The Dreaded Predator
|As printed in Volume 2, November 98 Edition of What's Up, Doc?||by Peggy Ferguson|
No, Im afraid it never stops. No matter what the season, theres always something out there that will threaten the livelihood of our ponds. During the warmer months parasites and bacterial infections take the front seat. When the weather gets cold (and just when you think you can take a siesta from "pond husbandry") there is one other major factor to contend with
The Dreaded Predator
If you think youre immune to the problem, think again. Chances are youve only been lucky so far. During the winter when plants no longer avail to our fish a safe haven to hide in our babies become victims to a slew of hungry predators. Its a natural occurrence and, therefore, is a very difficult one to guard against.
The Blue Heron is one of the most gifted "fishermen" in our region. The same thing that attracts us to our fish attracts the Heron their beautiful bold colors! The trees that in warmer months hide our ponds with lush green leaves are bare in winter, offering the Heron a "birds eye view" of what he would consider a great holiday feast. Other predators include such cute, furry animals as the raccoon and the domestic cat. You may never see a raccoon during the day. They are generally night hunters and well adapted to fishing in the wild. The domestic cat normally isnt as much of a threat though still worth a warning. They arent as quick as a healthy fish the operative word is "healthy". A sick fish swims slowly and near the surface. This gives the cat an advantage. Fish swim slower during the colder months giving any predator a better chance. These are only a few of the predators that prey on pond fish. They are the most common and, by studying their behavior, we can better protect our fish from all.
The Heron is a pretty tall fellow. If you see him, you cant miss him. Hes a crane with long legs built for wading in shallow water and has a long beak perfect for spearing fish. Hes territorial and usually returns to a pond until hes eaten all there is to eat.
The Raccoon is a creature of the night that is not afraid of water even cold water. Hes quiet and quick. Hes probably the culprit if, in the morning, you notice a plant turned over and/or a fish "missing" without a trace.
Cats really could care less if you see them or not and go fishing anytime it suits them. In fact, one of our customers was telling me that he watched a cat lay down by the pond and put his whole arm in the water. The cat waited patiently until an unsuspecting fish happened by. The cat flipped the fish out and onto the ground.
There are no sure-fire ways of preventing loss from a predator. We have, however, compiled a list of preventative measures to give your pond the best head start on the problem.
#1. Dig your pond to where at least 1/3 of the pond floor is 3 feet in depth. A heron cant walk in 3 feet of water.
#2. Dont put plant shelves in the pond where your fish are living. A raccoon will sit on a plant shelf and catch fish.
#3. Put a statue of a heron by the pond. Herons are territorial and will not come around if they think the fishing hole has been taken. A side note to this: Move the statue periodically. Herons are smart and, upon not seeing the other move, will fly down to investigate.
#4. Float an alligator in the water. Most predators wont go near an alligator.
#5. Put a net over your pond. Not only will it keep out falling leaves, it will help keep out a predator.
#6. If youve had a recent visit from a crane expect another soon and prepare for it!
#7. Install a motion sensitive light to shine on your pond. This should scare off the bashful raccoon.
#8. We carry a scary-looking water sprinkler that activates by motion. Weve heard mixed reviews about it (such as it can drench the pond owner) but it does seem to do the job.
#9. Build your fish a hiding place such as the half trashcan idea from the article, Winter Comfort for Your Fish, on page 3 of this issue.
From what I understand, its illegal to kill a heron and, being the animal lover I am, I would never suggest it. It is not illegal to scare him. Now Id love to see (and I bet Americas Funniest Home Videos would love to show) people trying to scare a big bird like the Blue Heron. From the stories Ive heard, its been the other way around.
With all kidding aside, predators are a major problem to the pond owner who has fish and should not be taken lightly. We are always open to new ways of protecting the pond. If you have suggestions or ideas dont hesitate to tell us about them. You just may see your name and idea printed in our newsletter. AND if you do have any funny stories about encounters with the Blue Heron, we may just publish that too!
From Volume 2 of What's Up, Doc?,
© Copyright 1998, The Pond Doc's Water Garden Center. All rights Reserved. Reproduction of this article prohibited without prior consent of The Pond Doc.