Protect Bald Eagle Nests & Habitats

The Law

*Information for this section is provided by the US Fish & Wildlife website.

Bald eagles were removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in 2007, and are no longer protected under the Endangered Species Act.  However, bald eagles remain protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act

Originally passed in 1940, this law provides for the protection of the bald eagle and the golden eagle (amended in 1962) by prohibiting the take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export, or import, of any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg, unless allowed by permit.

What does "take" mean?

“Take” includes pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, destroy molest or disturb. Activities that directly or indirectly lead to taking are prohibited without a permit.

What actions may "disturb" an eagle?

“Disturb” is defined by regulation 50 CFR§ 22.3 as “to agitate or bother a bald or golden eagle to a degree that causes, or is likely to cause, based on the best scientific information available:

• Injury to an eagle,
• Decrease in its productivity, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior, or
• Nest abandonment, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior

“Disturb” includes immediate impacts such as loud noises around the nest that may cause eagles to abandon their eggs or young chicks. A disturbance may also happen if humans change the landscape around the eagle nest. Even if these changes happen outside of the eagle nesting season, the eagle may have future decreased nest success or may abandon the nest if these changes are significant.

Penalties are in place for any found guilty of an offense.  Penalties double for an organization.  Rewards are provided for information leading to arrest and conviction. More information can be obtained by clicking on the links below:

There are a number of different types of permits available for authorizing take, possession, and transport of Bald and Golden Eagles. Use the links below to learn more about the most commonly used authorizations (permits) that are available for people whose activities may take eagles or their nests.

Eagle take permits are handled regionally. So, anyone needing a permit must go through their regional USFWS office. The permits and regulations handling the issuance of those permits are the same nationwide.

AEF is funding studies to better inform Bald Eagle take permits: looking at landscape dynamics and Bald Eagle movements for wind and take avoidance, and looking at the possibility of offsetting bald eagle “take” (which may or may not result in any eagle loss) with reduced lead available to eagles in the environment.

The Endangered Species Act

The bald eagle was removed from the List of Threatened and Endangered Species in 2007 because the population was considered recovered.

Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a federal law that protects birds that migrate across international borders. The countries partnering in this are Canada, Japan, Mexico, and Russia.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) was originally written in 1918 and has been revised and updated multiple times since then. It prohibits the taking, killing, possession, transportation, and importation of migratory birds, their eggs, parts, and nests except as authorized under a valid permit. More information.

The Lacey Act

The Lacey Act was originally passed in 1900 and has been amended multiple times since. It protects Bald Eagles by making it a federal offense to take, possess, transport, sell, import, or export their nests, eggs, and parts that are taken in violation of any state, tribal, or U.S. law. It also prohibits false records, labels, or identification of wildlife shipped, prohibits importation of injurious species, and prohibits shipment of fish or wildlife in an inhumane manner. More information.

State Laws

State governments can enact state laws that afford more protection than Federal laws to conserve wildlife species. For example, bald eagles may be protected by a state endangered species law. You can contact your own state fish and wildlife agency to see if your state has laws or management guidelines that protect Bald or Golden Eagles.

Steps to Advocate

Eagles are unlikely to be disturbed by routine use of roads, homes, or other facilities where such use was present before an eagle pair nested in a given area. For instance, if eagles were to build a nest near an existing home, cabin, or place of business, it would not likely affect the nest or eaglets. An exception to this is when Eagles build nests near power lines that fledging Eaglets may come in contact with. In this case, you can encourage local power and utility companies to make their power lines more avian-friendly.

However, intentional commercial development (malls, power lines, power plants, pollutant-heavy factories, etc.) where bald eagles are already nesting, roosting, wintering, or foraging can negatively affect the bald eagle population and bald eagles’ safety/health in that area. This is when you should take action.

Step 1

Your most valuable resource in making a case against any potentially threatening development/activity is thorough documentation. Pictures and videos make for great visual proof. Annual records that document nesting activity or roosting/foraging/wintering activity indicate long-term, previous use of an area by bald eagles.

