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Found A Turtle In My Yard

While it is uncommon to find a turtle in your yard, sometimes Nature surprises you! Of course, this depends on where you are based. In some parts of the United States, it’s not all that uncommon to find turtles or even their nests in your yard!

If you’ve just discovered a turtle, perhaps a baby turtle or even a large snapping turtle, in your yard, you might wonder, “What do I do next?” We’re here to guide you through.

Often, the best response is to do nothing, especially if the turtle, possibly a wandering eastern box turtle or a lost pet turtle, is just passing through.

In most cases, that turtle is just passing through and will leave when left alone. Trying to help on your own may even worsen the situation, although you could contact your local wildlife regulation agency and they may be able to help.

This is also a good idea as the turtle may be endangered and protected by law, and interaction might even be against local laws, so if you are in doubt then simply call your local wildlife regulation agency. They’re better prepared to help and you won’t be risking the turtle’s health or a potentially hefty fine!

With that said, today we’ll give you some tips on what you can do if you find a healthy turtle exploring your yard or an injured turtle that might need your help. We’ll also cover what to do if you find a wild turtle ‘tenant’ that you didn’t know was living there and what that might mean if you want to build!

A Box turtle spotted in the wild
If you live in an area with Box turtles, you’ve probably seen them in your yard more than once!

What to do when you find a healthy turtle passing through your yard

If the turtle you found is a red-eared slider or another aquatic turtle species, remember these creatures often venture from water in search of new areas or a suitable nesting site. It’s crucial not to disturb their natural exploration, especially during late summer or early fall, which can be a critical time for them.

Typically if you see a wild turtle in your yard, it’s best to simply leave them alone. The turtle may simply be passing through and scouting the area and in most cases, it won’t need your assistance.

While their shape might suggest otherwise, turtles are actually quite agile and can climb over fences, although they do occasionally get stuck and might need a helping hand. In these cases, the best course of action is to call your local wildlife agency or wildlife rehabilitator.

They can provide you with information about what to do, although in most cases they will send someone to your location who is better equipped and trained to safely extract the turtle and get them going on their merry way.

There is always a possibility that a gravid turtle will decide to use your yard as a nest and if this happens, then you’ll need to keep away from the nest and contact your local wildlife regulation agency right away.

It is usually illegal to disturb the nest of an endangered or threatened turtle species without a permit, so if you aren’t 100% sure that the turtle is not endangered, disturbing that nest might actually be punishable by law.

For instance, in Florida, gopher tortoises are considered threatened, and relocating or disturbing the nests and burrows of these turtles is considered a wildlife law violation that carries hefty fines and even potential jail time.

There are some other considerations with a nest, even if you are positive that it’s from a common, non-endangered species of turtle. Let’s take a look at some of these so that you’ll have a better idea of what’s at stake and your best course of action.

Is there a snapping turtle passing through your yard and you’d like to help it on it’s way? Better be careful – find out the RIGHT way to pick up a snapping turtle – details are waiting in our guide!

A common snapping turtle building a nest
If a snapping turtle nesting in your yard, it’s DEFINITELY a good idea not to disturb it!

What to do when you find a turtle nest

Running into baby turtles or young turtles in your back yard can be a sign of a nearby nest site, particularly if you’re in a wooded area or close to shallow water. These wild animals, from small turtles with long tails to the more sizable common box turtle, are often searching for food or a safe place within their home range, which might now include your yard due to habitat loss or land development.

Turtle eggs are fragile and improper handling will kill them. For instance, simply rotating the egg and placing it the wrong way up can kill it! Only an experienced turtle breeder should handle eggs in a nest, so if you don’t have this experience, then it’s best to leave the nest alone.

Don’t worry – the mother turtle is generally great at choosing a suitable site for the nest – so unless a predator finds the eggs they will likely be just fine.

