We all love to see the cool birds and other friendly critters that visit our garden because we provide them with clean, organic water. But what about when uninvited visitors show up?
Here in Phoenix, we don’t have near the predator issues that exist in the rest of the country, and most of us are grateful that we don’t have to deal with otters, muskrats, or alligators, among others. We do have our own persistent fish-eating predators to deal with, though. Herons and raccoons are the two we hear about the most. The following methods for defending your fish against these backyard marauders are our personal favorites.
The first, and best, method of keeping your fish friends safe is build them a home that gives them an advantage, or two, over the predators. In other words, make it big enough and deep enough for them to get away, as well as building a few caves into the walls. The best bet is more than one cave because one cave, especially in a two foot deep pond, is little more than a trap that a Heron can stake out and wait for your fish to peek out and be snatched one by one. A nice 50% coverage of lily leaves through the center of the pond also adds to your fish’s advantage.
Many, if not most, ponds are not built with these advantages, for a multitude of reasons, mostly revolving around experience and planning, or lack thereof. For those ponds, the following methods have been helpful in various situations.
Motion Activated Scare Device
Scare Crow impact sprinkler is the best-known brand. It is an impact sprinkler that shoots a burst of water at a target area whenever anything larger than a rabbit moves in front of it.
Noise maker. Set up a motion-activated flood lamp fixture and add something noisy plugged into it. We have used an old drill with a bent drill bit in an old mail box. A small radio with the volume set on high will also work. Or a hair dryer – you get the idea.
Heron: This is based on the territoriality of these birds and the idea that they do not want to fish side by side. We have found this to not always be the case. In fact, we have been witness to several heron fishing within a few feet of one another on the shoreline of our local golf course ponds.
Alligator: These are not indigenous to this part of the country, so most of our locals will not recognize them as anything potentially dangerous. While most heron are migratory, many have adapted to life around here and never leave town, which is an example of how we have altered our desert to the point that the ecosystem is changing (but that’s another rant for another time).
Dog: This might even work if it gets moved around regularly.
There are several options for these. The cost starts under $100, and you can spend much more. They are effective, but will add a “prison” look to your pond that may be distasteful. They are difficult to take down and store away for parties, so you generally just have to get used to the look. They are also indiscriminate, and will shock everything bigger than a field mouse, so wildlife viewing opportunities will become scarce. There may also be some liability involved with this option -- might want to run it by your insurance agent and the local police.
Fishing Line Trip Wire
This is among our favorite because of its simplicity. We use a 6-lb test, invisible fishing line and tie it to pieces of driftwood and a couple of noise makers around the pond perimeter. For noise makers, we like to use a couple of aluminum soda cans filled with several pieces of gravel (not too much, as you don’t want a lot of weight). We anchor the string around the perimeter of the pond so that the line weaves back and forth across the shoreline within a foot or so. When a heron or raccoon trips on the line, things start moving and making noise all around the pond. If they panic, it can get real exciting in the yard for a few seconds! Not many critters come back for seconds of that kind of action.
Nothing beats a Jack Russel Terrier, or any kind of Terrier or territorial dog for critter control. A dog is a HUGE commitment, though, and will require more care and effort than your fish and their pond habitat, so don’t choose this option lightly.
Every single pond, and its setting, is unique. We have found that even when we think we know for sure the right plan of attack (or defense), Mother Nature’s bandits have a way of educating us again and again. So don’t be afraid to try more than one thing on this list!
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Barbi Holdeman, co-owner of The Pond Gnome, enjoys sharing their 17+ years of education & experience with you! She writes about Phoenix Ecosystem Pond Installation, Pond Maintenance, Wildlife around the Pond, Koi and Goldfish in the Pond, and the Pond Lifestyle. If you enjoy what she writes, please share it!