PREDATORS IN YOUR POND
Where are the
fish? You walk outside to feed your fish one day and
when you reach your pond you find all your beautiful
fish gone. How can this be? You look for Fred, Lucy,
TA and all your other fish but can’t find them. Your
heart races to your mouth, you run around your pond,
you check your skimmer, you want to scream but can’t,
you search your yard. Where or where can they be? Did
a neighbor take them; did your wife sell them? Did a
thief come during the night? There is a good chance
that a thief did come during the night. That thief even
wears his mask all the time.
One of the main predators to ponds that
do not have steep sides at least 2 feet deep is the
Raccoon. These adorable looking creatures are nocturnal
(night) feeders and their main dish is protein that
comes from streams and ponds. Raccoons generally won’t
enter the water if they can’t wade into it. They usually
can’t hold onto their fish and swim. They will climb
over the roof of your house to get to the source of
food. They can also destroy your plants trying to get
to your fish. The best control for these is to live
trap them. If you do live trap them they must be moved
20 miles from your pond or they will find their way
back to your yard. Some people have used tampons soaked
in fox urine and suspended these around their pond.
A good dog will help but raccoons can lead your dog
into the water, get on their head and drown your dog
in as little as 6-8 inches of water.
Herons are other predators that have not
only eaten fish but have also wounded fish with their
bill trying to spear them. These large birds can stand
4 feet tall and can clear your pond of fish in short
order. They feed during both day and night. Herons are
a protected bird. It is unlawful to capture or harm
them in any way. A statue decoy may keep them away but
during the breeding season (spring) herons feed only
a short distance from their nests. The great Blue Heron
is reputedly a solitary feeder but during this breeding-nesting
time they sometimes feed in groups of two or three.
Using a statue at this time is like an open invitation
to dinner. I have even been told that a live heron even
tried to get friendly with a decoy. You can even try
putting a shiny object in your yard to scare them away.
It has been always reported that they would walk up
to the water. This being the case, a low line (fishing
line) or fencing around the pond would work very well
in keeping them out and away from your fish. Herons
will walk into the line but will not lift their feet
to step over. Herons are a fairly intelligent bird.
I have been hearing reports that herons have been landing
directly in the shallows of ponds. A woman from Flushing
reported a heron landed right in her waterfall. Her
falls were within 3 feet of her living room window and
the heron’s wings brushed the window and she was afraid
her window would break.
A new method of keeping herons at bay
from your pond is the use of a water scarecrow. This
is a motion-sensor sprinkler that is hooked up to your
garden hose. The only downfall is that after a few times
of being sprayed with water the herons become comfortable
with it. Loud music or noise will keep them away for
a while. Whatever you do, keep moving your device around
the yard to keep the herons unfamiliar with the strategy.
The best way to keep herons away from your fish is to
place blackbird netting over your pond. You must keep
it out of the water so that fish and frogs do not get
trapped. It also has to be high enough so that the heron
can’t spear your fish thru the net. Make sure it is
secured around the bottom so that they can’t get under
On a visit to a wild life sanctuary in
Florida, I had a chance to see herons up close. When
the workers went into the area with the herons, the
workers wore helmets with full-face protectors. This
I learned was to protect them from the strike of the
heron’s long neck and long sharp bill. They strike with
the speed of lightning. Herons aim right between the
eyes of their attacker with such power that they punch
a hole into the skull. So don’t think you can chase
them out of your yard. Some may fly but you could meet
up with a very stubborn one that will not fly.
Kingfisher is another bird that can clean
out your pond in a short time. They perch in trees or
on wires and catch fish by splash-diving or hovering
high over your pond and swooping down. The Belted Kingfisher
is a medium-sized blue-gray with white underparts and
a band across its chest. It has a large, bushy head
and stout, pointed bill.
In May of 2000 I purchased a beautiful
black butterfly koi. I introduced it to my pond around
11:00am. Around 3:00pm while I was sitting in my Michigan
Room taking pride in my pond and fish I noticed a large
bird had landed in the top of my silver maple. The maple
was sheared off by a windstorm a few weeks earlier.
I knew it was some kind of a hawk. It had blackish-brown
top and was white below with a head that was mostly
white with a broad black cheek patch. It was taller
than the Cooper Hawk. As it took to the air and I witnessed
the spectacular sight of it diving feet-first into my
pond, snatching my black butterfly koi and carrying
it off aligned head first, in its talons. I ran outside,
shouted a few choice words and watched as my $20.00
koi passed over the neighborhood. If you guessed it
was an Osprey, you’re right. This bird was reported
hanging around For-Mar Nature Preserve for about three
weeks. I live just down the road from there.
Mink and Egrets are other predators.
Heavily planted bog or marginal plants
around your pond can deter animals. Submerged plants
can offer some shelter for your fish. Large pipes or
milk crates in the bottom of your pond can give your
fish some place to hide and seek shelter from predators.
Be on guard and don’t let your fish be a predator feast.
Darlene Jennings, The Pond Lady
(Darlene is a MSU Advanced Master Gardener
and founder of
Mid-Michigan Pond & Water Garden Club)