scan the ground for the skit­ter­ing birds. She grew up near Sag­i­naw, work­ing a cash reg­is­ter at her fam­ily’s gokart busi­ness. She fell in love with plovers at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan. She peeks through binoc­u­lars, stares into veg­e­ta­tion, speaks in a rush: “We push them to the shore or lose them in the grass.”

Van Zo­eren, her­self a UM grad­u­ate whose grand­fa­ther devel­oped the Ann Ar­bor Park Dis­trict, and whose long white hair and chis­eled ex­pres­sion look rem­i­nis­cent of pi­o­neer women, crack­les through the walkie-talkie: “Right, let’s all move for­ward a lit­tle bit now.”

About 30 pairs of the birds al­most half the Great Lakes pop­u­la­tion re­turn an­nu­ally to Sleep­ing Bear, so it’s where Schubel and Co., the Great Lakes Pip­ing Plover Con­ser­va­tion Team, con­cen­trate at­ten­tion. The band­ing pro­gram which tags and tracks plovers, pro­vid­ing a pop­u­la­tion sur­vey is 26 years old. But only in the past decade, through the fed­er­ally driven Great Lakes Restora­tion Ini­tia­tive, has there been pre­dictable fund­ing for plovers. Be­fore that, what­ever hope there was to save the birds meant cob­bling to­gether oc­ca­sional gov­ern­ment and non­profit re­sources.

The team’s chick catch­ing thing-a-ma-jigs, how­ever, come cour­tesy of Van Zo­eren. They are hand­sewn cir­cus tents with net­ted big tops for trap­ping the fast, dart­ing plover chicks.

Schubel and Van Zo­eren and oth­ers fan out, form­ing a large perime­ter around a nest. “Ev­ery­one ready,” Schubel says, then slowly the group pushes in­ward. What hap­pens next is fairly pre­dictable: The parental plovers fly off, the chirps of their chicks grow ur­gent, then, with­out a clear sig­nal, the team pounces. What un­folds re­sem­bles a kind of per­verse episode of “Cops,” though in­stead of naked fugi­tives bolt­ing out a door and flee­ing across a lawn, pic­ture puffs of cot­ton sprint­ing across a beach.

The team kneels in wet sand and care­fully lifts each chick into a sack; the birds are weighed, recorded and banded with a track­ing tag, which is wrapped around a leg and sol­dered. (Schubel, who tagged Monty and Rose this way, says plover legs are so thin, the sol­der­ing only burns the per­son do­ing the band­ing.) They only go through the trou­ble of sur­round­ing and catch­ing a chick if it’s been alive about two weeks; they need to see if it will sur­vive preda­tors and hu­man in­tru­sion.

They band for five hours that day be­neath a cloud­less blue sky and pound­ing sun. Van Zo­eren pulls out a color-coded chart of where each nest­ing bird and clutch of eggs in the Great Lakes was born and when it is due for at­ten­tion. She is won­der­ing aloud about the wis­dom of their next job, pulling the eggs from a mother who isn’t show­ing in­ter­est in her off­spring, when Schubel’s phone buzzes. “Yes,” she says. “Oh, hi. Oh! I see. OK … OK …”

“WHAT?” Van Zo­eren mouths.

Schubel puts a hand over the phone.

It’s two plover mon­i­tors in the Up­per Penin­sula. They lost an egg. “Do they know why?” Van Zo­eren asks. Schubel shrugs and she returns to the phone. Van Zo­eren pep­pers her: “Snakes? Foxes? Peo­ple?” She tells Schubel they should make a perime­ter around the nest and wait it out, see what shows up. Plover work is a lot of this, wait­ing and ob­serv­ing. Later that day, Van Zo­eren and Schubel wait them­selves for hours, for the re­turn of the way­ward mother. Even­tu­ally the mother re­turned. Schubel made it home her­self around 1 a.m.

Why the pip­ing plover?

Be­cause it’s endangered, that’s why.

