Pond Fish Predators
Herons, Raccoons & Other Predators Want Your Fish!
Disappearing fish? No, it's not a magic act. There's a good chance you have a predator visiting your pond. This is one aspect of water gardening that we have the least control over, but we're not completely helpless.
Keep herons from eating your pond fish
One of the most common predators of our fish is the beautiful, but dreaded by pond keepers, Great Blue Heron (shown above). There are different species of herons scattered around the country, but the most seen around the pond is the Great Blue Heron. This bird is found in most of the contiguous United States. The Great Blue can stand over 4 feet tall with a wingspan of nearly 6 feet. They feed primarily on fish and frogs, which is what makes a residential pond worth a visit.
One common suggestion for heron control is to use a decoy (a fake heron standing next to the pond.) The concept behind this is that the birds are territorial so they will not feed on another heron's turf. It seems that herons are smarter than we give them credit for. They soon discover the fraud and feed without hesitation.
Leaf netting may detract from the beauty of a pond, but so can disappearing fish. If you plan on using leaf netting in the fall anyway, why not just leave it over the pond until spring?
The motion-activated sprinkler attaches to your garden hose. When a heron, or anything else, crosses its path, it emits a burst of water, frightening away the would-be predator. These same two methods should be effective for some other predatory birds such as cranes. However, the sprinkler may not deter birds that swoop down to feed such as owls and kingfishers. An artificial fish can look like an easy target to a preying bird. But when the attack is made, the bird is unable to eat the intended meal and may retreat to find a tasty meal elsewhere.
A customer sent us this photo that shows a "fake heron" at the edge of a fish pond. A real heron, seen in standing in the water, ate all the goldfish that were in the pond as the fake heron "stood watch".
How to keep raccoons out of fish ponds
Our most common mammal predator is the Raccoon. Raccoons are generally nocturnal, so if you notice fish disappearing overnight, you have a good bet as to what type of creature you have. These masked animals can swipe at fish from the pond edge or wade into shallow areas; this makes small ponds more vulnerable. The methods for preventing bird attacks can also help prevent raccoon attacks.
While these are some of the most common predators, the list could go on. For most, your best options are described above. I have one last note on the sprinkler option. It is a great option for predator control, but winter usage is limited. Since it requires a garden hose, some climates would cause the hose to freeze and break. Cooler climates will require you to put the sprinkler away in winter months.
Winter Brings Additional Risk
Winter can be a time of concern for our beloved fish. Our plants' foliage will start to disappear. Without this natural cover over the water's surface, potential predators may see an opportunity for an easy meal. Cold weather means a greater chance of having prized fish "mysteriously" disappear. This is especially true if you keep slower moving fish such as fantailed goldfish.
A Final Thought...
We urge everyone attempting to discourage any wildlife, to realize that one of the great benefits many find in pond keeping is the array of wild animals it attracts. This is not a selective process. We cannot attract the butterflies and not the bees. We cannot attract the bathing birds and expect predatory birds to pass us by.