Backyard Turtles
Tour Eleven
Choosing Locations for Turtle Pens

     I have been referring to my turtle habitats as turtle pens for over fifty years so that is how I will refer to them in this tour. I will admit that it sounds almost like degrading our turtles to even think of them as animals that need confined in pens. They are not farm animals. They are cherished domesticated pets and we think of them the same way we think of our dog - as family. But all pet turtles will wander away and become lost to their owners even from the most beautiful backyard ponds if they are not confined. So we have turtle pens. Pen construction will be covered in another tour.

     In this tour I will discuss my thoughts on locating turtle pens in my yard. Every situation is different so only you can decide what are the right locations in your yard. Notice I am referring to pens - in the plural. Sooner or later you will probably consider an additional pen. Pens can also be enlarged and reconstructed so building the perfect pen the first time is not necessary. I always tell people to experiment with their turtle habitats and this is no different.

     When I was a boy I grew up in a city where almost every house had a yard. Most of the yards were fenced and gated. With a little attention to closing smaller openings, turtles could be allowed to roam freely in the yards and I am sure there are many people who still have turtles roaming freely in their fenced in yards. The first few turtles I had as a boy roamed freely in our yard.

     How or where you locate a turtle pen depends both on the physical layout of your yard and the relationship you have with your turtles. I leave it up to you to deal with the physical layout of your yard and want you to think about the relationships you have with your turtles and how location effects those relationships. Some people breed turtles. Some people have turtle collections. We have pet turtles. We want to know our turtles and we want them to know us. We want to communicate with them and we want them to communicate with us. Much of that communication is via direct eye contact.

     We had a snapping turtle named Tinytwo we raised from a baby (see his pictures in the Musk, Mud, and Snapping Turtles Pictures Gallery) who did not like me and was very uncomfortable even being seen. He preferred to spend his time buried in the mud in the bog (see Backyard Tour 7: Building a Bog Garden for Turtles ). But even Tinytwo understood the power of eye contact. If he was hungry enough he would sit by the pond on the side closest to the house and watch the sliding glass door. His eye sight was probably better than mine. If I saw him and made eye contact with him, he immediately slipped into the pond and waited to be fed. The communication was explicit! He expected me to bring him food. Because I understood him clearly I always felt obligated to take him food. Location made that communication possible. It is the kind of relationship we wish to have with our turtles.

     The first picture is from Tinytwo's location. The next pictures are from the pond and the grassy area immediately in front of the pond which is the main nesting area and where the box turtles watch us from. The tenth picture is from the Court Yard Garden pen.

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     We are free to move about while the turtles are restricted by the pens. We want it to be easy to observe them and we want it to be easy for them to observe us. That means we want them as close as practical to our house in as strategic a location as possible. It is similar to having a dog. Does your dog have the run of the house and yard or is it confined to a kennel at the back of the yard. Not every one of our pens has a good view of our doors and windows. For those turtles we have to make the effort to visit them often.

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     Did you notice the construction of the large pen. It is mostly a brick and block wall but there is a fence facing the house. The fence is so we can see the turtles and so the turtles can see us.

     Another point we wish to make is that every one of our turtle pens is a flower garden. Whether a turtle pen becomes a garden or a garden becomes a turtle pen, it does not matter. But thinking of a turtle pen as also a garden does influence the location and design of our turtle pens. Flowers provide shade and cover to hide in while the turtles help by eating the bugs and slugs that feed on the plants.

     Here are some views from the house. We also keep a pair of binoculars handy so we can take a closer look at times. The turtles do watch us as much as we watch them.

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     Outdoor entertaining at our house takes place there on the deck and patio in full view of the turtles. We often talk about the turtles and sit on the fence of the turtle pen. Most of our turtles are right there with us and will socialize with us. They seem to enjoy being part of the gatherings and they do not get upset if a dog wades in the pond.

     The grassy area between the fence and the pond is the main nesting area with most of the nesting taking place while we are eating dinner. Some box turtles who do not nest in that area often visit that area first which alerts us to watch them. I would only find half as many nests if I could not look out as see what they are up to.

     Then there are the times they send a posse to find me. Two, three, or four turtles will move to the fence together and pace back and forth until I see them. The reasons are always the same; they want food and attention. Again it is because they are in easy view of the house that we can communicate and socialize so easily.

     You may also have noticed the wide opening in the fence and netting laying on the ground. I hate putting a tall fence between me and our turtles but it became necessary. While I will cover pen construction and security in other tours, I will explain what you are seeing. In order not to limit access to a gate or have a wide gate to deal with, we use a piece of sports netting twenty feet wide to close the opening facing the house. Most of the time I just open one end and drop it on the ground. On other occasions like when we have visitors, I remove the netting and hang it over the fence.

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     So my criteria for locating turtle pens is all about togetherness. I want our turtles close to the house where we can just look out and see them and I want them to be able to see us as much as practical. Of course our pens have enough cover that if a turtle does not want to be seen, it can hide well. A few turtles we do not see often but others we see all the time.

     We hope you have enjoyed this Backyard Turtles tour and find it useful.

 New 7/5/2014

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