Two Dads and a Mom are Raising Bald Eaglets Together

In a nest beside the Mississippi River in Illinois, three bald eaglets are being raised by an unusual group of caregivers: two male adult bald eagles, named Valor I and Valor II, and one female, named Starr. The three adults all participate in maintaining the nest and caring for the young ones.

What’s really interesting about this family is that male bald eagles tend to be territorial, according to the National Audubon Society, yet Valor I and Valor II get along just fine.

The backstory of how these three adult bald eagles ended up together in the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge is also pretty amazing. Back in 2012, Valor I fathered two eaglets in the refuge with a female bald eagle named Hope. Valor I, however, was kind of a deadbeat dad. “He was irresponsible about incubating the eggs and feeding the eaglets, which were really his only two jobs,” Audubon reports. Sadly, neither of the eaglets survived.

One year later, Valor II appeared at the refuge. After respectfully keeping his distance for a while, he swooped in and apparently stole Hope’s heart.

“I think Hope didn’t care for what Valor I was doing, so he got replaced,” Pam Steinhaus, visitor services manager at the refuge, told Audubon. Despite being dumped, Valor I remained near the new couple. Later that year Hope gave birth to two eaglets, which were believed to have been fathered by Valor II. Or were they?

Four years later, Hope was observed via a web camera mating with Valor II—as well as with Valor I. All three bald eagles helped with nest building, incubation and feeding. “It seems it took Valor I three years to learn how to parent,” Audubon notes.

Unfortunately, this family’s happy life was short-lived. Two other bald eagles began attacking their nest in 2017. “The webcam recorded the attack that lasted over an hour and shows two adult eagles battling on the ground in a desperate talon-clinching struggle,” the Stewards of the Upper Mississippi Refuge reported.

During Hope’s efforts to fight off the bald eagles to save two eaglets, she was probably severely injured and died, Steinhaus said. Despite an intensive search by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff, Hope’s body has never been found. But the eaglets survived, thanks to Valor I and Valor II successfully fighting off the predators.

“The two boys, man, they stepped it up, and raised those two to fledge,” Steinhaus told Audubon. “It was amazing how they got together and did what dads do.”

Although bald eagles mate for life, they will find new ones if their mate dies. What’s so unusual—and awesome—about Valor I and Valor II is that most male raptors would split up and find their own mates, but not these two. However, Steinhaus did say it’s probably their familiar nest rather than devotion to each other that has kept the two males together.

Six months after the loss of Hope, a female bald eagle that webcam commenters named Starr appeared at the nest. In what’s considered a bonding ritual, she joined Valor I and Valor II in collecting materials to build a nest. Last spring, two eaglets were born in that nest. One died, but the other is doing fine, according to the refuge.

Fast forward a year, and as of early April, there are now three eaglets being cared for in the nest by that unlikely threesome of Starr, Valor II and Valor III.

Only three other bald eagle parenting trios have ever been documented. These were observed in Alaska in 1977, in Minnesota in 1983 and in California in 1992, according to a 1995 study. But in all of these other cases, the second male served mainly as a helper and didn’t mate with the female.

In these divisive times, how inspiring is it that America’s national emblem is showing us that families of all different types can peacefully coexist and thrive together?

You can keep up with the adventures of Starr, Valor I, Valor II and the bald eaglets on this live webcam.

Photo credit: © 2019 StewardsUMRR

100 comments

Richard E Cooley
Richard E Cooley29 days ago

Thank you.

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Richard E Cooley
Richard E Cooley29 days ago

Thank you.

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Naomi D
Naomi Dreyerabout a month ago

And all on camera!

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Naomi D
Naomi Dreyerabout a month ago

Really really interesting.

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Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dreyerabout a month ago

amazing story.

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Renata Kovacs
Renata Kovacsabout a month ago

sweet Thank you for sharing,,

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Leo C
Leo Cabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Toni W
Toni Wabout a month ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni Wabout a month ago

TYFS

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Sam E M
Sam E Mabout a month ago

It's shocking that other bald eagles attacked the nest, I wonder why. Great that Valor I and Valor II stuck together and have continued to support each other and protect new fledglings.

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