Four additional birds were also released at Illinois Beach State Park in Lake County
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Chicago, Il. – The Chicago Park District, with our partners the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture, are celebrating the release of piping plover chicks back into the wild at Montrose Beach in Chicago, Illinois. This release marks the first-time piping plovers have been released outside Michigan and works toward the recovery goal of 50 pairs of plovers outside Michigan.
“Releasing captive-reared piping plover chicks in new locations helps to encourage the population to spread throughout the Great Lakes Region,” said Armand Cann, USFWS fish and wildlife biologist. “It’s a strategy to reduce the extinction risk to the population. We aren’t putting ‘all our eggs in one basket’ or in this case all our chicks on one beach!”
These 5-week-old chicks are well traveled. They were rescued in New York after each nest lost an incubating adult. Federal, State, and Zoo staff helped to transport chicks to Michigan where they were raised in captivity at the University of Michigan’s Biological Station near Pellston, MI where the Detroit Zoo manages a captive rearing facility for Great Lakes Piping Plovers. At the end of summer, their journey will continue when they migrate south for the winter.
“Our hope is that these chicks return to Montrose beach next year and nest here,” said Brad Semel, Illinois Department of Natural Resources endangered species recovery specialist. “Everyone is excited because we have seen that captive-reared chicks are more likely to return to their release beach the next spring.”
“We are thrilled Montrose Beach has been chosen for this conservation milestone,” Semel continued. “Monty and Rose showed the world the Chicago could support plovers and these chicks will continue their legacy.”
Piping plovers had disappeared from Illinois beaches around 1955. After population numbers started increasing, they were next seen nesting in Illinois sixty years later in 2015. In 2019, Montrose Beach fledged chicks for the first time since 1955.
“The release of three Piping Plovers into the wild is a first in Chicago,” said Chicago Park District Assistant Director of Landscape, Natural Resources and Cultural Resources Matthew Freer. “The Chicago Park District is thrilled to be the site of this rare and unique opportunity to have an endangered species be released into the wild in an urban setting like Chicago’s Montrose Beach. It’s just one example of what we can do to help species of all kinds survive in nature, and thrive in a metropolitan city.”
“The release is a win for conservation efforts citywide, and we could not have done it without the support of our partners at the US Fish and Wildlife and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources as well as the handful of plover monitors and volunteers that assist in maintaining the area clean and in optimal conditions to maximize wildlife survival,” continued Freer. “The Montrose Beach Piping Plovers are now part of Chicago’s history and have been embraced by the city as a beacon of hope for this endangered species and the many others that could be saved in the future through partnerships like this one.”
“We are often asked how to help plovers,” Semel said. “Beaches managed for wildlife provide critical, dependable space for shorebirds raising families or migrating from one beach to another. You can help wildlife by sharing the shore: respecting closed area boundaries, keeping dogs on leashes, and taking your trash with you at the end of your visit.”
In addition to Montrose Beach, four young birds from New York will be released at Illinois Beach State Park in Lake County. In contrast to Montrose Beach, a heavily used public access beach, these birds will enjoy the solitude of Illinois’ first dedicated nature preserve. Although they’ll start their life in the wild with a much different perspective of dunes and beaches, both sites will be welcoming habitat for their return in the spring.
“These chicks symbolize another step on the road to recovery for Great Lakes piping plovers,” said Cann. “This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Without ESA protections we could have lost the piping plover. But today we are seeing a slow and steady increase in their numbers. I have hope for the future of this species.”