Chesapeake Bay Field Office
Northeast Region

Bald Eagle Nest Protection Guidance

Laws Protecting Bald and Golden Eagles

Eagle pair acclimated to new house construction.
Photo credit: Craig Koppie/USFWS
The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is protected by several federal regulatory Acts. It was first protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, in 1918, along with all other migratory bird species. Other protections were later placed on bald eagles in 1940, with enactment of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act). In 1969, the bald eagle received added protection under the Endangered Species Act when the population severely declined from adverse effects of large scale use of organo-chlorine pesticides (DDT), which depleted nest production. In the late 1970’s, the nesting population was estimated at 80 eagle pairs in the Chesapeake Bay Region. Through efforts to ban the production and use of organo-chlorine pesticides and increase protection of natural buffers around bald eagle nests, the population has since rebounded in the Bay region. In 2007, national conservation efforts led to the removal of the bald eagle from the list of federally endangered and threatened species.

Although bald eagle populations are of sustainable levels they remain protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act because of their national significance denoted by Congress. The Eagle Act prohibits anyone from “taking” bald eagles, including their parts, nests or eggs without a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior. Take is defined as “pursue, shoot, shot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, collect, molest or disturb.” Revision of the Eagle Act provides a method for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to authorize take through individual or programmatic eagle take permits under 50 CFR 22.26 and 22.27 for projects that meet issuance criteria.

Landscape Development Impacts

A variety of human activities can potentially interfere with bald eagles, affecting their ability to successfully forage, roost, nest, or raise young. Eagle nesting habitats are generally associated with undisturbed forests located less than 1/2 mile from major water bodies. More recently, as eagle populations continue to expand they are becoming more numerous in fringe habitats which may include forested areas within existing housing developments, commercial developments and airports, if close to rivers or bays. The Service developed National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines to inform landowners, land managers, and others on how to avoid and minimize disturbance to eagles in accordance with the Eagle Act.

Impacts to eagles will vary based on distance, visibility and frequency of human activity from an eagle’s nest. Landscape alterations and activities that pre-date the arrival of an eagle pair to a new territory will not pose a disturbance. However, there are limits in which human encroachment will negatively impact eagles and nesting. Because of this potential disturbance, the Service has established a 660-foot protection buffer zone around all eagle nests to avoid adverse impacts to nesting eagles. If any part of your project will occur within this nest buffer distance contact the Service’s Migratory Bird Permit Office at 413-253-8567 to determine if an eagle disturbance permit is necessary to be in compliance with the prohibitions under the Eagle Act. Projects that are further than 660-feet from an eagle nest will not require a permit. National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines will assist you in determining potential nest disturbance.

Power Utility Lines and Communication (Cell) Towers Impacts

Eagles and Ospreys frequently use tall tower structures for nesting. Photo Credit: Craig Koppie/USFWS
Bald eagle numbers continue to increase in the Chesapeake Bay region and nest sites now include the use of man-made (artificial) structures. These include telecommunication towers and support arms for high tension power close to water sources where eagles nest and forage. Over the years, osprey and bald eagle constructing stick nests on communication (cell) towers and power line structures have increased. In some cases, nests have impeded communication services when sticks fall onto energized wires and have led to fires or power outages potentially affecting both eagle and human safety. Inherently, man-made structures such as these often require annual inspections, maintenance or emergency repairs to restore function. Human activities on towers during the active nesting season can result in nest failure or abandonment by eagles.

Reducing Disturbance to Nesting Bald Eagles on Cell Towers

Eagle pair nesting on cellular tower.
Photo Credit: Craig Koppie/USFWS
It is important for utility companies to first assess which type of bird is using a structure before removing any nests. It is unlawful to remove a bald eagle nest, active or inactive, without first consulting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is illegal to disturb or remove bald eagle nests without an Eagle Act permit. Other raptors such as osprey are commonly found on man-made structures. Nests that originally were constructed and used by osprey during one nesting season may indeed be taken over by bald eagles the following year. One cannot assume that all nests on man-made structures are associated with osprey. To eliminate confusion, it is important to monitor the structure each year to determine which species is occupying the nest before a nest removal is contemplated.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if a particular tower structure is being considered by nesting bald eagles? Throughout the year, artificial structures located near water will often attract raptors. Highly elevated structures are commonly used as perch sites to observe foraging areas and depending on the season may be used as a nesting platform particularly, by bald eagles and ospreys.

What do you do if an eagle pair is observed on a tower during late fall/early winter? If a pair is observed in early November with frequent visits to a tower structure, it may likely become a nesting platform. Typically, nest construction begins during the months of October thru December. During this period, activities associated with tower maintenance should be avoided or postponed until the end of the nesting season. The bald eagle nesting season in the Chesapeake Bay region is from December 15 through June 30. If an unscheduled outage occurs during the nesting season and considered an emergency repair, contact the Service’s Region 5, Migratory Bird Permit Office for assistance at 413-253-8567.

When are maintenance activities considered unobtrusive and allowable during the nesting season? In most cases, normal ingress and egress to the control center at the base of the tower would not pose a disturbance risk and can continue without a time of year restriction. However, ground activities involving loud noises or banging should be avoided or greatly reduced.

Can an eagle’s nest be removed during the non-nesting season? Eagle nests (active or inactive) are federally protected and cannot be removed without issuance of an Eagle Act permit. Please contact the Service’s Region 5, Migratory Bird Permit Office for assistance at 413-253-8567.

Eagle Nests Associated with Electrical Transmission Towers

Suspended power lines pose risk of collision or electrocution to larger birds. Photo Credit: Craig Koppie/USFWS
Nesting bald eagles are attracted to elevated tower structures particularly if near rivers or other water sources. If a nest becomes a safety hazard, utility companies should immediately advise the Service of the present danger and seek permit authorization in order to proceed with a nest removal. Long term management may require retrofits to a particular structure, since eagles are likely to return to the same or nearby structure and present the same conflict. Contact the Service’s Region 5, Migratory Bird Permit Office for assistance at 413-253-8567.

An example of avian diverters used to visually mark suspended electrical wires to avoid collison. Photo Credit: Craig Koppie/USFWS

Reducing risks of collision and electrocution

Bald eagles and other large birds can be injured or killed when they collide with lines or making contact with multiple wires causing electrocution. The Avian Power Line Interaction Committee (APLIC) has developed pro-active measures to minimize harm to bald eagles and other large birds from electrocution. To reduce or avoid this threat, enact protective measures such as insulated flaps, boots, and jumper cable covers.

For projects involving overhead electrical distribution infrastructures that may impact bald eagles, go to APLIC for ways to minimize risk. If eagle mortalities occur, immediately contact the Service’s Region 5, Migratory Bird Permit Office at 413-253-8567.

Commercial Wind Energy Projects

For other large scale land developments such as commercial wind energy projects that may have adverse impacts to eagles, please refer to the Service’s Land-Based Wind Guidance and then contact the Service’s Region 5, Migratory Bird Permit Office at 413-253-8567 for further permitting information.

Some migratory birds in the Chesapeake Bay area:

Bald Eagle

Black Rail

Canada Goose


Cerulean Warbler

Field Sparrow

Great Blue Heron

Red Knot


USFWS Office of Migratory Bird Management

Last updated: February 9, 2017
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