That’s what you get when you ask, why pro­tect the pip­ing plover? You also hear (as Van Zo­eren tells me) the bird is em­blem­atic of the Great Lakes shore­line, and (as Cava­lieri says) it’s an um­brella species. Mean­ing, pro­tect the pip­ing plovers and you are pro­tect­ing other coastal birds and plants that ex­ist in its habi­tat. (In­deed, in just the past few weeks, inside the plover’s rope­d­off, hu­man-free en­clo­sure on Mon­trose Beach, sea rocket, a state threat­ened plant, has be­gun to flour­ish.) Still, there are other endangered species in the Chicago area the Hine’s emer­ald dragon­fly be­ing maybe the best known. And frankly, the pip­ing plover, cute as it is, looks frail. Its pop­u­la­tion is some­what sta­ble, but this is tentative, right? When I asked about its chances of full re­cov­ery, Brad Semel, a nat­u­ral her­itage bi­ol­o­gist for the IDNR, noted the suc­cess of sand­hill cranes in the Great Lakes. They were endangered in the 1980s. “Now I get re­ports of them chas­ing peo­ple.”

If none of those sound like good enough rea­sons to close beaches and dis­rupt mu­sic fes­ti­vals, then con­sider this: As endangered species go, the pip­ing plover is also re­lat­able.

They are so­cial, but not that so­cial. When they are not eat­ing, they pre­fer to dis­ap­pear into their homes and avoid be­ing both­ered by strangers. They have large, dark, plead­ing anime eyes; they are not in­tim­i­dat­ing to any­one but the worms and bee­tles they for­age for. They will fly long dis­tances across wa­ter; but once they land, they like to stay on the beach — on the finest real es­tate they can find, smack along our shore­lines.

The pip­ing plover is about 7 inches long and lives around seven years. When they are breed­ing, both males and fe­males ac­quire a taste­ful black col­lar around their necks. They eat in­ver­te­brates. They are slaves to rou­tine. The ma­jor­ity live in the same spot ev­ery year — and va­ca­tion in the same spot. Most Great Lakes pip­ing plovers spend the fall and win­ter in South Carolina; Cana­dian plovers spend the fall and win­ter in North Carolina. There are about 8,400 in the world.

“There is a per­cep­tion that en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion is a thing that hap­pens over there, in rain­forests, moun­tains,” said Carl Giometti, pres­i­dent of the Chicago Or­nitho­log­i­cal So­ci­ety. “But Chicago is a city, which re­cal­i­brates this view that we don’t have a role. We do. Th­ese plovers are re­minders that we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to na­ture.”

Their breed­ing grounds are the North­east coast­line, rivers of the Great Plains and beaches of the Great Lakes. In the North­east, where there are about 2,000 pairs — and plover nest­ing is a sea­sonal head­line, rou­tinely dis­rupt­ing fire­work dis­plays and clos­ing beaches — the bird is listed as fed­er­ally threat­ened. In the Mid­west, Michi­gan has al­ways seen the largest pop­u­la­tion onesf pip­ing plovers. Illi­nois didn’t have a sin­gle recorded nest be­tween 1973 and 2009, when a pair spent one sum­mer at Illi­nois Beach State Park in Zion.

It wasn’t al­ways that way. A 1983 study by U.S. Fish and Wildlife noted 30 pairs nested in Waukegan dur­ing the 1800s, and spec­u­lated that some may have nested in Rogers Park and on the Chicago River. Still, that same re­port con­cluded “suit­able breed­ing habi­tat” in the Chicago area was lim­ited, to the North Shore and the Lake Calumet area to the south.

And so Monty and Rose are the first reg­u­lars to Illi­nois in 45 years.

Along with other species of shore bird in this coun­try, the de­cline of the pip­ing plover co­in­cided with the de­vel­op­ment of coast­lines in the 20th cen­tury, for condos, re­sort towns and va­ca­tion spots. What this meant was, as nest­ing grounds grew in­creas­ingly pinched, “we placed more stress on the plover,” said Melissa Chap­lin, endangered species bi­ol­o­gist for the South Carolina of­fice of U.S. Fish and Wildlife. “When they head for the Great Lakes now, it’s crit­i­cal. They need to pro­duce new birds. But it’s such a short stay. Com­pound that with them nest­ing in ar­eas in the Mid­west al­ready devel­oped, with peo­ple on va­ca­tion want­ing to push them out or fail­ing to rec­og­nize birds use beaches too. So they are con­stantly vig­i­lant. Which means less of a chance of sur­vival. They get no down­time.”

