FAQs/Commonly Asked Questions
About Migratory Birds
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the nation’s premier wildlife conservation agency. By law, the Service is responsible for conserving migratory birds and their habitats. But what does that mean and how do we do it?
The goals of the Migratory Bird Program are to protect, restore, and manage migratory bird populations to:
- ensure long-term ecological sustainability of all migratory bird populations,
- increase socioeconomic benefits,
- improve hunting and bird watching, other outdoor bird-related experiences,
- increase awareness of the value of migratory birds and their habitats for their intrinsic, ecological, recreational and economic significance.
We are responsible for maintaining healthy migratory bird populations for the benefit of the American people through:
Hunting & Permits
Through aerial surveys and other monitoring activities, the Migratory Bird Program determines the status of both game and non-game birds. Using this information, we establish regulations to authorize migratory bird hunting and provide opportunities, through the issuance of permits, for organizations and individuals to participate in migratory bird conservation. We support scientific research, rehabilitation of injured birds, education, falconry, taxidermy, and control of overabundant species
Eagle incidental take permits authorize incidental take (disturbance, injury or loss) of eagles that results from a broad spectrum of public and private activities, such as utility infrastructure development and maintenance, energy development, road construction, operation of airports, commercial or residential construction, resource recovery, recreational activity development, etc. The vast majority of these permits authorize eagle disturbance rather than lethal take.
The Service is committed to the conservation of eagles throughout the United States. Certain otherwise lawful activities may result in unintentional (also called non-purposeful or incidental) harm to eagles. Human activities across the landscape have increased over time, resulting in harm in the form of disturbance, encroachment on nests, and loss of individual eagles. Although this harm may be unintended, it is a violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (also known as the Eagle Act)
The take permitting system under the Eagle Act provides an effective means for the Service to work proactively with public and private entities to reduce this harm. It also provides a mechanism to gain critical data to track mortality rates and causes. In return for working with the Service to reduce harm to eagles, the permittee is provided a guarantee that they will not be prosecuted for the loss or disturbance of a specific number of birds.
The incidental take permit system is not new; it was employed for bald eagles while they were listed under the Endangered Species Act, during which time bald eagle populations increased dramatically. Permits provide a comprehensive conservation mechanism to reduce loss of and disturbance to eagles. Permitting involves engaging the permittee in a process to avoid and mitigate the loss of eagles to the maximum extent practicable. Only after all practicable conservation measures are incorporated will remaining take be authorized and then allowed only up to a specific number of birds. This ensures compatibility with our goal of stable or increasing eagle populations. The permits themselves act as an important feedback mechanism by providing additional information on eagle mortality to Service scientists to help inform future permitting decisions
Each permittee works with the Service to implement avoidance and minimization mechanisms to reduce the chance of harm to eagles. The Service is conservative in its permitting, meaning that in all likelihood, the minimization and avoidance measures the permittee has implemented will result in far fewer eagle deaths than the permit allows. In the case of golden eagles, permit applicants will be expected to implement or otherwise provide for conservation measures designed to protect more than one eagle for every eagle expected to be taken.
However, should take of eagles exceed the expected rate, the permittee has the opportunity to work with the Service to implement additional measures to reduce eagle mortality before the take permit limit is exceeded. If the permittee fails to do so and permitted take is exceeded, the entity would be in violation of the Eagle Act. Any additional take over the allowed level would be considered unlawful, and the permitee could be prosecuted.
Bald eagle populations are increasing; the population throughout the United States is now estimated to exceed 143,000 individuals. The population outside the Southwest is predicted to continue to increase, potentially until populations reach equilibrium at about 228,000.
We estimate the total population size for the golden eagle throughout the United States to be approximately 40,000 individuals. Although their population trend appears relatively stable, population models similar to those used for the bald eagle suggest that golden eagle populations in the western United States might be starting to decline. Human-impacts account for the majority of golden eagle mortality. This is why, in order to meet our goal of stable or increasing eagle populations, no permits will be given authorizing loss of golden eagles unless the permittee compensates for this loss at a greater rate (1.2 to 1).
The rule emphasizes use of broader compensatory options, including third-party funds such as mitigation banks. The types of accepted offsetting mitigation measures (e.g., power pole retrofits) are expanded by allowing measures with more uncertainty and risk with regard to their effectiveness (e.g., lead abatement) to be used. However, if such techniques are employed, they would need to be applied at a greater ratio and with credible monitoring due to the uncertainty.
The Service believes it should be possible to identify criteria that can be used in advance to identify projects that pose little risk to eagle populations and to develop an expedited permitting process for such projects. However, after formally soliciting public input on the topic and after considerable internal deliberation, the Service has not been able to reach a consensus on what constitutes a low-risk project. The Service expects that data collected through permits issued under this regulation will help identify the criteria that can be used to predict which projects pose little risk to eagles, but setting a timeline for that objective is not feasible because it depends on the number of projects that are permitted and how quickly they become operational and begin generating information. In the meantime, the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) programmatically analyzes eagle take within certain levels and the effects of complying with compensatory mitigation requirements to allow the Service to tier from the PEIS when conducting project-level National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) analyses. The PEIS will cover the analysis of effects to eagles under NEPA if: (1) The project will not take eagles at a rate that exceeds (individually or cumulatively) the take limit of the Eagle Management Unit (EMU) (unless take is offset); (2) the project does not result in Service-authorized take (individually or cumulatively) in excess of 5 percent of the Local Area Population (LAP); and (3) the applicant will mitigate using an approach the Service has already analyzed (e.g., power pole retrofitting), or the applicant agrees to use a Service-approved third-party mitigation program such as a mitigation bank or in-lieu fee program to accomplish any required offset for the authorized mortality. The PEIS, therefore, should streamline the NEPA process for these projects.
EMUs are a functional way for the Service to track eagle populations and trends and effectively manage the population to ensure species survival at an ecologically meaningful scale. Currently the Service uses its regional administrative structure as the basis for bald eagle EMUs and Bird Conservation Regions for golden eagle EMUs. The final rule changes this to base EMUs on eagle flyways with some modifications. For bald eagles, EMUs constitute the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific flyways, with the Pacific Flyway divided into three smaller EMUs based on latitude. Golden eagles have three EMUs: Pacific, Central, and combined Mississippi/Atlantic flyways.
Existing permits are unchanged by the revisions to the eagle permit regulations. When permittees apply for a new or renewed permit, they are subject to the new regulations.
To recoup the cost of processing longer-term permits, which are generally complex due to the need to develop robust adaptive management measures, we will assess a $36,000 permit application processing fee for eagle incidental take permits of five years duration or longer. This is the same cost as the current permit processing fee for five-year programmatic permit applications. We will assess a $8,000 administration fee every five years for long-term permits. This fee will cover the cost to the Service of conducting each five-year evaluation and developing any appropriate modifications to the permit. The fees will also help cover the costs of the staffing needed to ensure that longer-term permit applications are handled efficiently and consistently across the country.
A commercial applicant for an incidental take permit of less than five years’ duration will pay a $2,500 permit application processing fee (an increase from the current fee of $1,000 for programmatic permits and $500 for standard permits). The incidental take permit application processing fee for homeowners will remain at $500.
The higher fees for commercial entities will recover a larger portion of the actual cost to the Service, including technical assistance provided to the potential applicant by the Service prior to receiving the permit application package. Commercial entities have the opportunity to recoup the costs of doing business by passing those costs on to their customers.
Injured Birds and Bird Rehabilitation
Baby Birds & Bird Nests
Bird Feeding & Bird-Friendly Habitat
Federal and Junior Duck Stamps & E-Stamps
Bird Population Management