Families come in many different forms, and a group of bald eagles living along the Mississippi River in Illinois is proving that goes for the animal kingdom, too. A female eagle known as Hope originally mated with a male eagle known as Valor I in 2012. However, he was not able to face his responsibilities.
“Valor I wasn’t a very good partner or father,” according to the National Audubon Society. “He was irresponsible about incubating the eggs and feeding the eaglets, which were really his only two jobs.”
This behavior led Hope to look for an upgrade, and she chose a new mate, known as Valor II. Instead of parting ways with Valor I, though, the three eagles stuck together as an unconventional trio. This is pretty unusual, as male eagles tend to be territorial. Yet they raised the eaglets together as a group — although in fairness, Hope and Valor II did the lion’s share (the eagle’s share?) of the work. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called this arrangement “cooperative nesting.”
Then tragedy struck. Hope was likely killed in an attack by other eagles in March 2017. However, by September of that year, a new female, Starr, came on the scene, and the family continued to parent as a trio.
“Having more than two birds assist with feeding and rearing young isn’t all that uncommon, but it is interesting to see that these males seem to prefer the teamwork approach to raising a family,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a press release. “A new nesting season is underway and the trio are the proud parents of three eggs.”
Much like human parents, the eagles work in shifts to make sure everyone is cared for. Do you ever give your partner a shove in the middle of the night to let them know it’s their turn for diaper duty? Well, that’s exactly what these eagles do.
“During any given shift change at the nest, the relieving adult will land in the nest and nudge the incubator to take over duties,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service explained in the press release. “If nudging doesn’t work, then more aggressive moves such as walking on the tail feathers or back of the unrelenting incubator is conducted.”
If all that still doesn’t work, the eagles attempt to kill each other with kindness: “If still no movement, the reliever will snuggle against the incubator and wait for an attitude change.”
Wow! Hats off these eagles for making their modern family work! To keep tabs on them, check out the Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge eagle cam live stream on YouTube.