Here are some things that you CAN do to help:

  • Don’t use pesticides around the nest.
  • Keep kids away from the eggs and let them know that even looking at the egg is dangerous.
  • Keep out of the area where the eggs have been deposited to avoid accidentally stepping or falling on them.
  • While fencing the area off may seem like a good idea, keep in mind that you may not be around when the eggs hatch and the hatchlings could be trapped behind the fence – easy prey for predators. Additionally, fencing the nest of a threatened/endangered species may be against the law.
An injured turtle being treated at an aquarium
An injured turtle being treated at an aquarium

What to do when you find an injured turtle in your yard

Dealing with an injured turtle, such as a female turtle with minor injuries or a young turtle unable to reach the nearest water source, requires special care. Contacting local nature centers, a local wildlife rehabilitator, a wildlife agency, or a veterinarian (the may have contacts) can ensure the turtle receives the help it needs.

Experts like these are skilled in caring for various turtle visitors, from small animals with powerful jaws (we’re thinking of snappers here) or other aquatic turtle species that might be found far from their natural habitat.

Some states, such as Colorado, keep an updated list of wildlife rehabilitators for quick and easy contact in cases like this.

Here’s a great list of all the states with links to lists of wildlife rehabilitators.

While it’s hard not to simply try and help the turtle yourself, it isn’t wise to provide them medical attention if you don’t know what you’re doing – you could make the problem worse and get a nasty bite for your troubles.

What you CAN do is try to make the turtle safe until help arrives and you can do this by placing it carefully into a non-airtight container. Line the bottom of the container with damp paper towels.

This should provide a good humidity level for the turtle and you’ll also want to ensure that it is kept at room temperature. After that, contact your local wildlife authorities and make sure to keep note of the location where you found the turtle, so that it may be returned to the area it is familiar with.

Ensure that the turtle is kept in a container all by itself, as other animals (even other turtles) might injure it in such a small, confined space. Gloves are also a good idea for handling the turtle, as wild turtles may carry harmful pathogens.

Once it’s in the container, place the chelonian in a dark quiet place while you contact help.

When taking the turtle to the veterinarian or the rehabilitator, try to keep the container dark. If the container isn’t opaque then you can cover it. This will help to reduce the stress for the turtle while you are transporting it and the chelonian should remain calm until you can get it some help.

Sometimes first aid needs to be done right away — check out our collection of turtle first aid articles here in case you need to stabilize a turtle on the way to the vet.

Things Not To Do if you are helping an injured turtle

If you are inexperienced in dealing with injured turtles, then here are some things that you must avoid doing:

  • Don’t try to clean the injury or fracture site, or to repair it on your own. Don’t apply ointments or home remedies to the injury or fracture site, either.
  • Do not place the turtle in water — it may be too injured to swim or not an aquatic species, and placing it in water could drown the turtle.
  • Don’t place the turtle outside unless it has received treatment — keep it safe in a darkened container. This is especially true if you need to hold onto the turtle overnight. An injured turtle is easy prey for predators, such as raccoons, and a controlled environment also reduces the chances of infections while you’re waiting to get the turtle some help.
Two turtles vying over who will eat a butterfly
Turtles can show up anytime if you live close to a body of water where they live

What to do when you find a turtle that’s made your yard their home

If you have a turtle actively living in your backyard, then the first thing that you should do is identify the species and the endangered status of the species. If the turtle is endangered or threatened, it may be against the law to move them or limit their movement through the use of a barrier such as a fence.

Once you know the species, you can plot your next course of action. If you have to relocate the species that isn’t threatened, you should also ensure that it’s not an invasive species.

Depending where you live, sometimes you’ll find a box turtle half-buried in your yard. What’s up with that? Find out when you’re done here – the link will open in a new window so it will be there when you’re ready!

For all you know, someone may have an exotic turtle that they let go into the wild, and moving it to a local pond could be disastrous for the native wildlife.

Here are some general guidelines to follow with turtles that have moved into your yard:

  • Don’t block the burrow’s entrance.
  • Leave wild turtles alone and try and keep children and dogs away from the turtle and its burrow or aquatic habitat.
  • Get in touch with a conservation biologist or a wildlife agency close to you.
  • If the turtle is threatened or endangered, don’t fence or restrict their movement – it might be against your local conservation laws. You can plant around the burrow and trim the grass, just don’t touch or otherwise disturb it.
  • If you are interested in helping the turtle even more, you can plant some turtle-friendly plants such as Aloe, Clover, Geranium, Hibiscus, Pansies, Cactus, Dandelion, Gazania, Hebe, and Nasturtium. These will provide food for the turtle and many of these plants take very little effort to nurture and maintain (no pesticides or other chemicals, of course!)
  • Try not to drive, dig, or mow close to the burrow, including 25 feet beyond the opening and the entrance apron in front of it.

