Newsroom Midwest Region

My two dads: Eagle trio sees parenting success in Illinois

March 13, 2019

Nesting bald eagle trio. Photo courtesy of Stewards of Upper Mississippi River Refuge.
Nesting bald eagle trio. Photo courtesy of Stewards of Upper Mississippi River Refuge.

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 Even though the original male, known as Valor I, had been replaced by a new male, known as Valor II, he hung around the nest throughout the breeding season and was assumed to be engaged in the nest.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.

Continuing the tradition in 2019

A new nesting season is underway and the trio are the proud parents of three eggs. The parents are conducting shift work during the incubation period. 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, then 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.

Fans are tuning in to the eagle cam to witness the amazing adventures of this very unique family. We wish the trio continued success this spring and summer. Learn more about Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and plan your visit today!