Step 2

Give the developer the benefit of the doubt. Contact the developer and inform them that there is a bald eagle nest or active Eagle roosting/feeding/wintering area near their development/project/activity. If they are unaware of this fact and are early on in their development/project/activity, request that they reconsider their location choice, OR encourage them to create a cooperative eagle protection plan that will mitigate their impact on any nearby active nest(s) or eagle roosting/foraging/wintering areas. Situations may vary.

Step 3

Once they are aware—or if they were already aware—of the eagle nest or habitat, but still intend to proceed with potentially threatening development activities, ask if they have performed an environmental impact study and/or obtained a Take Permit from the USFWS. If they have obtained a permit, call your regional USFWS Migratory Bird Permit Office to verify. Please verify that the development/activity that is actually taking place matches the development/activity approved by the USFWS. Click HERE to find the contact information for your region’s USFWS Migratory Bird Permit Office. Please have the following information prepared before contacting your regional office.

  • Location of the eagle nest (
  • Location of the planned project
  • Type of project planned and long-term plans for the project
  • Distance between the project and the eagle nest
  • When the project will occur (what year, which months)
  • How long the project will take
Step 4

If planning, development, or activity proceeds without obtaining a permit—or if their application for a permit was denied—you must contact your regional USFWS (Federal) Law Enforcement Office and State Law Enforcement Office so that they may take action to cease the planning, development, or activity. To view the contact information for your (Federal) USFWS Regional Law Enforcement Office serving your state, click here –> Find contact information for a state-level wildlife law enforcement officer. Choose your region and then scroll down until you see ‘Special Agent In Charge Office.’ That is the direct office to contact.

Commonly asked questions

Are eagles and their nest sites protected by federal law?

Yes, both bald and golden eagles (and their nests) are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act). Both laws prohibit “take” and possession of eagles, their parts, nests, and eggs. Both acts prohibit intentional injury, harassment, and death. Under the Eagle Act, “take” also includes disturbance and unintentional (incidental) take.
Eagles and their nests may also be protected by state laws and local ordinances.

What are the National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines, and how do they apply to me building a home near an eagle nest?

The National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines (2007) are intended to help landowners, land managers, and others who share public and private lands with bald eagles identify and minimize disturbance to bald eagles, thereby benefiting bald eagles while protecting landowners. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) strongly encourages following these guidelines around bald eagle nests.

Do I need a permit to buy or sell land with an eagle nest on it? Does a seller have to disclose the presence of an eagle nest on land they are selling?

Because landownership does not impact eagles ( or lessen their protection), eagle disturbance permits are not needed to buy or sell land containing an eagle nest. Permits are recommended (but not required) if an activity is planned that may disturb eagles. The Eagle Act makes no specific mention of whether a seller should disclose the presence of an eagle nest on their property to potential sellers. The Service does not provide advice on real estate transactions, and recommends buyers and sellers consult their real estate agents and/or real estate lawyers.

I am interested in buying a piece of property, but it is near a bald eagle nest. Will I be able to build a home there? Will there be restrictions on my everyday activities?

The Service does not dictate whether a landowner can build a home near an eagle nest. Rather, the Service makes recommendations on ways to avoid impact to nesting bald eagles. These recommendations are based on distance of the proposed activity to the nest and the time of year eagles are active. Generally, once the home is built, the eagles are unlikely to be disturbed by everyday activities such as lawn mowing, outdoor recreation, vehicle traffic, etc.

How do I avoid disturbing eagles at their nest?

Please use the following recommendations based on your activity, distance to the nest, and time of year to determine if your project may disturb eagles and if a permit is recommended.

Distance Time of year Activity Recommendation
>660 Feet Any time All (except blasting and other extremely loud activities) No permit
330-660 Feet (if similar activity within 330 feet) Breeding season All Permit may not be recommended if eagles are tolerant of past disturbance; Contact USFWS for Assistance.
330-660 feet
(no similar activity within 330 feet)
Breeding season All Permit recommended
330-660 feet Outside of breeding season Activity that will not be noticeable when the eagles return (tree trimming, pipe installation, etc) Permit likely not recommended; Contact USFWS for Assistance.
<330 feet Outside of breeding season Tree clearing, building structures Permit likely. recommended
<330 feet Breeding season All Permit recommended
I can't follow these guidelines and I may disturb nesting eagles. Can I still build my house?