When you’re done here, you can read an interesting article about a protection program for Gopher tortoise burrows from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission here – it’s an interesting read, especially if you’ve just found a turtle burrow in your yard!

An alligator snapping turtle in the grass
Alligator snapping turtles are considered endangered in many states – if you see one in your yard, contact your local wildlife department.

What to do if you wish to develop or build on land that’s home to a turtle

Turtles generally move onto land that humans don’t occupy. If you wish to build or develop land that turtles have moved into, it is best to consider the conservation status of the turtle to ensure you aren’t running afoul of the law. This is usually a tricky situation to navigate.

The first thing to do is identify the species and contact your local wildlife agency. Once the situation has been properly assessed, you can work with them to ensure that the turtle is safely relocated.

Usually, you’ll need a permit to relocate an endangered species and as the laws vary based on your location, you’ll definitely need your local wildlife conservation agency to be involved.

For instance, in Florida, it is against the law to relocate an endangered or threatened species without a permit obtained from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Once you’ve got the permit, you must move the threatened species out of harm’s way even before you commence clearing the land.

Florida even has a permitting database online for gopher tortoises (which are considered threatened within the state), and permits may be checked almost instantly, so it’s important to stick to the rules if you need to relocate a turtle residing on your property.

Even if you were using the land before the turtle came to live there, the same laws apply, and moving an endangered or threatened species without authorization is generally a criminal offense that can carry heavy fines or even imprisonment – so don’t do this alone.

Get your local wildlife conservation agency involved and be sure to follow all of their instructions to a ‘T’!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why would a turtle be in my yard?

If you live near a body of water, it’s not uncommon to spot a visiting turtle in your yard in the early spring. With areas becoming more heavily developed each day, turtles often end up ranging farther than they normally would in search of areas to nest.

The turtle may just be passing through, however, so your best bet is to simply leave it alone for now and see if it’s there the next day.

If the turtle hasn’t left, take a pic and try to identify the species, and get in touch with your local wildlife conservation agency for the next steps.

Will turtles lay eggs in your yard?

It is possible that a turtle might decide to nest in your yard and usually the first sign of this will be that they are digging in different spots to find the perfect place.

Try not to disturb the turtle if notice this happening – instead, contact your local wildlife conservation agency and get them involved.

The species may be endangered or threatened and interfering with the nest might even be against the law, so be sure to get ahold of local wildlife authorities if you find turtle eggs in your yard!

What do I do if I find a baby turtle in my backyard?

If you spot a hatchling turtle in your yard, then the best thing to do is to determine the species and if it’s not endangered, then you can try to help it to get where it’s going.

If this is an aquatic turtle, then likely there is a body of water nearby that they are hoping to get to, and you can bring them close and let them do the rest on their own.

With terrestrial turtles, it’s best to just leave them alone, or if you know how to properly pick them up then you might be able to take them in the direction they were crawling and get them a little further along their way outside of your yard.

Final thoughts if you found a turtle In your yard

Remember, whether it’s a baby water turtle found on the side of the road or a large turtle that’s made its way into your front yard, each encounter with these remarkable creatures offers a chance to contribute positively to their conservation. By respecting their natural area and understanding the importance of not disrupting their small home territories, we can all play a part in supporting wild populations and the continued presence of native species in our local environments.

As I said initially, if you’ve just spotted a turtle in your yard, most of the time you won’t need to do a thing, and leaving it alone is really the best response. All wild and even some pet turtles carry salmonella and potentially other pathogens, but you might also be dealing with an endangered or threatened species.

Your best bet, if you would like to help, is to get in touch with your local wildlife conservation agency. They are trained to deal with wild turtles and if the turtle is not endangered, they can still give you some advice on relocating it or what you can do to make your yard more attractive to your new scaly friend.

Finally, if you want to build in your yard and there’s a turtle, then resist the urge to simply move it – if it’s endangered, you could be risking fines or jail time! Just take a moment and make a simple phone call to your local wildlife conservation authorities and they can provide you with the next steps.

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