bald eagle coparenting
Thomas Nelson
Thomas Nelson
March 7, 2020 ·  3 min read

In Illinois, A Rare Bald Eagle Three-Way Couple Have Come Together To Co-Parent

Many Americans love bald eagles. After all, this symbolic bird is the national emblem of the United States and has been since 1782. The bald eagle was chosen as the national emblem for the US because they were long-lived, strong, and majestic in appearance. At the time, they were believed only to live in North America. [1] And like the bald eagle, most Americans consider themselves to be solitary but monogamous creatures. [2] But among Americans, approximately 5% claim to be polyamorous, meaning they have more than one romantic partner. [3] And the case may also be true for bald eagles.

In an extremely rare event, a triad of eagles, two males, and a female, have been observed working together to rear a clutch of eggs to adulthood. [4] Under usual circumstances, a female and a male bald eagle will co-parent their young. When the female needs to hunt and eat, the male will sit on the eggs and vice versa. But in the case of two eagles, named Hope and Valor I, it didn’t quite work out.

Read: Once Nearly Dead As The Dodo, California Condor Comeback Reaches 1,000 Chicks

Valor I, the male, was an egg-sitting failure. When Hope would leave the nest to hunt, Valor I would only sit on the eggs for a few minutes at a time. When they first paired up in 2012, none of their eaglets survived due to his inability to hold up his end of the eagle parenting bargain. Hope took note of this and moved on from her partnership with Valor I.

In 2013, Hope showed up to the same nesting spot with a new mate, named Valor II. Valor II was a commendable male eagle who worked hard and helped Hope raise a successful clutch of eggs. But here’s where it gets unusual. Valor I stayed in the immediate vicinity of Valor II and Hope, and Valor II, who might otherwise be compelled to drive him away, allowed Valor I to stay in the picture.

This unusual social structuring carried on until 2015 when the trio of birds appeared to enter into a rare three-way relationship. Both of the males were involved in raising the young alongside Hope. Hope, who was observed mating with both males, disappeared in 2017 leaving behind a clutch of eggs. Valor I and Valor II remained behind and raised both of the young.

Read: How To Attract Cardinals, The Ultimate Backyard Tweet-hearts, To Your Yard

“We call that the father-of-the-year award,” Pam Steinhaus, visitor services manager at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge where the trio of eagles nest each year. “Through that whole time, they had daily attacks — all the way through April, and even into May. They were constantly on guard.”

With Hope now out of the picture, a new female, Starr, entered the relationship.

The unusual coupling or I guess ‘throupling’ if you will, has drawn the attention of people around the world. Their eagle cam has attracted nearly 1.5 million views on YouTube. [5]

“It’s definitely our own little soap opera,” said Steinhaus.

Bald eagles have a large range, stretching from Mexico all the way to Alaska. Bald eagles can be found in every single state in the US. [6]

No one is quite certain how many triad relationships there are among bald eagles. It’s already a pretty significant challenge to observe mating and rearing of young in the wild. There are only two other cases of bald eagle ‘throuples’ ever documented – one in Alaska in the 1970s and one in California in 1992. The relationship between Hope and the Valors was the first time a single female mating with two males was observed.

Keep Reading: Bald Eagles Keep Dying Because of Lead Poisoning And No One’s Talking About It