Think you’re stressed? On shore­lines along the East Coast and in the Gulf states, where most win­ter, plovers con­tend with an­tip­ip­ing plover bill­boards and bumper stick­ers that read “Pip­ing Plover Tastes Like Chicken,” as well as beach­front de­vel­op­ment, long stretches of pri­vate shore­line, ATVs and un­leashed dogs. Then they fly to the Great Lakes and mi­nus the bill­boards and bumper stick­ers run into many of the same fears and most of the same preda­tors, in­clud­ing foxes, gulls, skunks, coy­otes, rac­coons. At Mon­trose, add fire­works, vol­ley­balls and the crowds from a pro­posed mu­sic fes­ti­val to those dangers. Plovers are even be­ing threat­ened by other trou­bled species — the mer­lin, a small fal­con that had been wan­ing in the Great Lakes, is now mak­ing a ma­jor come­back, and fast turn­ing into the pip­ing plover’s En­emy No. 1 in the Great Lakes.

When Fran­cie Cuth­bert be­gan study­ing plovers at the Univer­sity of Min­nesota in the 1970s, there were a dozen pairs left in the Great Lakes. “They were func­tion­ally ex­tinct here. If (re­searchers) hadn’t be­gan find­ing ways to con­serve them” — if the plover hadn’t made the endangered species list in 1986 — “maybe there would be one pair? Seventy or so now is not a lot. You might not think of Waukegan as ideal for endangered species. But the bird just looks for a sig­na­ture on the land­scape — a wide, sandy beach. At least it still ex­ists.”

Last May, Emma Eng­land, a na­tive of Eng­land, now pres­i­dent of the Lake County chap­ter of the Audubon So­ci­ety, waited be­hind a fold­ing ta­ble set up on the edge of Waukegan Mu­nic­i­pal Beach. She waited for lo­cals to show up and de­liver her Plover Pledge. Which ba­si­cally

amounts to say­ing that you will do right by the plover and en­cour­age its va­ca­tion­ing in Illi­nois. A week ear­lier, on a sunny Satur­day, sev­eral dozen took the pledge and re­ceived their “Plover Pal” patch. But this was a foggy, cold Satur­day.

Eng­land, wear­ing plover­shaped ear­rings, stood with a moun­tain of un­touched plover-in­for­ma­tion pam­phlets and sam­ples of plover draw­ings from a lo­cal ele­men­tary school.

Waukegan was ea­ger to be the Illi­nois home of the pip­ing plover.

The birds (as well as other mi­gra­tory species) were us­ing a stretch from Waukegan to Illi­nois Beach State Park as a reg­u­lar stop on their flight paths into Michi­gan’s Up­per Penin­sula. Fac­to­ries and rusted old wa­ter tow­ers may over­look Waukegan’s beach, but the area is also home to dunes, beach grasses and marshes. Eng­land re­garded the 2018 plover nest­ing in Waukegan as Ex­hibit A for why the state should move fast to des­ig­nate this un­com­monly bio­di­verse stretch of Illi­nois shore­line as a na­ture pre­serve.

So she waited in the spring chill for any­one who might agree. “A lot of peo­ple I speak to in this area, they have never even seen this place, they are not at all aware of how spe­cial this area is. And it’s all sit­ting here, in their back­yards.”

But just as the Lake County Audubon So­ci­ety be­gan or­ga­niz­ing vol­un­teers to stand guard over a new sum­mer nest, the two birds re­lo­cated to Chicago and were re­branded Monty and Rose.

At Mon­trose, by midJune, the Chicago Or­nitho­log­i­cal So­ci­ety had al­ready or­ga­nized sev­eral dozen vol­un­teers into an en­tire sum­mer of pa­trols, to watch the rare birds from dawn un­til dusk. Semel, from the IDNR, set up 24-hour sur­veil­lance cam­eras, though birder Tamima Itani, who or­ga­nized the se­cu­rity, no­ticed Monty and Rose them­selves showed a hearty sel­f­re­liance: Once nested, Rose took on red-winged black­birds and Monty be­gan chas­ing mal­lards sev­eral times his size. Af­ter their first nest­ing area was washed out, the birds’ sec­ond choice for a nest forced the Chicago Park Dis­trict to shrink the vol­ley­ball area.

