TURTLES AND YOU
Turtles live in ponds, streams and lakes where people also enjoy kayaking, boating and fishing. We have to share these habitats with our animal neighbors. In this section, you'll find lots of helpful tips for turtle friendly behavior. This includes tips for observing turtles in the wild to building habitats and protecting nests.
Our rare native turtles, the Western pond turtle and the Western painted turtle, are especially disturbed when people get too close. Since they are cold-blooded, they depend on basking to stay warm. Females must bask so their eggs will develop, and every time they slide off into the water, they lose precious body heat.
:: Here are some guidelines to follow for observing turtles:
- When hiking, approach the water's edge quietly.
- If you have a dog, put it on a leash to prevent disturbing the turtles.
- If boating, watch your wake so as not to knock the turtles off their basking logs.
- Keep as much distance as possible (at least 25 feet.)
- Use binoculars to observe the turtles and remain hidden to prevent stressing them.
- Don't spend too much time observing or photographing them – the longer you stay, the more likely they will
jump in the cold water.
- Report your sighting here
Smith and Bybee Guided Turtle Walk
In the spring and summer, Metro offers guided turtle walks at Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area. The wetland is home to one of Oregon's largest population of Western painted turtles. These walks are posted on Metro's online calendar.
Oregon's two native species of freshwater aquatic turtles, the western pond turtle and the western painted turtle, lay eggs on land from mid-May through mid-August. Turtles are highly sensitive to disturbance during the nesting process. This can take as long as 3-4 hours.
Turtles may choose sites as far as 500 feet away from water. They look for open areas where their eggs can be incubated by the sun. South-facing slopes, with sparse vegetation of short native grasses and scattered patches of shrubs, are ideal for nesting sites. Turtles will not nest in areas with tall or dense grasses because of minimized sun exposure.
Look for trampled vegetation or disturbed soil packed into a small mound about 3"x4" in diameter. If the area is wet, it means the turtle nested within the past 24 hours, as turtles urinate on the ground to soften it as they dig.
Upon hatching, turtles typically stay in the nest through the fall and winter months and do not emerge from the nest until early spring of the following year. However, there have been some documented hatchling emergences in the fall.
:: If you decide to observe turtles nesting:
- It is crucial to stay very still and quiet, keeping a distance of 75 feet.
- Use binoculars to observe the nests and remain hidden to prevent stressing the turtles.
- Report your sighting here
SUPPORTING TURTLE HABITAT
Voluntary conservation approaches are the key to having the most dramatic and long-term effect on habitat restoration and species survival.
If you have a natural pond, wetland or river on or near your property, it may be an ideal turtle habitat. There are a variety of ways to encourage native turtles to come to your land and help the conservation effort.
:: Create basking sites
- The best time for constructing basking sites is mid-August to the end of September.
- Basking structures may be floating platforms/rafts or for a more natural appearance, you may anchor a fallen tree, driftwood or logs with downward sloping edges for easy out-of-water access.
- Anchor the platform or a floating log away from water's edge, so turtles can remain undisturbed by passers-by or potential land predators.
- Anchor the platform in direct sunlight.
- Space basking habitats about 20 ft apart.
- An ideal basking platform will have equal surface area exposed to the sun and submerged under water as a place to hide if startled.
:: Create nesting sites
- Turtles will use bare ground composed of sand, silt and clay.
- To create suitable nesting areas, remove non-native grasses and other non-native vegetation,
exposing bare soil.
- The area can be between 5 and 20 feet wide.
- Mix some gravel into the soil to help control weeds.
- Maintain the site every 2-3 years to prevent non-native vegetation from re-colonizing.
- For more information about non-native plants in your area, visit National Invasive Species Information Center.
:: Protect nesting sites
- Nests should be protected from human and animal disturbance.
- Put a large piece of chicken wire over the nest and secure it with heavy rocks to keep raccoons and other
predators from destroying it.
- Make sure that any protective cover doesn't prevent the sun from reaching the nest.
- Also, cut holes at the base of the wire cage, approximately 2" wide, so the hatchlings are able to get out.
- You may also contact ODFW for a free nest cage and instructions to install it around the nesting site.
(Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Sauvie Island Wildlife Area office: 503-621-3488, ext 227.)
- If you have turtles nesting on your property, be sure to report your sighting here.
FUNDING AND SUPPORT
If you want to ensure your pond or wetland will be there for future generations of turtles, consider setting up a conservation easement. Providing habitat for turtles is so important that both Federal and State governments offer many incentive programs, including funding and on-site technical assistance.
WHAT NOT TO DO
If you want turtles on your property please note:
- It is illegal to buy native turtles or transport them to your property.
- If you purchase non-native turtles, do not put them in outdoor home ponds—keep them in a secure large tank from which they can't escape.
- Never release a non-native pet turtle into the wild—it is inhumane and illegal.
- If it survives and begins to reproduce, the results can be disastrous to local ecosystems and wildlife.
- For instance, released red-eared slider turtles are partly to blame for the demise of native Northwest turtles.