Is It Illegal To Kill A Bald Eagle In The U.S.? Everything You Need To Know

With their snowy white heads and immense stature, bald eagles inspire awe and national pride as the official symbol of the United States. However, despite their protected status today, questions persist around the legality of harming or killing this iconic bird.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Yes, killing, harming, or disturbing bald eagles is strictly illegal under federal laws like the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, with severe civil and criminal penalties.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the federal laws protecting bald eagles, exceptions allowing takes or harm, penalties for violating the laws, and options if a dead eagle is found.

Federal Laws Protecting Bald Eagles

The United States has implemented several federal laws to protect the bald eagle, a national symbol and endangered species. These laws aim to ensure the survival and conservation of these majestic birds and their habitats. Here are three key federal laws that protect bald eagles:

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) is a federal law passed in 1940. This act makes it illegal to kill, possess, sell, or transport bald eagles, their feathers, eggs, or any part of their nests without a permit.

The BGEPA imposes strict penalties, including fines and imprisonment, for violating its provisions. This law was enacted to safeguard the bald eagle population and prevent their exploitation for commercial purposes.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) is another federal law that protects bald eagles. Enacted in 1918, this act prohibits the hunting, capturing, killing, or possession of migratory birds, including bald eagles, without proper permits. The MBTA also protects their nests and eggs.

This law was designed to conserve migratory bird populations and their habitats, including those of bald eagles. Violators of the MBTA can face significant fines and imprisonment.

The Lacey Act

The Lacey Act is a federal law that combats illegal wildlife trafficking and trade. Although it does not specifically target bald eagles, the Lacey Act plays an essential role in protecting these birds.

This act prohibits the importation, exportation, transportation, acquisition, or sale of any wildlife, fish, or plants that have been taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation.

By preventing the illegal trade of wildlife, including bald eagles, the Lacey Act helps ensure their conservation and preservation.

It is important to note that these federal laws not only protect bald eagles but also other species of birds. They reflect the commitment of the United States to preserve its rich biodiversity and natural heritage.

To learn more about these laws and their enforcement, you can visit the official websites of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ( and the Department of Justice (

No General Hunting Allowed for Bald Eagles

When it comes to the majestic bald eagle, one might wonder if hunting these birds is legal in the United States. The answer is a resounding no – there is no general hunting allowed for bald eagles. In fact, bald eagles are protected by several laws and regulations that make it illegal to harm, kill, or disturb them in any way.

These laws are in place to ensure the conservation and preservation of this iconic species.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act

The primary legislation that protects bald eagles in the United States is the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA). Enacted in 1940, this federal law makes it illegal to “take, possess, sell, purchase, barter, offer to sell, purchase or barter, transport, export or import” bald eagles or their parts, nests, or eggs.

The BGEPA provides strict penalties for anyone found guilty of violating its provisions, including fines and imprisonment.

The Endangered Species Act

In addition to the BGEPA, the bald eagle is also protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This act, enacted in 1973, provides further protection to species that are listed as endangered or threatened.

While the bald eagle has made a remarkable recovery since being listed as endangered in 1967, it is still considered a threatened species in certain parts of the country. Under the ESA, it is illegal to harm or disturb bald eagles or their habitats.

Exceptions and Permits

While general hunting of bald eagles is prohibited, there are some exceptions and permits that allow for certain activities involving these birds. For example, Native American tribes with religious or cultural practices that involve bald eagle feathers may be granted permits for the possession and use of eagle feathers.

Similarly, educational institutions and wildlife rehabilitation centers may be authorized to keep and care for injured or orphaned bald eagles.

Reporting Violations

The protection of bald eagles is taken seriously, and it is important for individuals to report any violations they witness. If you suspect someone is harming or disturbing bald eagles, you can contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or your local state wildlife agency to report the incident.

By reporting violations, you can help ensure the continued conservation and well-being of these magnificent birds.

For more information about the laws and regulations protecting bald eagles, you can visit the official website of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at

Exceptions Allowing Harm or Take Permits

Native American Religious Use

While it is generally illegal to harm or kill a bald eagle in the United States, there are certain exceptions that allow for limited harm or take permits. One such exception is for Native American religious use.

Native American tribes have a long-standing cultural and spiritual connection to bald eagles and are allowed to possess and use eagle feathers and parts for religious ceremonies. This exception is granted under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.


Another exception to the rule is falconry. Falconry is the practice of hunting wild game with trained birds of prey, such as falcons or hawks. In the United States, licensed falconers are allowed to possess and use bald eagles for falconry purposes.

