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How a trio of bald eagles — 1 mom, 2 dads — came together to raise eaglets in Illinois

Eagles are everywhere at the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Eagles are in abundance at the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary near Alton. American White Pelicans, Trumpeter Swans, American Kestrels, and Northern Harriers are just a few of the regulars at the Audubon Society important birding area.
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Eagles are in abundance at the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary near Alton. American White Pelicans, Trumpeter Swans, American Kestrels, and Northern Harriers are just a few of the regulars at the Audubon Society important birding area.

Three bald eagles — one mom and two dads — appear to have co-parenting down as they raise three baby birds together in Illinois.

But it wasn’t always this way.

The trio has a family history complete with dad drama and death spanning as far back as 2013, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Over the span of about six years, though, the “nontraditional family” has learned to raise eaglets together while capturing the attention of those watching the trio’s nest via a live stream.

Here’s the history of Valor I, Valor II and Starr, located along the Upper Mississippi River near Fulton, Illinois.

Their story began in 2012 when Valor 1 (the original male) and Hope (his original, female mate) had babies together, according to the National Audubon Society. At this time, neither Valor II (the second dad) or Starr (the new female) were in the picture yet.

Valor I wasn’t a very good partner or father,” the National Audubon Society reported. “He was irresponsible about incubating the eggs and feeding the eaglets, which were really his only two jobs.”

“Because of this behavior, observers didn’t think the eggs would even hatch,” according to the society. “They did, likely thanks to a warm winter, but Valor I’s continued negligence led to both eaglets perishing before they fledged.”

That’s when Valor II swooped in, according to the Stewards of Upper Mississippi River Refuge.

“The original trio formed in 2013 after (Hope) chose a new mate,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported. “Even though the original male, known as Valor I, had been replaced by a new male, known as Valor II, he hung around the nest throughout the breeding season and was assumed to be engaged in the nest.”

Valor I kept his distance that year he was replaced, the Stewards of Upper Mississippi River Refuge says, but he wouldn’t leave Hope or the nest.

“Thankfully, he picked up some parenting skills” while watching Valor II, USA Today reported.

By 2016, the trio had figured out to raise their babies together, and “refuge staff were able to document that cooperative nesting was indeed taking place,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

But Valor I, Valor II and Hope (the original trio) didn’t have much time to co-parent together.

“In March of 2017, family dynamics changed dramatically when Hope ... was killed by another eagle,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported. The Stewards of Upper Mississippi River Refuge called it a “vicious battle.”

In a remarkable display of nature, a fox kit carrying a rabbit in its jaws is swooped down upon by a bald eagle which wrests the meal free in San Juan Island National Historical Park last Saturday.

Later that year, in September 2017, Starr came into the nest occupied by Valor I and Valor II.

She “successfully laid two eggs in mid-February 2018 with support from the two males,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. “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.”

Now about a year later, Starr laid three eggs, which have since hatched and can be seen on the live stream provided by the Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge. Both males have mated with Starr, according to the non-profit.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the trio conducted “shift work” throughout the incubation period.

“They all take part in nest maintenance, incubation and raising the young,” the stewards said.

Eaglet 1 hatched on March 27, Eaglet 2 hatched on March 29 and Eaglet 3 hatched on April 1.

On Monday morning, the three eaglets were being fed by one of their parents. The other two adult bald eagles were not in the nest at the time of the feeding.

“The pantry is always full with a variety of fish, fowl and an occasional muskrat and turtle,” the society said.

Because bald eagles generally mate for life, and because the original trio was together for several years, the society expects this new trio to mate for life, too.

A bald eagle in the Big Bear Lake area of Southern California has laid a second egg, according to the National Forest Service. Watch a live stream of the bald eagle nest in the San Bernardino National Forest online.

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