My two dads: Eagle trio sees parenting success in Illinois
Nesting bald eagle trio in 2019. Photo courtesy of Stewards of Upper Mississippi River Refuge.
We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service know that families come in all shapes and sizes, and that’s true for wildlife too! Meet Valor I, Valor II and Starr, a breeding trio of bald eagles that live along the Mississippi River in Illinois. For several years, fans from all over the world have been watching this nontraditional family through a webcam as the eagles deal with the trials and tribulations of parenting.
Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge, a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the public’s understanding and enjoyment of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, began the webcam project in 2011. Over the years, the friends group based in Thomson, Illinois has built a fanbase for the eagles, with thousands of people tuning in throughout the course of the breeding season.
History of the 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 original trio formed in 2013 after the female chose a new mate. Even though the original male, known as Valor I, had been replaced by a new male, known as Valor II, he hung around the nest throughout the breeding season and was assumed to be engaged in the nest. It wasn’t until 2016 that the friends group and refuge staff were able to document that cooperative nesting was indeed taking place. In March of 2017, family dynamics changed dramatically when Hope, the female named by her devoted fans, was killed by another eagle.
The current nesting female, known as Starr, arrived on the scene later in September and successfully laid two eggs in mid-February 2018 with support from the two males. While both of the eggs hatched, only one of the eaglets successfully fledged. The other fledging died from unknown causes about three weeks after hatching. In 2019, the trio had a remarkable year. Starr laid three eggs and all three eaglets successfully fledged!
A successful but challenging 2020
On Valentine's Day 2020, Starr laid her first egg. A second egg followed three days later. Both eggs hatched in late March and both juveniles successfully fledged by mid-June. On August 10, a derecho brought hurricane force winds reaching speeds of 100 miles per hour. Unfortunately, these high winds toppled the trio's nest and the eagle cam. Thankfully, the two eaglets had fledged prior to the storm and the trio was able to take cover and were not injured. The trio immediately began building a new nest in the same neighborhood across the slough from the old nest.
Rebuilding in 2021
After high winds took the nest, the trio immediately began rebuilding their nest in a new tree nearby. Staff were able to reposition the eagle cam on the old tree, providing a glimpse of the nest from about 100 yards away. The trio's behavior has suggested that Starr laid her first egg on February 15, 2021. Two to three eggs are typical, but we won't know how many hatchlings there are until we can see their heads above the nest cup. While we can't see the eggs, we can see that the trio continues taking shifts to incubate. During any given shift change at the nest, the relieving adult will land in the nest and nudge the incubator to take over duties. If nudging doesn’t work, more aggressive moves such as walking on the tail feathers or back of the unrelenting incubator is conducted. If still no movement, the reliever will snuggle against the incubator and wait for an attitude change. If young successfully fledge from this nest, staff will attempt to relocate the camera above the nest in the late summer.
Fans are tuning in to the eagle cam to witness the amazing adventures of this very unique family. We wish the trio continued success. Learn more about Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and plan your visit today!