Maine Field Office - Ecological Services
Northeast Region

Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act

The State of Maine and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) can proudly celebrate a collaborative effort to recover the bald eagle, our national symbol.  More than 500 pairs currently nest in the State, and bald eagles are once again a common sight to the people of Maine.  As with all species removed from the Federal list, the Service continues to work with State agencies and conservation partners to periodically assess the bald eagle population, monitor contaminants, and work with the public to conserve a growing eagle population.  Maine residents take pride in recovering the bald eagle and often refer to this achievement as a conservation success.

Chirs Desorbo, BRI, retrieving nestling. Credit: Kayla Easler, USFWS.

Chris Desorbo, BRI, retrieving nestling. Photo Credit: Kayla Easler, USFWS.

Steve Mierzykowski and juvenile bald eagle. Credit: USFWS

Steve Mierzykowski and juvenile bald eagle. Photo Credit: USFWS

Eagle Facts

A large raptor (bird of prey), the bald eagle has a wingspread of 5½ to 8 feet. Adults have a dark brown body and wings, white head and tail, and a yellow beak. In flight, the bald eagle often soars or glides with the wings held at a right angle to the body. Juvenile bald eagles have mottled brown and white plumage, gradually acquiring their dark brown body and distinctive white head and tail as they mature. Bald eagles generally attain adult plumage by 5 years of age. Adults weigh 8 to 14 pounds, occasionally reaching 16 pounds in Alaska. Those in the northern range grow larger than those in the south, and females are somewhat larger than males. Bald eagles are a North American species that historically occurred throughout the contiguous United States and Alaska. After severely declining in the lower 48 States between the 1870s and the 1970s, bald eagles have rebounded and re-established breeding territories in each of the lower 48 States except Vermont. The largest North American breeding populations are in Alaska and Canada, but there are also significant bald eagle populations in Florida, the Pacific Northwest, the Greater Yellowstone area, the Great Lakes States, and the Chesapeake Bay region. Bald eagle distribution varies seasonally. Bald eagles that nest in southern latitudes frequently move northward in late spring and early summer, often summering as far north as Canada. Most eagles that breed at northern latitudes migrate southward during winter, or to coastal areas where waters remain unfrozen.

Steve Mierzykowski and juvenile bald eagle. Credit: USFWS

Steve Mierzykowski and juvenile bald eagle. Photo provided by Steve Mierzykowski: USFWS

Blood Sample taken from juvenile bald eagle. Creidt: Kayla Easler, USFWS.

Blood Sample taken from juvenile bald eagle. Photo Credit: Kayla Easler, USFWS.


Bald eagles can live 15 to 25 years in the wild, and even longer in captivity. Most are capable of breeding at four or five years of age, but in dense populations they may not start breeding until much older. A pair typically mates for life and builds a huge nest in the tops of large trees near rivers, lakes, marshes, or other aquatic areas. Nests are often re-used year after year, with additions to the nests made annually. Nests are often 4 to 6 feet wide and may weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Although bald eagles may range over great distances, they usually return to nest within 125 miles of where they were raised.

Nesting activity begins several weeks before egg-laying. Egg-laying dates vary throughout the U.S., ranging from October in Florida, to late April or even early May in the northern United States. The bald eagle nesting season tends to be longer in the southern U.S., and re-nesting following nest failure is more common there as well. In the Pacific Northwest, nest construction begins around January 1, and females typically initiate egg laying soon after February 1. Bald eagles lay 1 to 4 eggs a year (typically 2), which hatch after about 35 days of incubation. Only one egg is laid per day, and not always on successive days. Hatching of young occurs on different days, with the result that chicks in the same nest are sometimes of unequal size. Eaglets make their first unsteady flights about 10 to 12 weeks after hatching, and fledge (leave their nests) within a few days after that first flight. However, young birds usually remain in the vicinity of the nest for several weeks after fledging because they are almost completely dependent on their parents for food until they disperse from the nesting territory approximately six weeks later. Recent studies show that approximately 70 percent survive their first year of life.

Juvenile bald eagle in nest. Credit: USFWS

Juvenile bald eagle in nest. Photo Credit: USFWS

Golden eagles breed in Maine as recently as 1998 a majority of historic site have not been used for over 13 years. However, golden eagle have been known to migrate across parts of our State. For more information about eagle migration in the Northeast please visit: Center for Conservation Biology

Bald Eagles were removed from the endangered species list in June 2007 because their populations recovered sufficiently. Although the bald eagle is no longer protected under the Maine Endangered Species Act (MESA) and the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), it continues to be protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act) and associated regulations. When the Bald Eagle was de-listed, the Service proposed regulations to create a permit program to authorize limited take of Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles where take is associated with otherwise lawful activities. The bald eagle has also been removed from the State of Maine endangered species list. Click here for more information from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

In many ways, the MBTA and Eagle Act are less restrictive than the protection bald eagles received under State of Maine and Federal endangered species acts.  For example:

  • When listed under the MESA, one-quarter mile (1,320 ft.) regulatory Essential Habitat zones were created around all eagle nests and all State and municipal projects funded, permitted or carried out within these areas required MDIFW review and approval.  Under the Eagle Act’s National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines, the area of concern is reduced to less than 660 feet, and usually less than 330 feet.  Projects within this area can usually proceed, in most instances with few or minor modifications.
  • When listed under the ESA, Federal agencies were required to consult with the Service to ensure projects receiving Federal funding and permits did not jeopardize the bald eagle.  Now under the Eagle Act, if landowners and developers adhere to the National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines they can self-certify that their projects will not take or disturb eagles – a simple visit to our Web site and no lengthy Federal agency reviews.
  • MDIFW no longer conducts regulatory review around eagle nests and refers all inquiries concerning eagles to the Service.  Although we have a small staff in the Maine Field Office, we are now the primary contact to advise the public about activities around eagle nests.  We appreciate the continued support MDIFW provides to the Service with nest information, site visits, and perspectives on projects that were once under their purview.
  • The Eagle Act is flexible and provides permits for take of eagles or their nests when no other alternatives are available.  No one has applied for a permit yet in Maine, however we are discussing this possibility for several wind power and development projects.

If a landowner or developer believes that their project will take or disturb bald eagles, the Maine Field Office staff helps find solutions that allow people and eagles to coexist.  Most often conducting activities outside of the nesting season allows projects to proceed.  We have hired a full-time Eagle Act coordinator for the Northeast Region to support the field offices with complex projects that may require permits.  Our emphasis is on customer service, and we have been quick to respond to requests by State agencies, municipalities, developers, and the public for assistance on Eagle Act issues.  The Maine Field Office receives many requests by concerned Maine citizens that we adhere to the national guidelines and policies related to the MBTA and Eagle Act.  In summary, we believe the Eagle Act provides a flexible, predictable approach to allowing development to proceed and to protect our national symbol. 

For details about the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act please visit: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Web site

Last updated: May 31, 2017
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