FULTON, Ill. - A trio of bald eagles, two males and a female, are tending to a single nest and captivating birders across the world.
The two males and female eagle are taking care of three eaglets, sharing duties feeding and keeping them warm in their nest along the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, according to the Audubon Society.
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A camera on the nest has helped document its evolution.
The nest started in 2012 as a traditional couple between Valor I and Hope. Valor I was negligent and irresponsible in his duties to incubate and feed their two eaglets, which eventually died.
“Valor I would never bring food in, so (Hope would) have to get up and leave to hunt,” Pam Steinhaus, visitor services manager at the refuge, told Audubon.
A second male, Valor II, appeared at the nest fall 2013. He kept his distance at first but, eventually, he became Hope’s main partner.
“I think Hope didn’t care for what Valor I was doing, so he got replaced,” Steinhaus told Audubon. “He was still around but not actively involved.”
And, although males are typically territorial, Valor I did not seem to mind the change.
The three were seen together for the next two years until a storm damaged the camera. Researchers were able to document the cooperative nesting in 2016. That year, they documented that Hope mated with both males. By this time, both Valor I and Valor II had taken on nest duties -- building, incubating and feeding eaglets.
“The boys would put sticks in the nest, but they never put them in the right spot,” Steinhaus told Audubon. “Hope was always replacing sticks in the spots where she wanted them to go.”
In 2017, tragedy struck the nest. A pair of unknown eagles relentlessly attacked it. Hope fought and was likely severely injured, Audubon reported. Her body was never found. The males successfully kept their two eaglets safe and did not suffer injuries.
Valor I and Valor II refused to leave the eaglets after Hope died. They resumed parenting, sharing duties, and raised the eaglets.
Bald eagles mate for life. When their mate dies, they seek a new one. These two males stayed together and eventually drew another mate. A female with dark feathers was seen in September 2017 collecting nesting material, an activity considered a bonding ritual for the birds.
She was named Starr and, in 2018, two eaglets hatched. One died and the other left the nest and is doing fine.
The nest has produced three eggs this year, and they all hatched in early April, according to Audubon.
A webcam streams the nest around the clock. More than 7,200 visitors from more than 60 countries watched the trio in March, according to the Audubon Society.
“We feel like it’s a pretty special nest and hope it stays here for a long time,” Robyn Bailey, NestWatch project leader at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology told Audubon.
Although uncommon, eagle trios tending to a nest have been documented in the past including in Alaska in 1977, in Minnesota in 1983 and in California in 1992.
It is not known if those nests were biological parents or if one was a “nest helper” -- a relative but not an active partner to the main couple, according to the Audubon Society.
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