The trio of birds who are sitting on the nest take part in the parental care of three eaglets. (Photo: Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge)
Every bald eagle does its part for the three fuzzy-headed eaglets.
The two males, Valor I and Valor II, assist the female, Starr, “in nest maintenance, incubation and raising the young” in Illinois near the Mississippi River, according to the Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge.
The family is nontraditional, but established after a history of death and drama.
They eagles have been documented as nesting together since 2017. Starr laid her first eggs in September 2018 with support of the two males. Both eggs hatched, and one of the eaglets successfully fledged, or left the nest. The other fledgling died from unknown causes.
A complicated family history
The history of how these birds became a feathered family is a soap opera of sorts.
Here’s a fun fact – the two dads were a family unit first. Because before there was Starr, there was the female Hope. But Hope was injured by other birds in March 2017 and never returned to the nest. That just left Valor I and Valor II, who had shared a nest with Hope.
It’s rare, but not unheard of that trios of bald eagles share nests, according to the National Audubon Society. Documented trios were found in Alaska in 1977, in Minnesota in 1983 and in California in 1992. Many times, one bird serves as a helper. But in this case, both birds were copulating with the females.
It seems Valor I opened the door, or nest, for Valor II because he lacked fathering skills.
“Valor I wasn’t a very good partner or father,” Audubon wrote. “He was irresponsible about incubating the eggs and feeding the eaglets, which were really his only two jobs.”
He would leave Hope sitting on the nest forever and wouldn’t bring her food, so she would have to go hunt, and then he would sit on the nest for 10 minutes before he’d fly away, abandoning his offspring, they wrote.
So, yeah, Valor II started hanging around in 2013.
“I think Hope didn’t care for what Valor I was doing, so he got replaced,” said Pam Steinhaus, the visitor services manager at the refuge told the Audubon society
But Valor I refused to leave and, thankfully, he picked up some parenting skills. They had just figured out co-parenting when Hope was attacked. The two males worked together and raised two young to leave the nest.
“It was amazing how they got together and did what dads do.” Steinhaus said.
Becoming a family again
Bald eagles are known for mating for life.
The Audubon Society said it was unusual that Valor I and Valor II decided to stay together instead of going it alone to find other mates. But they did, and they found Starr by September 2017.
This is their second set of eggs; three this year. All three eggs hatched in March. Biologists don’t know which male eagle, or both, fathered the eaglets.
The eaglets are expected to leave the nest in the next few weeks.
Watch the eagle family
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