Introduction: Habitat for Pond Turtles: Turtle Sofas!

About: I'm a writer and illustrator of books for children and Marvin is a craftsman, carpenter, and retired building contractor. We build various things for our Funny Farm and I write about them.

Western pond turtles are becoming scarce, listed as sensitive-critical in the Coast Range of Oregon. Since we had a pond with a creek nearby, we assumed pond turtles were around. So we tossed a big log into the pond to see what showed up.

Sure enough, a couple of turtles (and a snake!) appeared on the log, sunning themselves in the spring chill. When that log began to sink, as logs are often prone to do, we decided to make turtle sofas.

Step 1: Build the Turtle Sofas!

This is a project we did many years ago, but I decided to share it here on Instructables since it's pretty straight-forward to build and a sweet way to help out the wildlife.

Any standard lumber will work, but we had milled up a a lot of Douglas fir to build our house, and had kept the top and bottom slabs for benches or whatever. They were perfect for turtle sofas! We cut a few to various lengths. They were 1-1/2" to 2" thick.

To keep a sofa from sinking like a log, we screwed on wide strips of 1-1/2" rigid extruded polystyrene (not urethane) insulation. The material isn’t toxic for the watershed. On the widest slab, two strips of polystyrene were screwed on. On the narrow slabs, I added windjammers for stabilizing, made from 2x4s. To fasten everything, I used 3” coated deck screws with washers, but any coated screw will work.

Step 2: Add a Measuring Stick

We added measuring sticks to some sofas as a fun way to see how big the turtles were. It's just a screwed-down strip of 1/2" wood with painted 3" increments that we can see from far away. A full grown pond turtle gets to be 6-7 inches long.

Step 3: Another Wild Use for a Measuring Stick...

We also made a measuring stick from 1x1 material with 6" increments to measure the resident bears. For the record, those photos were taking by a motion camera.

Step 4: Launch the Turtle Sofas

We launched the sofas in various spots around the pond and tied them to trees so they wouldn't float away. We noticed that the sofas tended to hang out close to the shore where a turtle might feel vulnerable to land animals, especially the two-legged variety.

Step 5: Anchoring the Turtle Sofas

So we tied an anchor to a rope attached to each sofa and tossed it out so the log would float more in the middle. We used whatever scrap metal we had around for anchors. There is still another rope tied from the sofa to a tree so we can haul it in if need be.

It was exciting to see a turtle check out a sofa almost immediately!

Step 6: Build It, and They Will Come...

More turtles started appearing. They all seemed to enjoy sunning themselves and doing whatever else turtles do on our custom sofas. The resident wood ducks and hooded mergansers also use the sofas to rest and preen.

Step 7: Enjoy Your Turtles!

This sofa is a turtle favorite, probably because of the more natural feel. Without the foam underneath, the old chunk would have sunk by now.

Our turtle population has grown from two to ten. A couple of females head to the nearby south facing slope to nest, but we’ve yet to see a hatch or any more tiny ones such as you can see in the first photo. This population might be too young to reproduce, but only time will tell.

A version of these instructions appeared on Marvin’s blog, WildcatMan.

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