A trio of bald eagles are living their best polyamorous life in the state of Illinois, where they are raising their three children in a riverside property overlooking the Mississippi River.
It is an uncommon living arrangement in the avian world, with eagles tending to stick to pairs that they adhere to for life. It is particularly unusual because this threesome consists of two – typically very territorial – males, Valor I and Valor II.
In most three-parent animal families, the second dad functions as a live-in nanny-type figure. But in this case, cameras have captured both Valors copulating with the female, or mom, of the group (Starr). Indeed, it is not known which male is the eaglets' biological father. Meanwhile, all three adults perform their share of responsibilities as far as nest-making and childcare are concerned.
But while all looks peaceful as of right now, these three have a backstory that makes the plot lines in Days of Our Lives look tame.
The avian soap opera began in 2012 when Valor I began nesting with another female, Hope. According to the National Audubon Society, Valor I was a negligent father and a lousy partner, failing at his only two parental duties, egg-incubation and chick-feeding.
"Normally they will switch roles, but what happened was Hope would sit on the nest for a long, long time," Pam Steinhaus, visitor services manager at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, told the National Audobon Society.
"Valor I would never bring food in, so she’d have to get up and leave to hunt."
When she did, he'd incubate the eggs for a few minutes before getting bored and ditching. His sloppy attitude to parenting continued after the eggs hatched so that both eaglets died before fledging. Things still didn't improve and the couple was unable to reproduce successfully. Then, in 2013, a second male eagle (Valor II) arrived, eventually becoming Hope's main partner.
"I think Hope didn’t care for what Valor I was doing, so he got replaced," Steinhaus added.
But Valor I didn't give up. He remained nearby, though chose not to participate in family life.
Three years later, however, and things had changed. Camera footage revealed the trio enjoying a polyamorous set-up – both Valors spent time building the nest and taking care of the eggs, later eaglets, and both were spotted copulating with Hope. But as things were finally starting to look up, tragedy struck.
Soon after two eaglets hatched, a pair of outsider eagles assaulted the nest in a days-long offensive. The dads managed to fight off the two attackers without getting hurt. Sadly, Hope went missing and hasn't been seen since.
Even without Hope, the two dads continued their parenting duties, raising both eaglets to fledge. Then, in September 2017, the two males were joined by another female – Starr. She was seen collecting materials with the Valors in the fall and by springtime, there were two new eaglets.
Though uncommon, polyamorous set-ups do feature in the animal kingdom. Bald eagle trios have been spotted at least three times before – once in Alaska (1977), again in Minnesota (1983), and another time in California (1992). And who can forget Thomas, the bisexual polyamorous goose?