Rare trio of eagles raising bald eaglets together in one nest

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated on April 16 to cite reporting by The Washington Post.

A rare trio of bald eagles, consisting of two dads and a mom, are now raising three chicks together in one nest near the Mississippi river.

The two dads are named Valor I and Valor II and the mom is named Starr, according to the Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge, which has been monitoring the family.

The refuge said each of the adults “take part in nest maintenance, incubation and raising the young.”

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Documentation from the refuge shows that this nontraditional family has been nesting since 2017. With help from the two dads, Starr was able to lay her first eggs last year.

Prior to Starr’s arrival to the family, the two dads were a family unit of their own with another bird named Hope.

Hope and Valor I were the original pair that began nesting on the Mississippi River in 2012, according to the National Audubon Society, which is a bird conservation group.

At the time, Audubon said that Valor I “wasn’t a very good partner or father.”

“He was irresponsible about incubating the eggs and feeding the eaglets, which were really his only two jobs,” the group said.

“Normally they will switch roles, but what happened was Hope would sit on the nest for a long, long time,” Pam Steinhaus, who currently serves as a visitor services manager at the refuge, told Audubon.

“Valor I would never bring food in, so she’d have to get up and leave to hunt.” While she was gone, he’d sit on the nest for maybe 10 minutes before getting up and abandoning his offspring,” she said.

Steinhaus speculated that’s what prompted Valor II’s arrival to the family in 2013. “I think Hope didn’t care for what Valor I was doing, so he got replaced,” she said.

Steinhaus said that Valor II kept a distance to the family at first but that the trio of birds began nesting cooperatively by 2016.

By that time, the conservation group said that “both Valor I and Valor II assuming nest-building, incubation, and feeding duties. That was also the first year Hope was seen mating with both males.”

According to Audubon, it highly unusual for bald eagles to nest together in trios. Only a few other documentations of such cases have been made in Alaska in 1977, in Minnesota in 1983 and in California in 1992.

This particular case, however, is much different from previous documentations because both of the male eagles have been copulating with the female, according to The Washington Post. As the paper describes, the second dad has typically acted as a sort of “live-in nanny” in similar cases.

According to Audubon, after nearly a year of successful parenting by the initial trio, the family was struck with devastation after it was attacked by two other eagles in March 2017.

“It was a continuous attack, day after day after day,” Steinhaus said. “Hope fought. She was in a struggle, and she probably got severely injured. We never found her.”

The two dads, having survived the attack, went on to raise the chicks they shared with Hope together after her disappearance.

After their eaglets fledged in May, Starr joined the two dads to make up the family it is now.