Illinois’ Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is home to one of the most unique American families around, a trio of bald eagles, males dubbed Valor I, Valor II, and female Starr, are successfully nesting for the second year within Illinois’ portion of the refuge, near Thompson. And fans from around the world can watch them parent their eaglets via a webcam run by the non-profit organization Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge.
The Stewards’ webcam project began back in 2011, documenting eagles within the refuge as they lived their lives. In 2013, Valor I was passed over by his original mate Hope, for Valor II. However, instead of leaving, Valor I stayed on, hanging around the nest, not just that year, but for every year thereafter. In 2016, it was confirmed that he was actually helping Valor II and Hope with nesting duties, parenting, and hunting for the eaglets along with them.
Tragically, in 2017, Hope was killed by attacks from two other eagles, while Valor I and Valor II defended the chicks. After she died, the males successfully raised the chicks to adulthood, co-parenting as before. After this turmoil, you might have thought that the family would have broken up. But instead, Starr moved in, and these eagles are proving once again that three parents are better than two by sharing the hunting and nesting duties. It is not known which of the males (or both) might be the father of the eggs, and the eagles are more than happy with the arrangement.
Valor I is thought to be around 12 years old while Valor II is about 10 and Starr about 6 years old. Most wild eagles live about 20 years. The oldest ever recorded in the wild was 38.
It’s been documented that all three are active parents, involved in nest building, copulating, incubation of the eggs and rearing the young. And having three adults caring for the eggs means that food is more plentiful, thus giving the eaglets a better chance at success.
Last year, they had two eggs, both of which hatched, but one of the eaglets perished a month after hatching due to an unforeseen health issue. The second eaglet grew up, fledged, was taught to fly, and left the nest and everyone is hopeful 2019 will show more success.
This year, the trio have three eggs to look after and they share in all aspects of nesting, taking incubating and hunting duties in shifts. When a parent returns to the nest, they will nudge the incubating parent to take over the sitting duties. If the incubator doesn’t take the hint, the relieving parent might walk over their tail feathers to let them know they should move. If they still don’t go, there will be unrelenting snuggling until shift change is achieved. You can watch it all on the eagle cam maintained by the Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge.
And the eagle cam is giving scientists all sorts of insights into this style of cooperative nesting behavior. It isn’t unheard of for raptors to do this, but it is uncommon, and the eagle cam is proving valuable in gathering behavioral data according to Pam Steinhaus the Visitor’s Services Manager at the Refuge.
A trip to the Refuge will certainly let you watch for eagles, but you’ll also see a great deal of other wildlife including waterfowl, deer, and sandhill cranes. It’s a great location for photographers to capture that elusive wildlife shot.
You can also enjoy other wildlife anytime via the Stewards’ other webcams.
Plan your trip to the refuge at their website.
All photos courtesy of the Stewards of Upper Mississippi River Refuge.