The bald eagle is a majestic symbol of our nation.
At one time endangered, the eagle population has increased to a point where it isn’t uncommon to see one soaring above the Douglas County landscape.
Eagle nests, easily identified by their massive size and incredible height, have also been noticed more often lately by local residents. One of the more visible nests in the area can be seen on the north side of Highway 27 just west of Alexandria.
This nest happens to sit on property that is currently for sale, which caused one reader to ask: “What restrictions are there on property that contains an eagle’s nest?”
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, bald eagles are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act).
Both laws prohibit “take” and possession of eagles, their parts, nests and eggs. The Eagle Act also protects from “disturbance.”
This means no one can agitate an eagle to the degree that it causes injury, decrease in productivity or nest abandonment.
Disruptive activities near foraging areas can interfere with feeding, reducing chances of survival or improper development.
If agitated, eagles may inadequately construct or repair their nest, may expend energy defending the nest rather than tending to their young, or may abandon the nest altogether.
Most activity is restricted within a 330-feet or greater circumference of the nest.
A violation of the Act can result in a criminal fine of $100,000 ($200,000 for organizations), imprisonment for one year, or both, for a first offense. Penalties increase substantially for additional offenses, and a second violation of this Act is a felony.
There are guidelines in place that can help protect landowner’s rights while also minimizing disturbance to eagles. Some guidelines require obtaining eagle disturbance permits to perform certain activities, such as clearing trees or constructing a building near a nest.
These permits are not needed to buy or sell land containing a nest.
The Fish and Wildlife Service does not dictate whether a landowner can build a home near an eagle nest, but instead makes recommendations on ways to avoid impact to eagles.
If a person is not able to abide by the guidelines, they may apply for a permit. If received, the permit requires the landowner to engage in avoidance and minimization measures, and in return, they will not be held liable if the nest fails due to the activity.
The permit application process is lengthy – usually two to three months – and costly, with a processing fee of $500. Also important to note is that the processing fee does not guarantee receipt of a permit.
Permits are also available for nest removal if the landowner can demonstrate there is no practicable way to leave the nest and they must “more than offset the loss of the nest” in a way determined by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“A lot of these guidelines are challenging to interpret, and oftentimes there is no easy answer,” said Christine Herwig, nongame wildlife specialist with the Department of Natural Resources.
“It’s important to note that the habitat itself is not protected, but rather the disturbance factor is the issue. If a landowner is going to do anything in an area that may cause disturbance to an eagle nest, they should consult the Fish and Wildlife Service.”
BALD EAGLE NESTING IN MINNESOTA: 700+ occupied breeding areas
• Nests are built in tall, large diameter trees near waterways.
• Nests are 6 to 8 feet wide and are often reused and added on to each year. Nests can weigh up to 2,000 pounds.
• Eagles lay 1-3 eggs each year, usually 2 to 3 days apart.
• Parents take turns incubating eggs.
• Eggs hatch in about 35 days.
• Young eagles begin flying at 3 months and leave the nest at 7 months.
• Young eagles are believed to return to within 100 miles of their birth site to mate.
BALD EAGLE FACTS
• Minnesota has the third largest bald eagle breeding population in the U.S., following Alaska and Florida.
• In 1989 there were 390 occupied breeding areas in Minnesota. Today there are more than 700.
• In Minnesota, eagles migrate to open water areas along the Mississippi River in the southern part of the state, and return to nesting sites in early February; they often return to the same nest.
• Eagles are the second largest bird of prey, measuring 30-40 inches with a 6 to 7.5-foot wingspan and weighing 10-14 pounds. Females are about 25 percent heavier than males.
• They have brown plumage until age 3-4 when plumage on heads and tails turns white.
• They begin breeding at age 4-5; pairs typically mate for life.
• Seventy to 80 percent of eagles die before reaching adulthood (5 years). Those making it to adulthood might live 20-25 years. Eagles in captivity can live up to 50 years.
• An eagle can see something as small as a rabbit running at 3 miles away.
• Eagles can fly at 30 mph and can dive at up to 100 mph.
Source: National Eagle Center