Eagle Disturbance Take Permits and Nest Take Permits

Protections

Eagle Disturbance Protections

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act affords protections to eagles including assuring they are not disturbed.  Disturbance to eagles is one of the forms of "take" prohibited by the law (16 U.S.C. 668d).  Disturb means "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, (1) injury to an eagle, (2) a decrease in its productivity, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior, or (3) nest abandonment, by substantially interfering with normal breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior" (50 CFR 22.6).

Note that disturbance to eagles may be caused not only by visible human activity and/or human noise, disturbance to eagles can also come in the form of removing eagle habitat (including breeding, foraging, and sheltering habitat) from the landscape to the extent that an eagle pair abandons their territory and the territory is lost.

Eagle Nest Protections

Along with protecting eagles, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act also protects eagle nests. Eagle nests are protected at all times, not just when the nests are in use by eagles. This means eagle nests can never be removed, destroyed, moved, tampered with, or obstructed, no matter what time of year it is, without a permit.

An eagle nest is defined as "any assemblage of materials built, maintained, or used by bald eagles or golden eagles for the purpose of reproduction. An eagle nest remains an eagle nest until it becomes so diminished, or the nest substrate upon which it is built fails, that the nest is no longer usable and is not likely to become usable to eagles, as determined by a Federal, Tribal, or State eagle biologist" (50 CFR 22.6).

The following are all considered eagle nests and are protected (unless the nests are determined by a Federal, Tribal, or State eagle biologist to no longer be usable):

  • Any nest constructed by an eagle, even if the nest is never finished or used.
  • A nest built by another bird that is subsequently used by an eagle for reproduction.
  • A nest constructed by an eagle that is subsequently used by another species, such as owls or osprey. 

Note that if nest take removes all available nesting substrate from an eagle pair's territory, this can lead to abandonment and loss of the eagle territory, which constitutes a form of disturbance take.



Finding Breeding Eagles and Eagle Nests

The first step in protecting eagle nests and protecting breeding eagles from disturbance is knowing where eagle nests are located and understanding eagle breeding territories. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not maintain a database of eagle nest locations. Many state wildlife and natural resource agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations, keep records of eagle nest locations; we recommend contacting these entities to see if data is available for your area. Please note that even the most recent databases will not contain all records; it is the responsibility of anyone conducting activities that may disturb eagles and/or take eagle nests to survey the vicinity for any breeding eagle activity and eagle nests before conducting these activities.

Resources

The below resources are not official USFWS guidance, recommendations, or requirements; they are provided for informational purposes only.

Golden Eagle Breeding Survey Recommendations in Nevada

This document has been developed by the USFWS Pacific Southwest Region Migratory Bird Program to provide interim technical assistance relating to developing golden eagle survey plans for development projects. Our recommendations are meant to cover various activities and industrial development...



Avoiding and Minimizing Disturbance to Eagles

Bald Eagle Management Guidelines

National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines

These guidelines were developed by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to advise landowners, land managers and others who share public and private lands with bald eagles about when and under what circumstances the protective provisions of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act may apply to their...

Golden Eagle Nest Disturbance

Golden eagles may be sensitive to the presence and activities of humans and potentially easily disturbed. The Service has drafted a synthesis of scientific information on human disturbance of golden eagles.

   Considering Disturbance to Golden Eagles

Regional Resources

bald eagle adult and juveniles in tree
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended buffers for creating no-disturbance zones around bald and golden eagle nests in California and Nevada.
Bald Eagle Monitoring Guidelines-Southeastern US

This step-by-step guidance will help you determine if your new or intermittent activity near an eagle nest, including alternate nests, is likely to take or disturb bald eagles (a potential violation of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act) and measures that you can adopt to avoid that...

