THOMSON, Ill., — Parenting can be a challenge, but a trio of bald eagles in Illinois are banding together to tackle the milestone.
In an unorthodox nest on the Mississippi River in northwest Illinois, two male eagles named Valor I and Valor II and a female eagle named Starr are sharing baby-raising duties.
So far this year, the proud parents have successfully produced and hatched three eggs, said Pam Steinhaus, visitor services manager at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
The Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge have set up a livestream of the site, where the eagles can be seen taking turns feeding the eaglets and taking care of the nest.
The threesome splits up the work pretty evenly.
“They are involved in all aspects,” Steinhaus said. “Everybody brings in sticks. The boys put the sticks where they think (they go), and Starr always moves them back to where she thinks it (should go).”
When it comes to incubation, Starr does a lot of the work. But when she gets tired, the dads step in.
“The boys are right there to remove her and sit on the eggs,” Steinhaus said.
The trio makes sure everyone is well fed, and the three eaglets look like they’re developing right on schedule, she added.
“The pantry is constantly full. Food is never going to be an issue.”
It’s uncommon for bald eagles to parent in threes, according to the National Audubon Society, a bird conservation group. Previous trios have been spotted in Alaska in 1977, Minnesota in 1983 and California in 1992.
One of the male eagles needed some parenting help
In 2012, Valor I paired up with a female eagle dubbed Hope. But he wasn’t a great parent and would rarely bring food or sit in the nest, Steinhaus said.
After a young male eagle named Valor II showed up at the nesting site in 2013, he replaced Valor I as Hope’s main partner.
Valor I didn’t mind, and the three birds formed an unorthodox unit to co-parent the eaglets. The stewards saw in 2016 that all three eagles were sharing in all aspects of nesting.
But in March 2017, tragedy struck the nest when two other eagles viciously attacked the nest.
“Hope was in a fierce battle below the nest for a long time and she never came back,” Steinhaus said. “More than likely she was severely injured.”
Animals leave the nest if they are seriously hurt to avoid attracting predators, Steinhaus said. Hope likely perished.
With Hope gone, the two dads stepped up to the plate and took care of the nest, successfully raising two baby birds to fledge.
Valor I has matured and become a more responsible parent, Steinhaus said.
Starr came into the picture in September 2017, and she has hatched multiple eggs since. Footage has shown that both males mate with her.
The trio is likely to stay together
Eagles are extremely loyal to nest sites, so the three eagles are likely to continue living and working together in the future.
“As long as that nest is successful, they will probably stay together,” Steinhaus said.
What parent of youngsters doesn’t need a little help? So far the unusual arrangement seems to work out pretty well.