Watch­ing from Waukegan, read­ing about the plovers and their egg clutches, Eng­land felt a bit­ter­sweet ad­mi­ra­tion for Chicago nat­u­ral­ist Les­lie Borns, who has long served as vol­un­teer stew­ard of the Mon­trose Beach Dunes. In­deed, many in the lo­cal bird­ing com­mu­nity, as well as en­vi­ron­men­tal gov­ern­ment agen­cies, are quick to sin­gle out Borns.

In the late ’80s, the nowre­tired book ed­i­tor had ex­pe­ri­enced dis­abling in­juries that slowed her move­ments. She lived near Mon­trose Point, and as she re­cov­ered, she would visit. But she was un­able to move quickly and found her­self closely watch­ing the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment un­fold­ing at her feet. She be­came fas­ci­nated with the beach­front. A decade later, still fix­ated, she no­ticed that Chicago Park Dis­trict beach groomers were skip­ping a patch of shore­line. Here, rare veg­e­ta­tion sprouted. Soon, new bird species were vis­it­ing, endangered plants were thriv­ing and, as this new veg­e­ta­tion trapped sand, dunes rose.

Borns pushed the city to pro­tect the land, and to­day, there are about 12 acres of beach dunes at Mon­trose, some 15 feet high, with 12 nest­ing species of birds us­ing it as home.

She had cleared a run­way for the pip­ing plover.

The other day, Borns, now in her 60s, still show­ing the steam­rolling qual­ity that helped trans­form Mon­trose, marched me to a sign near Monty and Rose’s nest. On the sign, which de­scribed the area’s bio­di­ver­sity, was a pic­ture of a plover. “We erected that sign 14 years ago,” she said. “The plover was wish­ful think­ing. I didn’t ac­tu­ally be­lieve they’d nest here.”

“I have,” she said, “a feel­ing of com­ple­tion.”

If the pip­ing plover can sur­vive in the Great Lakes, never mind thrive,

what­ever hope ex­ists will go through Pell­ston, Michi­gan,

a small vil­lage of 800 about 20 min­utes from the Mack­inac Bridge and, since 1909, home to the Univer­sity of Michi­gan Bi­o­log­i­cal Sta­tion, a wooded re­search area with a kind of plover re­cov­ery fa­cil­ity. When Monty and Rose’s eggs were threat­ened by ris­ing wa­ter (Mon­trose) and hu­man in­tru­sion (Waukegan), the clutches ar­rived here for ar­ti­fi­cial rear­ing.

More specif­i­cally, any plover eggs pulled from the Great Lakes ar­rive here via Vince Cava­lieri of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, a 37-year-old moun­tain of a birder with a long beard. We met in front of the plover re­search cen­ter, which is ac­tu­ally a small shack at the heart of the bi­o­log­i­cal sta­tion, it­self a se­ries of wooden cab­ins on a lake inside 10,000 acres of for­est.

Think clas­sic sum­mer camp, think Bill Mur­ray taunt­ing the camp across the lake.

Out­side the shack, a fenced-in pen sits partly sub­merged, to ac­cli­mate chicks to a nat­u­ral beach habi­tat. Inside the decade­old plover cen­ter is not much larger than a one­room school­house. Zookeep­ers from around the coun­try — placed here by the Detroit Zoo­log­i­cal So­ci­ety — ro­tate through. Among their fo­cuses, a pair of ar­ti­fi­cial en­vi­ron­ments that hold the chicks suc­cess­fully in­cu­bated here. Each en­clo­sure has a heat lamp to mimic sun, a feather duster to im­i­tate par­ents, along with veg­e­ta­tion, wa­ter and the sound of surf, piped in 24/7.

“How’s the On­tario chick?” Cava­lieri asks a re­searcher.

“No,” she says, frown­ing. He nods.

