After The Nest Protector Is Installed
After installing a turtle nest protector, someone should monitor it daily. If possible, getting help monitoring is always best. The more eyes, the better. The most vulnerable period for a turtle nest is the first 10 to 21 days, especially the first 24 hours. Consider using a backup deterrent as a precaution during this time. We have outlined some methods in the 'Predator Deterrents' section below.
If the nest was not predated during the first 21 days, this increases the chances for the nest to survive the incubation period. We do not want to dampen anyone's spirits, but predation can occur at any time during the incubation period but is most prevalent during the first 10 to 21 days. Continue to monitor the nest through the incubation period. A second vulnerable period for predation can occur closer to the conclusion of the incubation period in relation to hatching activity. As exiting the turtle nest for hatchlings is a coordinated effort, research suggests that hatchling chatter may prompt predators to take an interest in undetected nest sites. Be sure to note when the turtle laid the eggs or you discovered the nest. Approximately three weeks before the possible hatching out date (60 to 90 days), depending on the turtle species, we recommend vigilantly monitoring the nest site.
Why Nests Attract Predators
When a turtle begins digging and abandons the hole, these are known as test nests. These holes are not covered and be an indication there is a bonafide nest nearby.
Turtle nests are discovered by predators through opportunistic foraging, seeing a turtle nesting or smell, and mostly at night. A fluid coats each egg as it is expelled and deposited into the nest. Some turtles, like painted turtles, urinate on their nests to make mud lumps over the nests called plugs. During hatching, fluids present may cause unhatched eggs to spoil and give off an odor. So it is understandable that there is a scent or smell predators detect to locate nests. Sometimes eggs break or leak.
The scent left after a female turtle has nested is not usually detected by humans but is evident to predators and can linger for two or three weeks, depending on weather patterns. If it is raining while the female turtle is nesting, this is nature's way of helping to diminish the scent. During turtle nesting season, it is always hoped there will be plenty of rain (but not heavy rainfall) to help erase the visual signs of turtle nests and the turtle scent. If you have any pull with the weather, make it rain after a turtle has nested.
Once you have installed a turtle nest protector, you must check daily for predators, damage, or unforeseen circumstances. If you discover that a predator has been digging under the nest protector and they have not reached the eggs, consider using a 'predator deterrent.'The following are methods used by Think Turtle and other individuals and groups involved in turtle nest protection that may help keep predators at bay.
The effectiveness of any of these methods is subject to many factors. We 'DO NOT' recommend using these in combination but instead individually, especially if forced to step up efforts to deter predators. You will get a better sense of what helps and was does not. We have used all the methods listed and have had varying results. Sometimes predation in an area is so well established that attempts to put predators off are a real challenge. We recommend staying the course even though the stubbornest predators may lose interest and move on.
There is no guarantee a technique used during one nest protection scenario will be enough to prevent predation versus an entirely different set of circumstances. However, attempts to protect a turtle nest give it a competitive edge for survival compared to being left to nature, come what may. We primarily use methods 'A - D,' with 'B' being the method we have had the most success with.
(A) Watering: It is always best to let nature take the lead, but it is okay to give a turtle nest a helping hand if there is no rain. If it is not going to rain on the day or night, the turtle nests using a watering can that has a sprinkler head for a more even distribution of water 'LIGHTLY' water around the nest, and if you see the path the female turtle took to leave the nest site water that as well. As an alternative, a plant mister can be used. 'DO NOT' over water the area closest to the nest. It is of the utmost importance not to saturate the nesting site where the nest is located. Developing turtle embryos must exchange gases with the surrounding environment through their shells. If turtle eggs are immersed in water for too long, they might not be able to breathe as efficiently, which could reduce their survival chances. The nest is a living, breathing entity, and you can drown the eggs if over watered. Think 'light simulated rain.'
If you do not have a watering can with a sprinkler head 'DO NOT' chuck a bucket of water over the nest and 'DO NOT' use a lawn sprinkler. We recommend that you purchase one. Plastic watering cans are available in most hardware stores with a garden section, and they are reasonably priced.
After the initial watering on the day the turtle nested, if there is no rain in the forecast for the following day, repeat the watering process once a day until there is rain in the forecast. It is best to water the nest site in the morning before the temperature reaches its maximum for the day or in the evening when the temperature decreases. Again, do not over-saturate the nest area with water.
(B) Vinegar: Some animals, including raccoons, skunks, cats, and dogs, can't stand the scent of vinegar wet or after it has dried. You can try deterring unwanted predators from the nest site by using white vinegar in a spray bottle and 'lightly' misting the area around the nest site when the soil is dry once a day. It is best to mist the nest site in the morning before the temperature reaches its maximum for the day or in the evening when the temperature decreases.
Do not water nest as described in 'A' and use vinegar! Use one or the other.
