Let turtles lay their eggs

Turtles are very vulnerable when they leave the safety and security of the water. If they are disturbed they may leave the nesting site without laying their eggs. They may return another day to try again. If turtles are repeatedly disturbed they may simply give up without depositing their eggs. These turtles risk becoming eggbound (unable to pass eggs) and can die.

If you find a turtle, watch it from a respectful distance. Be sure to keep your pets from harassing the animal. Take note of the location and report your sighting to a monitoring program. The turtle will be able to deposit her eggs safely, and you will be able to witness an event that has been taking place for hundreds of millions of years!

The only time that it is appropriate to pick up a turtle is if it is trying to cross a road. In that case move the turtle carefully in the direction it was headed and then let it be. If you find a turtle which has been injured note its location as precisely as possible and contact the OTCC as soon as it is safe to do so.

A snapper nesting (photo by R Stankiewicz)

Give the babies a chance

empty nest
This nest has been dug up by a predator
(photo by C Gilders)

If the female turtle makes it to her nesting site and successfully deposits her eggs, her offspring only have a 1% chance of surviving to breeding age. Odds are that each turtle must nest for several years (or even decades!) before it replaces itself.

Raccoon populations are 20 times greater than they were earlier this century. Raccoons and healthy population of skunks, crows, gulls and other predators, dig up most nests and eat the eggs. If you find a nest which has been disturbed by a predator carefully place the eggs back in the hole and bury them.

For more information on what to do about turtles or nests on your property read our Nest Protection section.

Do not dig up or move turtle nests or attempt to incubate the eggs yourself. You may damage the eggs and it is illegal to take wildlife into captivity or disturb the nests of endangered or threatened species. Do not cover the nests – the eggs are incubated by the warmth of the sun and shading the nest may slow or stop development. Placing an object over the nest to keep predators out can also trap babies inside.

If a turtle has nested in your garden or driveway keep an eye out for hatchlings from late August until snow and then again in spring the next year. Incubation periods vary between 60 to 90 days depending on the weather in a given year. In a warm year the eggs develop faster and the young may hatch and emerge as early as mid August. In a cooler year they may hatch later in the fall. Painted turtles that hatch late in the fall may stay underground the entire winter and not emerge until the following spring.

Nest Protection

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Nest protection programs are underway by biologists across the province, to increase the survival of the eggs, and hatchlings.  It is not legal to disturb or interfere with a natural nest in any way, without the appropriate permits through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).  However, the MNRF does allow nest protection on private property, carried out by the property owner.

If property owners decide to do this, it is very important that no harm is done in the process- eggs and hatchlings can be put under even more risk, with improper nest protection devices.

Since most of our Ontario species of turtles have  “temperature dependent sex determination” i.e. the temperature of incubation affects the sex of the turtles, it is very important that the temperature of the nest is not interfered with, by materials that shade the site.

OTCC sells these nest protectors, for pickup only. Buy online or call us at 705-745-7530 to place your order.

How to Make a Turtle Nest Protector:

You can make a nest protector using a wooden frame with narrow-gage mesh (also called hardware cloth or carpenter’s cloth), staked securely into the ground. Make sure there are escape routes cut out of the frame! Without these, the hatchlings have no means to escape after hatching, and can quickly die.

  • Untreated lumber, 8′ x 4″ x 2″
  • 3″ deck screws x 8
  • 1/2″ galvanized hardware cloth, 2′ x 2′ square
  • Staple gun with staples
  • 8-10″ steel edging spikes x 4
  • Washers (of a size appropriate for spikes) x 4
  • Stake flag (optional)
  1. Cut wood into 2 x 24″ lengths and 2 x 21″ lengths
  2. Cut notches approximately 2″ wide and 1″ tall into each segment of wood
  3. Assemble wood into a two-foot square by placing the 21″ lengths between the 24″ lengths.
  4. Use deck screws to attach the pieces together.
  5. Attach the hardware cloth onto the square frame, either using staples or wood screws with washers
  6. Insert the spikes with washers into holes in the mesh near each corner of the frame
1. Cut four pieces of untreated wood to length.
2. Add 1″ x 2″ escape holes to each piece.
3-5. Assemble into a square and cover with wire mesh.
6. Add a spike with washer to each corner.

How to Install a Turtle Nest Protector

Whether you’ve purchased a nest protector or made your own, follow these instructions for installation.

* Only install on your own property, or with permission from the landowner

  1. When you see a nesting turtle, approach briefly to mark the location of the nest and then give her lots of space
  2. Return to the area only after the mother turtle has left
  3. Place the protector over the nest with the nest centered in the middle
  4. Insert the spikes with washers into the holes in the corners of the frame, ensuring the spikes won’t disturb the nest itself
  5. Drive the spikes into the ground
  6. Remove any vegetation so the exit holes are unobstructed
  7. Ensure the top of the nest protector is clear with full access to sun
  8. Optionally add a stake flag to make the protector more obvious during activities such as lawn maintenance
  9. Leave the nest protector in place until late October, and then remove prior to winter
  10. NEVER dig up or otherwise disturb the nest – it’s illegal and can seriously harm any eggs or hatchlings in the nest. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t see hatchlings emerge from the nest. Some turtle species over-winter in the nest and emerge the next spring.

Remember: Do NOT dig up the nest if you do not see signs of hatchlings emerging. Many clutches hatch and the hatchlings remain in the nest over the winter, and only emerge in the spring!

Have you had the opportunity to help turtles in some way?  Please let us know how by completing this short survey!