He’s car­ing, but he’s prag­matic. There’s an endangered wa­ter bee­tle on the grounds, he men­tions. It’s found in only five lo­ca­tions in the world, and it gets an ounce of the at­ten­tion the pip­ing plover gets. You can’t do ev­ery­thing. Great Lakes pip­ing plovers leave about as many nests each sum­mer as there are pairs of plovers. In fact, this year that fig­ure is slightly up — with 81 nests from 73 pairs. Each clutch takes about 28 days to hatch. A lot can hap­pen in that time. In the back­room of the rear­ing fa­cil­ity, there’s only room for about 30 eggs at a time. But they’ve never had that many at once.

Plover eggs come in aban­doned by par­ents and swamped by rain and cracked by foxes. They are placed in what re­sem­bles a rice cooker to in­cu­bate. Be­side it is a hatcher. Here, hour-old chicks stum­ble about on com­i­cally long legs, their eyes still sleepy from birth.

This, Cava­lieri says, mean­ing the in­cu­ba­tor, the sounds of surf, the fa­cil­ity, is a last re­sort.

“Eggs get trans­ported a long dis­tance. By the time they get here, they’ve been through a lot,” Cava­lieri says. Each clutch is driven to north­ern Michi­gan, rest­ing care­fully inside small por­ta­ble in­cu­ba­tors. Cava­lieri would pre­fer chicks were raised in the wild, but he also wants more plover chicks.

For in­stance, when I ask about Monty and Rose’s first Mon­trose clutch, the re­searcher on duty, Mon­ica Black­well of the Toledo Zoo, looks war­ily at Cava­lieri.

They say noth­ing for a long mo­ment.

“Doesn’t seem … promis­ing,” she says fi­nally.

Cava­lieri smiles sadly. But it changed noth­ing about how they would han­dle the sec­ond clutch of eggs and the sub­se­quent chicks. He made no plans to touch the eggs; and if the new chicks sur­vive, Schubel will prob­a­bly not band them, ei­ther. Not right away. Help­ing a pip­ing plover, or any endangered species, is a dance. You step in, you step back. Mon­trose is so pub­lic they worry any at­tempt at wran­gling the chicks may freak out Monty and Rose. As Louise Clemency, Chicago field su­per­vi­sor for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, says, the more nat­u­ral the birth of any new plovers, the more likely Monty and Rose will re­turn next year.

At this rate, Cava­lieri fig­ures they’ll reach their goal of 150 plover pairs by about 2050.


He said even if the birds are taken off the endangered species list, he ex­pects they will still re­quire over­sight to sur­vive. Their frailty will con­tinue. Only 25% of plovers hatched in the wild ever make it through a win­ter to mi­grate at all. Cava­lieri told me about a pip­ing plover he re­cov­ered in 2010 near In­di­ana Dunes Na­tional Park. It was Thanks­giv­ing, long past the plovers’ typ­i­cal mi­gra­tion. He drove from his home in Lans­ing. He found the bird in­jured, in freezing rain. He gave it to the Lin­coln Park Zoo. It lived for years. He didn’t say this to saint him­self. He said it be­cause “It sounds crazy to peo­ple. But ev­ery bird mat­ters.”


Great Lakes Pip­ing Plover Con­ser­va­tion Team mem­bers Stephanie Schubel, Alice Van Zo­eren, Hope Caliendo and bi­ol­o­gist Adam Schubel.

Schubel checks the ID band she placed on a pip­ing plover chick at Sleep­ing Bear Na­tional Dunes Lakeshore near Em­pire, Michi­gan.


Craig Cam­peau, a bi­o­log­i­cal tech­ni­cian for the Na­tional Park Ser­vice, weighs a pip­ing plover chick placed in a cloth bag.


Pip­ing plover fe­male Rose, right, leaves the nest as Monty takes his turn in­cu­bat­ing their eggs at Mon­trose Beach in Chicago on July 18.


A chick runs away af­ter ID bands are placed on its legs by mem­bers of the Great Lakes Pip­ing Plover Con­ser­va­tion Team.


Pip­ing plover eggs are kept in a hatcher at a cap­tive rear­ing cen­ter in Pell­ston, Michi­gan, this month.

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