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Permits for Disturbance Take

There are regulations that allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to permit take of bald eagles or golden eagles (50 CFR 22), including incidental disturbance take, under certain circumstances when specific criteria and conditions are met.  Notably, take can only be authorized when it is associated with, but not the purpose of, an activity, and the take cannot practicably be avoided. The take permitting system under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act provides an effective means for the Service to work proactively with public and private entities to reduce unintentional harm to eagles and, when necessary, assure it is offset. It also provides a mechanism to gain important data on what, how, and when human activity disturbs eagles. In return for working with the Service to reduce harm to eagles, a permittee is provided a guarantee that they will not be prosecuted for the disturbance of an estimated number of eagle pairs.

Assessing the Need for a Disturbance Take Permit

Are you planning an activity around an in-use (sometimes referred to as "active") eagle nest or an alternate (sometimes referred to as "inactive") eagle nest?  Wondering if you need a permit?

A few activities that the Service is commonly asked about that do not require a permit are when activities are conducted adjacent to a communal eagle roost or foraging area, or when eagles need to be hazed, which entails the use of non-lethal and uninjurious methods to disperse eagles away from a site, unless the hazing may disrupt eagle breeding activity.

The Service provides additional information for consideration when determining if a permit may be needed for activity around a bald eagle nest:

An adult bald perches on the edge of a large nest, watching over it's nestling
Are you planning an activity around an active, or in-use nest, or alternate, or inactive, bald eagle nest? Wondering if you need a permit? An eagle disturbance permit may be issued for taking eagles when the take is associated with, but not the purpose of, an activity and cannot practicably be...


General Permits for Bald Eagle Disturbance

In 2024, the Service revised the regulations for the issuance of permits for eagle incidental take and eagle nest take under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The revised regulations include a new system of general permits in addition to the specific-permit situations the Service has authorized in the past. These general permits are designed for situations with low risks to eagles and are an alternative approach to authorize certain activities under prescribed conditions, including general permit options for activities that may incidentally disturb breeding bald eagles. 

General permits are available for bald eagles only, they are not available for disturbance of golden eagles. Additionally, only the specified activity types listed below are eligible for general permits:

  1. Building construction and maintenance
  2. Linear infrastructure construction and maintenance
  3. Alteration of shorelines and water bodies
  4. Alteration of vegetation
  5. Controlled burns
  6. Motorized recreation [in-use nests only]
  7. Nonmotorized recreation [in-use nests only]
  8. Aircraft operation within 1,000 feet [in-use nests only]
  9. Loud, intermittent noises (e.g., blasting) within one-half-mile [in-use nests only]


Only federally-recognized Tribes may receive a general permit for bald eagle disturbance take in Indian Country (as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1151).

Activities that may cause complete loss of an eagle breeding territory are ineligible for take coverage under general disturbance permits.

General permits for bald eagle disturbance take are only effective for a maximum of a year.  Permittees self-certifying for a general permit will be required to monitor the disturbed eagle pair and their nest(s) to collect information sufficient to determine whether nestlings have fledged from the pair's nest, however they will not owe any compensatory mitigation. All general permit holders must agree to general standard conditions, as well as standard conditions specific for each of the nine eligible activity types.

General Permit Standard Conditions - Bald Eagle Nest Disturbance

These permit conditions accompany the general permit authorization to disturb bald eagles at a nest. Disturbance is authorized provided there is no practicable alternative to avoiding or minimizing it.  Authorization under a general permit applies only to disturbance take resulting from...

Fee Schedule for General Permits for Bald Eagle Disturbance
Application FeeAdministration FeeAmendment Fee
$100noneN/A
Apply for a General Permit:

General Permit - Eagle Take - Bald Eagle Disturbance

(Our automated general permitting system will be available ~ July 2024.  Prior to then, please email migratorybirdpermits@fws.gov to request a general permit)


Specific Permits for Disturbance

Along with the general permits described above, the Service will also continue to review specific permits for situations that have high or uncertain risks to eagles.  These specific permits are available for situations that are ineligible for general permits or if an applicant is unable or unwilling to adhere to the terms and conditions of a general permit.

