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 it.
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)