Please remember when applying anything to the area where the nest is, although a few inches below the surface, these products could find their way into the ground and come in contact with the eggs. Be mindful of this and do not over-saturate the nest area; focus on the region 'around' the nest. Note: We spoke with a soil expert that said spraying vinegar as a fine mist is not an amount that would impact the soil. Rain would drive it further into the ground, but again, it is not enough to cause any reason for concern. During the first ten days, we like to use this method in areas where turtle nests are especially susceptible to predators. After ten days, if there have been no signs of predators and it has rained, we stop. We like this method and have found it to helpful getting nests past predators.
(C) Rocks: If using (A) water or (B) vinegar is not proving enough to deter predators use rocks.
If there are indications that predators are taking an interest in the nest site (e.g., digging), putting large, heavy rocks around the outside perimeter of the nest protector may help to discourage predators and could be enough to get the nest, past predators. Be sure not to block the hatchling exit holes as per the Ministry of Natural Resources &Forestry (MNRF) requirements from the minute the nest protector is installed. Note: Citizens should only use this method if a turtle has nested on their property. Introducing rocks at a turtle nest site on public property raises safety and liability concerns and should not be done without permission.
If your property is located in an area inhabited by many predators that would take an interest in turtle nests, put heavy rocks around the nest protector, as mentioned, and start that way. Remove the rocks after 21 days.
(D) 12" Spikes: When protecting a turtle nest, there may be times when you encounter a stubborn predator. We have had some good old battles with raccoons that returned each night intent on feasting on turtle eggs. In this circumstance, we have resorted to an extreme but highly effective tactic that has enabled us to outsmart the predators each time. In addition to the 'four' 12" spikes used to anchor the nest protector to the ground, we placed a strip of wire mesh along each of the four sides of the nest protector and hammered extra spikes through the mesh and into the round. The spikes were close enough to each other and sufficient enough in number that they formed an impenetrable wall of metal spikes below the surface on each side of the nest. Likely confusing to a raccoon that encounters it. Happy to report that each nest that has required such tactics successfully produced robust hatchlings. Note: Remove the spikes when the predator appears to have moved on or 21 days after the nest protector was installed.
(E) Coffee Grounds: Spreading used or damp coffee grounds over the nesting site possibly helps to mask the scent. We did not find this method helpful. This method may be effective if a large number of coffee grounds are used. We have not heard of enough successes to consider this a go-to for protecting turtle nests from predation. The last time we used this method was during the initial attempts. Some people think it has merit. We have since opted for other ways that we feel had more promise.
(F) Cayenne Pepper: Some people sprinkle cayenne pepper around the nest site. We don't like this because it would irritate the predators. Although we want them to move on and leave the turtle nest alone, we do not want to cause other wildlife discomfort or undue stress. Although we do not like to use this method some people consider this an effective method for deterring predators and swear by it.
(G) Critter Ritter: The scent of an active predator in the area is a deterrent to most prey animals. Predator urine is one of the best ways to frighten away unwanted small animals, including raccoons or skunks. You can purchase coyote urine, Tink's Tink's Coyote Most at Wal-Mart, Critter Ritter at Home Hardware, and Tink's Predators Mist at Canadian Tire. We used Critter Ritter sprinkled around nest sites and found this method to be hit-and-miss. Luck and rain contributed to a couple of nests not predated. Some people consider this product quite good. We tried it and have since moved on to other methods we consider more successful. It is also pricey.
(H) Urine: Using human urine has proven to be a surprisingly good predator deterrent. Obtaining sufficient quantities of human urine is only sometimes possible, so preparing ahead is suggested. Getting guys to pee in a bucket may require some coaxing. If using this method, steer clear of urine from a diabetic donor. The sweet urine will attract predators. Put the regular urine in a watering can with a sprinkler head and lightly sprinkle the area around the nest site, ensuring not to over water. Some people consider it an effective deterrent. We tried this in the past with some success but having access to the amounts we would need and transporting urine is not practical. For a property owner looking after one nest it is an option that might be easier to use.
Keep hope if you spot a predated turtle nest on your property. We recommend that you remove the scattered eggs shells lying on the ground from the immediate nest site (scatter them a distance away from the nest), fill in the exposed nest, and tidy the nest site where the predators dug; this will remove the visual cues. The reason for doing this is that in the feeding frenzy, there is always the possibility that predators may have missed an egg or two. With the nest put back right, nature may find a way for those one or two eggs to survive and produce little turtles that will live long and fruitful lives. It is essential to know that predated nests are very sad, but they are not gone to waste as they play a role in sustaining other species. Nests destroyed by land development, other human activities, and weather patterns are nests gone to waste.
Should you have any questions regarding this subject or other turtle related matters please do not hesitate to contact Think Turtle Conservation Initiative at 647-606-9537 (phone/text) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for looking out for species at risk!