Specific permits authorizing incidental eagle disturbance take are the only option for, but not limited to, the following:

  • Golden eagle disturbance
  • Bald eagle disturbance from activities other than the nine activity types indicated for general permit eligibility
  • Bald eagles nesting in Indian Country (as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1151).
  • Activities that may result in permanent loss of an eagle territory
  • Reoccurring long-term disturbance


Specific permits authorizing incidental disturbance take of eagles have a maximum tenure of five years. Permittees issued a specific permit may be required to monitor the disturbed eagle pair and their nest(s) and may be required to provide offsetting compensatory mitigation.

Fee Schedule for Specific Permits for Eagle Disturbance
Application FeeAdministration FeeAmendment Fee

Non-commercial:$500

Commercial:$2,500

none

none

Non-commercial:$150

Commercial:$500

Apply for a Specific Permit:

   Specific Permit for Eagle Disturbance


Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Compensatory Mitigation Programs

The USFWS has approved power pole retrofits and lead abatement to offset eagle take, and is reviewing other mitigation options for approval in the near future. We strongly encourage anyone interested to reach out to the Service if they would like to be a mitigation provider or would like to develop an additional mitigation method. Please email migratorybirdpermits@fws.gov

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently has two authorized in-lieu fee programs, the Bald Eagle And Golden Eagle Electrocution Prevention In-lieu Fee Program and the Eagle Protection and Offset Program, to sell compensatory mitigation credits for bald and golden eagle take.  These two third-party mitigation options are specific to eagles and authorized by USFWS to offset incidental eagle take.  (Note: USFWS authorization of these programs does not constitute blanket endorsement of either company, or a parent company, operating these programs)

      BALD EAGLE AND GOLDEN EAGLE ELECTROCUTION PREVENTION IN-LIEU FEE PROGRAM

      EAGLE PROTECTION AND OFFSET PROGRAM

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Permits for Nest Take

As noted above, eagle nests are protected at all times, not just when the nests are in use by eagles. Therefore, eagle nests can never be removed, destroyed, moved or relocated, tampered with, or obstructed, no matter what time of year it is, without a permit.  The Service does have the ability to authorize take of an eagle nest under certain circumstances.  Regulations regarding eagle nest take were revised in 2024.

An eagle nest is defined as "any assemblage of materials built, maintained, or used by bald eagles or golden eagles for the purpose of reproduction" (50 CFR 22.6).  Some additional definitions related to eagles nests and their status that are helpful when determining if and when a permit may be issued to authorize the take of a nest are when a nest is defined as "in-use" by eagles or when a nest is an "alternate" nest of a breeding eagle pair.  An eagle nest is considered "in-use" when there is "the presence of one or more eggs, dependent young, or adult eagles on the nest in the past 10 days during the breeding season" (50 CFR 22.6).  An "alternate nest" means "one of potentially several nests within a nesting territory that is not an in-use nest at the current time. When there is no in-use nest, all nests in the territory are alternate nests" (50 CFR 22.6).

Justifications for Nest Take

  1. Emergency 
  2. Health and Safety
  3. Regain the use of a human-engineered structure structure
    Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish cleaning table, satellite dish/mount, or well head.

    Learn more about structure
  4. Protection of an ESA-listed species
  5. Other Purposes (provided the activity or mitigation provides a net benefit to eagles)

The Service's ability to authorize nest take for the justifications listed above are dependent on the status of the nest.

JustificationNest Status
Emergencyalternate or in-use
Health and Safetyalternate or in-use prior to egg
laying
Regain use of a human-engineered structurealternate or in-use prior to egg
laying
Protection of ESA-listed speciesalternate or in-use prior to egg
laying
Other Purposesalternate only


General Permits for Bald Eagle Nest Take

In 2024, The Service revised the regulations for the issuance of permits for eagle incidental take and eagle nest take under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.  The revised regulations include a new system of general permits in addition to the specific-permit situations the Service has authorized in the past. These general permits are designed for situations with low risks to eagles and are an alternative approach to authorize certain activities under prescribed conditions, including general permit options for take of an eagle nest.