If you are not able to follow the Service’s 2007 National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines, please contact USFWS to discuss your project and discuss whether an eagle disturbance permit is recommended. There may also be site­specific avoidance or minimization measures that would be appropriate for your situation.
Please note: An eagle disturbance permit does not allow construction, but rather permits the eagle disturbance that may result from the home construction.

Who can apply for an eagle permit?

There are multiple ways of obtaining an eagle disturbance permit.
Landowners can apply for an eagle permit prior to selling their property, and transfer it to the new owner upon sale. Buyers can obtain a permit before they purchase the property, and the permit becomes valid once they own the land. Landowners can also apply for a permit after they purchase the property. The important thing to remember is whoever holds the permit is legally responsible for following the conditions of the permit. Permit transfers will incur an amendment fee ($150 for homeowners, $500 for businesses).

What are the conditions of the eagle permit?

Conditions of the disturbance permit will be unique to your project and will depend on the timing of construction, distance to the eagle nest, and similar activities occurring near the nest. Permit conditions may include (but are not limited to): clearing trees and vegetation outside of the breeding season, restricting construction to warmer times of the day/season, leaving a vegetation buffer between the eagle nest and your house, and planning your project to ensure the long-term health of the nest tree.

What if I decide to not get a permit?

Permits are not mandatory and can not be required by the Fish and Wildlife Service. If you decide to build your house within the recommended buffer distances of an eagle nest, and the eagles continue to use the nest and raise young, then no federal laws have been violated. However, if the eagle abandons the nest, the nest fails, or the nestlings die, you may be held liable by the Eagle Act. Penalties for Eagle Act violations can range from up to one year in prison and $100,000 fine for a first offense (criminal misdemeanor), to up to 2 years in prison and $250,000 fine for a second offense ( criminal felony). These fines can be doubled for businesses.
More information can be found at Federal Laws that Protect Bald and Golden Eagles.

Can I get a permit to cut an eagle nest down?

Permits are available for eagle nest removal. If the nest removal is not for an emergency or health and human safety reason, the following conditions must be met:

  • There is no practicable way to leave the eagle nest tree intact.
  • You must mitigate the loss of the nest by providing a net benefit to the eagles

Eagle nest removal permits (other than for emergency reasons) often have a longer pre-permit coordination and processing time; please plan accordingly. More information on eagle nest removal can be found here.

Is a state permit required eagle nest disturbance/removal?

You are responsible for determining whether eagle permits are required for nest disturbance or removal are required by your state. You should contact your state wildlife office for more information. In order for your federal eagle permit to be valid, you must be in compliance with all other state, federal, local, and/or tribal laws and ordinances.

Can I collect and possess any part of the bald eagle's nest, feathers, eggs, dead eaglets, etc. from in or around the eagle's nest that I may find near my house?

No, you may not collect anything from in or around the nest. Both the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (50 CFR § 21.11) and the Eagle Act (50 CFR §22.11) prohibit the collection or possession of eagles, their parts, feathers, nests, and eggs without a permit. The Service recommends you leave any eagle parts of feathers where you find them. Eagle parts and feathers may be disposed of by burial or incineration.

I really like the eagles around my cabin! How can I protect them?

There are many voluntary measures you can do to help eagles where you live: clean up fishing line, fishing hooks, and all lead tackle, avoid pointing floodlights at the eagle nest, avoid shooting off fireworks near the eagle nest, do not burn brushfires or campfires under or near the nest tree, limit foot traffic and loud activities under the nest, inform visitors of the nest and the laws that protect eagles, and pick up any roadkill or carcasses (to reduce eagles-vehicle collisions).

Contact Us

If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact us.

If you had great success protecting an Eagle Nest, let us know! We’d love to hear your success story!