Wildlife Day with Jim Pease: Parenting in the Wild

May 8, 2018

From absentee parents to parenting by committee, it doesn't always take a village for animals to raise their young. 

On this Wildlife Day edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with wildlife biologist Jim Pease about the different parenting styles used by animals. John Howe of the Raptor Resource Project in Decorah also joins the conversation with an update on the Decorah eagles, who are being raised by a single mom after the recent disappearance of her mate.

Pease says that most reptiles and amphibians are absentee parents who lay many eggs and then leave their young to fend for themselves. In contrast, mammals usually stick closely to their offspring through early childhood and sometimes well beyond. One notable exception is rabbits and hares, who are often mistaken for absentee parents because they so rarely return to their babies.

"Hares and rabbits in general tend to only visit their young once, maybe twice a day for a couple of minutes," Pease says. "She nurses them that long and that's it."

Bird parenting is more of a mixed bag. Geese exhibit communal parenting and some species, such as brown-headed cowbirds, lay their eggs in other nests to have their young raised by others.

As for the Decorah eagles, Howe says that even without Dad Decorah the three eaglets are doing just fine. An unidentified male eagle has been spotted near the nest and watchers speculate that he may step in as a "stepdad" to the young birds. In the meantime, Mom Decorah has been holding down the nest and making sure that her babies are protected and well-fed.