Rules & Guidelines

eagleFederal and State Rules

The bald eagle has been delisted federally, but is still protected by the Federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which prohibit disturbance and taking of eagles. Federal law prohibits anyone, without a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior, from "taking" bald eagles, including their parts, nests, or eggs. The Act provides criminal and civil penalties for persons who take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import, at any time or any manner, any bald eagle, alive or dead, or any part, nest, or egg thereof. Take is defined as pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, molest or disturb. Disturbing the eagle means to bother a bald eagle to a degree that causes injury or decreases its productivity by interfering with breeding, feeding, or sheltering behavior or nest abandonment.

Eagles are unlikely to be disturbed by routine use of roads, homes, and other facilities where such use pre-dates the eagles' successful nesting activity in a given area. Therefore, in most cases, ongoing existing uses may proceed with the same intensity with little risk of disturbing bald eagles. However, some occasional or irregular uses that pre-date eagle nesting in an area may disturb bald eagles. For example, a pair of eagles may begin nesting in an area and subsequently be disturbed by activities associated with an annual outdoor flea market, even though the flea market has been held annually at the same location. This is the same for development activities. In such situations, human activity should be adjusted or relocated to minimize potential impacts on the nesting pair.

State and Federal Guidelines have been written as a tool for landowners and planners who seek information and recommendations regarding how to avoid disturbing bald eagles. Following the Guidelines benefits individuals, agencies, organizations, and companies by helping them avoid violations of the law. However, the Guidelines themselves are not law, but are recommendations based on several decades of behavioral observations and science.

St. Johns County Rules

Section 4.01.10 Bald Eagle Management

The County routinely checks on the status of known Bald Eagle nests and attempts to find new nests annually and whenever development is impending in a certain area near a known active nest. Depending on the type of development, different zones are established around known nest trees in order to reduce the chance the nesting bald eagle is startled. If an adult, immature or fledging eagle is disturbed by noises or presence of humans near its nest, then the chance the nesting pair is successful declines significantly.

The County has developed specific regulations to protect and enhance bald eagle habitat, and the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service encourages the continued use of such tools that benefit bald eagles. The County has rules for the protection of the Bald Eagle, establishing a 750-foot Primary Zone and 1500-foot Secondary Zone, out from the Nest Tree. These zones may differ, depending on certain site conditions and proposed development plans.

More Information

For more information about St. Johns County requirements regarding Bald Eagles, contact Ryan Mauch at (904) 209-0621 or

Gopher Tortoise. Photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons. Author: Craig ONeal