However, obtaining a falconry permit is a rigorous process that requires extensive training and adherence to strict guidelines set forth by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Protection of Livestock

The protection of livestock is another circumstance where harm or take permits may be granted. Bald eagles, while primarily fish-eaters, may occasionally prey on small livestock animals, such as lambs or poultry.

In situations where bald eagles pose a threat to livestock, certain permits may be issued to allow for the removal of the eagles in order to protect the livelihood of farmers and ranchers.

Critical Infrastructure

Instances where bald eagles pose a threat to critical infrastructure, such as airports or power lines, may also warrant harm or take permits. Bald eagles are known to nest in tall trees near bodies of water, and their large wingspan can pose a risk to aircraft during takeoff and landing.

In these cases, permits may be granted to relocate or remove eagle nests or to deter eagles from nesting in certain areas to ensure the safety of human populations and infrastructure.

It is important to note that these exceptions are tightly regulated and are granted on a case-by-case basis. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service closely monitors and manages the issuance of permits to ensure the conservation and protection of bald eagles, which are still considered a threatened species in some regions.

For more information on these exceptions and the legalities surrounding the protection of bald eagles, please visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

Penalties for Harming or Killing Eagles

When it comes to the majestic bald eagle, the United States has implemented strict laws to protect these iconic birds. Harming or killing a bald eagle is a serious offense that can lead to severe penalties.

Let’s take a closer look at the consequences that individuals may face if found guilty of such actions.


If someone is found guilty of harming or killing a bald eagle, they can face significant fines. The exact amount of the fine can vary depending on the circumstances and the severity of the offense. In general, fines can range from $5,000 to $250,000 per violation.

These fines are designed to send a strong message and deter individuals from engaging in activities that harm these protected birds.


In addition to hefty fines, individuals who harm or kill bald eagles can also face imprisonment. The length of imprisonment can vary depending on the severity of the offense. For intentional killings or injuries, the maximum penalty can be up to one year in federal prison.

However, if the offense involves willful and knowing violations, the penalty can be increased to up to fifthteen years in federal prison. These prison sentences serve as a stern reminder of the seriousness of the crime and aim to deter potential offenders.


In some cases, individuals convicted of harming or killing bald eagles may be placed on probation. During the probation period, they will be closely monitored and required to adhere to certain conditions set by the court.

These conditions may include community service, mandatory counseling, or restricted access to certain areas where eagle populations are present. Probation serves as an alternative to imprisonment but still holds individuals accountable for their actions.

It is important to note that these penalties are not limited to the bald eagle alone. The bald eagle is protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which also extend protection to other bird species.

The enforcement of these laws is crucial to ensure the conservation and survival of these magnificent creatures for future generations to enjoy.

If you would like to learn more about the legal protection of bald eagles and other bird species, you can visit the official website of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at

What to Do If You Find a Dead Bald Eagle

If you ever come across a dead bald eagle, it is important to take the appropriate steps to ensure that the bird is properly handled and that any potential illegal activity is reported. Here are some important things to do if you find a dead bald eagle:

Contact the USFWS

The first thing you should do if you find a dead bald eagle is to contact the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). They are responsible for enforcing laws related to the protection of bald eagles and can provide guidance on how to proceed.

You can reach the USFWS by calling their national hotline at 1-800-344-9453 or by visiting their website at

Do Not Remove Any Part

It is crucial that you do not remove any part of the dead bald eagle. The bald eagle is protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which makes it illegal to possess or take any part of a bald eagle without the proper permits. This includes feathers, talons, and even the carcass itself.

Removing any part of the bird can result in severe penalties, including fines and imprisonment.

Report Information About the Death

Once you have contacted the USFWS, they will provide you with further instructions on how to report the death of the bald eagle. It is important to provide as much information as possible, including the location where the bird was found, any potential signs of foul play, and any witnesses who may have seen anything suspicious.

This information will help the USFWS investigate the incident and take appropriate action.

Remember, bald eagles are a symbol of American pride and are protected under federal law. By following these steps and reporting any suspicious activity, you are helping to protect these majestic birds and ensure their continued survival in the wild.


In summary, bald eagles are federally protected across the U.S. under strong legislation like the Eagle Act. Killing, harming, or disturbing these iconic birds can lead to severe civil and criminal penalties, outside of very limited exceptions.

Those who find a dead bald eagle should leave it untouched and contact the USFWS for guidance. With their vital role as a national symbol, maintaining bald eagle protections remains critical.

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