Bald Eagle

About Bald Eagles

The Bald Eagle is the national emblem of the Unites States and has long been a spiritual symbol for Native Americans. Its name is derived from the white feathered head that contrasts with its brown body and wings. The adult white head and tail plumage does not fully emerge until about 5 years of age. Juveniles have mostly brown heads and tails along with brown body and wings that may also be mottled with white.

The Bald Eagle can often be identified by its size alone as it dwarfs many of the other birds of prey found in our County. They have a heavy body, large head and hooked bill. In flight, they typically hold their broad wings very flat, and you will most often find these regal raptors soaring, hunting, or scavenging along the St. Johns River or Intracoastal Waterway.

Nesting & Habitat Management

Bald Eagle nesting season is officially from October 1st through May 15th in the Southeastern United States each year. These dates may vary depending on nesting activities at specific nest sites. There are around 35 active known nests in St. Johns County, with most located along the St. Johns River and Intracoastal Waterway. The areas where eagles tend to nest can range from the middle of public conservation lands where there is little to no human activities to right in the middle of existing residential subdivisions.

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.

FAQs

How can I make sure that a bald eagle’s nest will not be impacted by a new project?

The FWC eagle web site features a list of construction and other activity types that may disturb nesting bald eagles, and links to the federal bald eagle management plan. You may also check nest locations on the St. Johns County Bald Eagle Map.

What do I do if a project may need an eagle permit?

If an eagle or eagle nest may be affected by the proposed project it may be necessary to obtain both a federal and state eagle permit. More information on state and federal permit requirements can be found on the FWC eagle permitting web site. Regional Biologists and the FWC eagle plan coordinator are also available to provide additional assistance as necessary. The USFWS eagle permit coordinator or the USFWS Bald Eagle Biologist may also be contacted if you have questions about the federal eagle permit.

What are the federal permitting regulations?

There are two new federal permitting regulations under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The regulation set forth in 50 CFR § 22.26 provides for issuance of permits to take bald eagles and golden eagles where the taking is associated with but not the purpose of the activity and cannot practicably be avoided. Most take under this regulation will be in the form of disturbance, with avoidance and minimization measures, mitigation and monitoring are generally required. Inactive nests, as defined by FWC, are defined by the absence of eagle activity for a period of 5 years. The regulation at 50 CFR § 22.27 establishes permits for removing eagle nests. Nests may only be removed in cases of safety emergencies, public health and safety, when a nest prevents the use of a human-engineered structure, or when it provides a net benefit to eagles. Only inactive nests may be taken, except in the case of safety emergencies. Inactive nests are defined by USFWS by the continuous absence of any adult, egg, or dependent young at the nest for at least 10 consecutive days leading up to the time of take. Please visit USFWS Questions and Answers, for more information.

Since the bald eagle is no longer a listed species, is it still being protected by state and federal laws?

Yes, the bald eagle is still protected by both state and federal eagle laws. The Florida eagle rule, F.A.C. 68A-16.002, outlines that it is illegal to disturb or take an eagle in Florida. There are two federal eagle laws, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA). For more information about the federal eagle laws please visit the USFWS bald eagle web site.

When was the bald eagle removed from the state and federal endangered species list?

The FWC removed the bald eagle from the state list of threatened species and adopted a rule to protect eagles (F.A.C. 68A-16.002) in May 2008. The bald eagle was removed from the federal list of endangered species in August 2007. There are federal National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines available through the USFWS. The state and federal eagle management plan guidelines are not law. The plans provide guidance to help people avoid violating state and federal eagle laws.

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.

Bald Eagle Quick Reference

Protecting Nesting Areas

To avoid a potential violation of state, federal and local eagle laws, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and St. Johns County may need to be contacted prior to commencement of any exterior construction or activity disturbing to the bald eagle within 1500 feet of a bald eagle’s nest tree. Please consult the state and federal bald eagle management guidelines listed below for guidance. Additionally, please consult bald eagle requirements within Section 4.01.10 of the St. Johns County Land Development Code.

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