Thom Smith | Naturewatch: Baby turtle should be moved for winter

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QFor the first time in 20 years, we have a turtle in our small pond. At first, we thought it was a spotted turtle, but it does not have spots. We now think it's a bog turtle due to it's small size. We were unable to get a good look behind his head for coloring. Looks like part of the egg sac still attached to his underside. We are concerned because the pond is only 3 feet deep and freezes in winter. Is there anything we can do to protect the little guy over the winter? He moves pretty well. We are also wondering how he got in there and where's mama?

— John and Deb, Richmond, Mass.

AA subsequent piece of information in reply to my return email suggesting, "if the small pond is not natural, the hatchling can be released at the nearest natural body of water." John wrote back, "The pond is plastic, but there is a deeper, natural pond nearby. I will move him there."

It is a hatchling common snapping turtle, a widespread species in the Northeast, and is found throughout Massachusetts, from brackish tidal rivers to almost any wetland including natural ponds, man-made or beaver-made ponds, often with muddy bottoms, lakes and rivers. To that list, I will add shallow ornamental ponds — at least temporarily. As to where it may have come from, it could be as close as the edge of your or a neighbor's driveway, garden plot in what was freshly tilled soil at egg-laying time, edges of parking lots, along roads and highways, parks and vacant lots, especially if sandy, that attract nesting females. The female laid its clutch of eggs, as many as 40 or so about three months before hatching. Some females travel considerable distance to find just the right place, so there is no telling where its mother is now, or for that matter, where mom came from.

It sometimes happens that in returning to its ancestral body of water, or searching out a suitable body of water, turtle hatchlings encounter man-made obstacles, in this case your ornamental pond.

While, but a few ounces now, this hatchling will easily reach upward to about 30 to 35 pounds. The world record for a wild caught snapper is 76.5 pounds and was caught in Massachusetts. I have not heard of the record being broken.

The possibility of seeing a spotted turtle is very unlikely in the Berkshires and Vermont, and there is but one location (that I know of) in South Berkshire where a small population of protected bog turtles survives.

QI feed mallards at my office on Federico Drive in Pittsfield. They get cracked corn. At our small pond, for the last few years, there have been two moms raising broods on our little pond. The question is, where do the males go for the summer? I still have seen no adult males at the pond, although there are a few immature males. Wherever I have gone this summer, I have not seen any male mallards. Soon, they'll be back ... But what's the trigger? And where do they hide for the summer?

Last weekend, about 6 p.m., we passed the Route 7-23 Bridge over the Housatonic in Great Barrington and were surprised to see a great bald eagle sitting on a rock taking a drink. Was this the same eagle as noted in the Sunday paper?

— Nancy

AOnly the female mallard duck incubates the eggs and takes care of the ducklings, so there is little to do for the male except defend their territory vigorously. I do not know why males appear absent during the summer.

You mention that you feed the ducks cracked corn, which is rich in both protein and fiber and is a good supplemental food to offer ducks and some backyard birds, provided the birds do not rely on it as a main source of food.

Mallards for example, feed both on vegetation and a variety of invertebrate animals, such as snails, beetles, flies, crustaceans and worms. During migration, for those that do migrate, and in winter, plant material is a major part of their diet.

As for the bald eagle, I cannot say with certainty that the bird you saw was the same individual mentioned in an earlier column, although it may well be.

Afterthought: The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife), and Ducks Unlimited, as well as many other wildlife agencies frown on feeding waterfowl. Unfortunately white bread seems to be the food of choice to be offered ducks, and it is not very nutritious. In some heavily used places like the Onota Lake causeway in Pittsfield, there are signs cautioning against this practice.

For anyone disregarding this, not necessarily the author of the question, read on. Ducks Unlimited says "Furthermore, many people do not realize that a diet of white bread can be fatal to waterfowl.

"When the birds gorge themselves on bread, they stop eating their natural foods, which are much more nutritious. The birds become malnourished and there have also been cases of birds choking on wads of bread." (This is what I most often see people feeding ducks in parks.)

Thom Smith welcomes your questions and comments. Email him at Naturewatch@live.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.


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