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Pond Predator Control
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As the saying goes, "forewarned is forearmed." So I'm warning you, depending on the types of livestock you keep in your pond, the geographical region in which you're located, and the particulars of your pond construction, you may at one time or another have to deal with the problem of predators. Keeping would-be diners out of your pond involves system design, maintenance and possibly more proactive methods. Here we're going to take a look at just what kinds of pond predators you're likely going to have to deal with, and discuss some options for dealing with them.
Your fish and plant livestock are for the most part, all delicious to something, and it is up to you, the pondkeeper to protect them from the cruel fate of becoming the Catch of the Day on a predator's menu.
The Usual Suspects:
Snakes, frogs, turtles, deer, small to very large cats (both wild and domestic), fish-eating birds, dragonflies, raccoons, and yes, even humans are the prime suspects in most cases of pond predation. The possibilities for dealing with them range from passive resistance to strategic mayhem.
Protection by Design:
The best predator is the one that leaves your pond hungry, and the best way to keep your livestock alive is to design your pond so that predators cannot even get a snack, much less a meal from it.
Placing your water feature in an area where it is easily and often observed is far better than it being out of view in a spot with little traffic. Most predators are wary of human contact, and they will avoid trying to consume your pond's contents if you are anywhere nearby.
Basin Shape & Size:
The larger a system is, particularly in depth, and the steeper the sides, the better. Bigger volumes of water afford your motile livestock more chances of escape, and deep, steep sides prevent terrestrial predators from making direct forays into the water to snatch them.
Bridges, above-water decor, floating plants, waterfall areas where predators can't see well into the water, and underwater "tunnels" made out of block or such grant your livestock peace of mind and avenues for hiding out from predators.
Keep 'em Separated:
Small, slow predators like snakes and turtles can generally be excluded from a pond with the employment of a stout fence made of wood, wire or block. For larger, wilier types like raccoons, deer, and other mammals (including humans), higher fences along with other technology may be called for. There are electrical "tickler" wires, which gently shock would-be-predators and can be deployed at the top of barrier fences or around the pond basin itself.
Piscivorous birds are amongst the worst perpetrators of pond livestock loss. And once these fish-nappers discover your pond, they can be very difficult to dissuade from re-visiting. Therefore it is a good idea to provide some degree of cover for your pond, either in the form of substantial (50 percent or better) surface plant cover, such as with water lilies, or a cover over the pond, such as a shard cloth from a hardware/garden store.
Besides obscuring the view of overhead predators hunting your tasty fishes, both options come with the added benefit of blocking sunlight, which keeps down pest algae and reduces thermal fluctuation.
Guard Duty: Paws and Claws:
Pet dogs and cats can be tremendous assets in your battle to deter predators from eating your pond livestock'¦ particularly if they're much larger than the predators you're up against. Anything raccoon size or smaller should be dissuaded by the presence of a family canine or feline patrolling the perimeter.
But sometimes there are larger hunters about. Some birds, like the larger heron species, can be as tall as an average-size human. And I once investigated a case of "mysterious fish loss" of a friend who, judging by the size of the paw prints around his pond, had a very large wild cat (puma or cougar) coming around that would have likely consumed any/all domestic dogs and cats. For him I prescribed the addition of "electronic eyes" around the pond, which, when the animal stepped through the light beam, would trigger strobe lights and the playing of loud disco music. To avoid unduly enraging a mountain lion in my friend's back yard, however, we did add a larger tray of "feeder" fish for the visiting cat's appeasement in the short term.
In extreme cases of fishing birds and mammals that won't leave your fish and system in peach, you may have to resort to traps or, worse, depredation to rid you of them. A word of caution is in order, however, if you are planning to eliminate the problem with "extreme prejudice", as even fish-stealing varmints have some basic legal protections in place. Check with your local animal control bureau to avoid running foul of local regulations.
For mammals, there are a few ingenious "have a heart" live traps that can be employed to collect and transport them away from your neighborhood. Do check with your municipality regarding the possibility of help in this enterprise- depending on the resources available to them they may even be able to lend you a trap or two. Often there is an item like "pest control" on your property tax bill that may include the removal of these animals.
A Pond Predator Checklist:
Garden ponds are a magnet for wildlife, much of it drawn to the tasty tidbits your prized plants and animals present. Methods of protecting your livestock vary from using barriers and deterrents to trapping and removing the offenders. The best time to consider predation is when you are planning your pond. Local universities and government agencies can provide you with information about the animals in your area that are likely to cause a problem- and with tips for dealing with them.
Just-hatched out dragonflies, when flitting about your garden pond, will add a certain charm. But the aquatic dragonfly larvae (nymphs) are ravenous predators on small fishes and frogs. The irony is repeated by the fact that adult dragonflies eat unwelcome mosquitoes that are drawn to your garden, while mosquito larvae are a favored food of many small pond fishes.
They may be coming down to only get a drink or bath, but crows won't hesitate to snatch up fishes as well. The use of netting over a pond deters overhead predators, while still allowing pondkeepers and their visitors to enjoy the pond.
The North American Bullfrog, Rana catesbiana will eat most any moving object of small-enough size, fishes to snakes, and mice to bats! Because they grow so large, these big amphibians can and will swallow pond fishes. In a very large pond with plenty of natural cover, their insect-eating proclivities and bass jug-o-rum calls might be a welcome touch, otherwise, they are unwelcome invaders.
Besides feeding on your pond fishes, nonvenomous water snakes can deliver a nasty bite. They are unlikely to set up permanent housekeeping in your pond, however, unless you have very large areas of swamp or marginal plantings, and like almost all snakes; they flee from human activity and are only a concern when stumbled up unknowingly.
The Egret is just one of many large wading birds that may visit your pond for a fishy snack. These stately birds are beautiful to watch, but deadly for your pond fish.
Unfortunately, netting is not often effective against long-legged and long-billed herons and egrets unless it is installed more as a cage, all the way to the ground and over the pond. One of these birds can empty a small pond of fish in short order. A family dog or cat can be an effective guard against such avian guests.
Ducks & Other Waterfowl:
Mallards and other native aquatic birds are opportunistic omnivores, consuming small fishes as well as plants during underwater foraging. Besides being menaces to pond livestock, waterfowl can trample aquatic and landscape plantings, and add tremendous amounts of wastes to these areas.
Rocky Raccoon, He Fell Into My Pond'¦
The raccoon is a wily and persistent fish predator found in the wilderness, rural, suburban and urban environments. It is naturally drawn to water, and it forages with deft hands, feeling for fish, amphibians, crustaceans and other aquatic meals. Persistent raccoon problems may need to be dealt with by the use of humane "live" traps, or other removal methods. Check with your local animal control agency for guidelines and advice.
If you are saying, "I don't have to worry about predators getting my livestock," don't be so sure. Ask around, because almost all pondkeepers have suffered losses to predators at one time or another. Sometimes the culprits are a mystery, other times known; sometimes they are merely bothersome, other times absolutely ruinous. But do your part to protect your livestock through conscientious design, construction and maintenance of your system and its surrounds, and you should be able to keep livestock losses by predation down to a minimum. Good luck!