General permits are available for bald eagle nests only, they are not available for take of golden eagles nests, and only certain situations are eligible:

  • Take of a nest for a safety emergency
  • Take of a nest for health and safety
  • Take of a nest located on a human-engineered structure structure
    Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish cleaning table, satellite dish/mount, or well head.

    Learn more about structure


General permits for take of bald eagles nests located in Alaska may also be available for other reasons.  Contact the Alaska region Migratory Bird Permit Office for additional information.

Only federally-recognized Tribes may receive a general permit for bald eagle nest take in Indian Country (as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1151).

Activities that may cause complete loss of an eagle breeding territory are ineligible for take coverage under general nest take permits.

General permits for bald eagle nest take are only effective for a maximum of a year.  Permittees self-certifying for a general permit will be required to monitor the eagle pair associated with the taken nest, however they will not owe any compensatory mitigation. All general permit holders must agree to general standard conditions of the permit.

General Permit Standard Conditions - Bald Eagle Nest Take

These general permit conditions accompany the authorization to remove, relocate, or obstruct a bald eagle nest. This take is authorized provided there is no practicable alternative to avoiding or minimizing it. Types of nest take eligible for a general permit are described further in 50 CFR 22....

Fee Schedule for General Permits for Bald Eagle Nest Take
Application FeeAdministration FeeAmendment Fee
$100noneN/A
Apply for a General Permit:

General Permit - Eagle Incidental Take - Bald Eagle Nest Take

(Our automated general permitting system will be available ~ July 2024.  Prior to then, please email migratorybirdpermits@fws.gov to request a general permit)


Specific Permits for Nest Take

Along with the general permits described above, the Service will also continue to review specific permits for situations that have high or uncertain risks to eagles.  These specific permits are available for situations that are ineligible for general permits or if an applicant is unable or unwilling to adhere to the terms and conditions of a general permit.

Specific permits authorizing eagle nest take are the only option for:

  • Golden eagle nest take
  • Bald eagle nest take for
    • Protection of species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act
    • Any reason other than a safety emergency or health and safety
    • Nests not located on human-engineered structures
    • Nests located in Indian Country (as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1151).
  • Activities that may result in permanent loss of an eagle territory


For any nests that are taken that are not due to a safety emergency or health and safety concerns, not located on a human-engineered structure structure
Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish cleaning table, satellite dish/mount, or well head.

Learn more about structure
, or whose take is not protecting an ESA-listed species, the take of the nest must provide a net benefit to eagles.  The Service does not issue nest take permits for convenience.

Specific permits authorizing eagle nest take have a maximum tenure of five years. Permittees issued a specific permit may be required to monitor the eagle pair associated with the taken nest and may be required to provide offsetting compensatory mitigation.

PurposeBald Eagle Nest TakeGolden Eagle Nest Take
Safety EmergencyGeneral Permit Available



Specific Permit Required for all purposes
Health and SafetyGeneral Permit Available
Human-Engineered StructureGeneral Permit Available
ESA Species ProtectionSpecific Permit Required
Other purposes providing a net benefit to eaglesSpecific Permit Required in all states except Alaska; 
General Permit available in Alaska only
Fee Schedule for Specific Permits for Eagle Nest Take
# of Nests to be TakenApplication FeeAdministration FeeAmendment Fee
Nest Take – single nest

Non-commercial:$500

Commercial:$2,500

none

Non-commercial:$150

Commercial:$500

Nest Take – multiple nests$5,000none$500
Apply for a Specific Permit:

   Specific Permit for Eagle Nest Take

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Territory Loss

Both incidental disturbance take of breeding eagles and take of eagle nests can lead to territory loss for the affected eagles.  Along with behavioral disturbances from human activity, modification or loss of nesting, breeding, resting, and foraging habitat due to human development can also cause a territory to no longer be usable by eagles.

More extensive surveys for eagles and their nests over a broader area, as well as behavioral observations of territorial eagles, may be necessary to gather information on eagle territories in the vicinity of human activities and how these territories may be affected by the activities.

The Service can authorize loss of an eagle territory under an eagle disturbance take specific permit.  Contact your regional Migratory Bird Permit Office for assistance.