Piping plovers return to Chicago beaches

Bird watchers are flocking to Montrose Beach to welcome Imani, a rare piping plover, back to Chicago.

The endangered tiny shorebirds are making a comeback, thanks in part to efforts to restore their habitat.

Armed with big binoculars and telephoto lenses, scores of birders gathered at Montrose Beach on Wednesday to take a gander at Imani.

"This is my first time actually seeing the piping plover," said bird watcher Jenna Vanduyne. "It's very exciting, yeah!"

After a long migration from southern climates, Imani returned on Tuesday to the beach where he was born in 2021 – a hatchling of Monty and Rose. They were the first piping plover pair to nest in the Chicago area in more than 70 years.


Tamima Itani, head of the Chicago Piping Plovers Club, wore her special earrings to celebrate.

"I think you can see how many people are here today and wanting to see Imani. Yes, it's very special," said Itani. "People have grown very fond of Monty and Rose and know their story. They know their chicks and know them by name."

Imani is looking for love, searching for a female piping plover to mate with, nest with, and hopefully raise babies with.

"He's here this year a little bit earlier, which gives him greater chances," said Itani.

It's estimated there are only 70 breeding pairs of piping plovers in the Great Lakes region. But that is a success story. In the 1980s, there were only 12.

"The piping plover gets us excited – for me, as somebody who's done restoration work here in the Chicagoland area," said bird enthusiast Jeff Skrentny. "Because this is a testament to what can happen when we take care of a habitat and make it a natural habitat."

Also on Wednesday, a second piping plover was spotted on the South Side at the 57th Street Beach. It’s one more bird watching trophy for those who catalogue their visual catches.

"I use a birding app so you can check when you see a bird, and it's exactly like that," said Vanduyne. "Like, wow! You got that bird!"

Although Imani has previously been spotted in Minnesota, Itani said she doesn’t know where he typically spends his winters.

Imani’s dad, Monty, died at Montrose Beach on May 13, 2022, after volunteers noticed him behaving oddly and stumbling. Rose, the female piping plover, hasn’t returned to Montrose Beach and is feared dead.

Worldwide, there are believed to be fewer than 10,000 piping plovers left alive.

Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.