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I know herons are a common pond problem, but I think I have a raccoon around. Will it eat my fish, too? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I know herons are a common pond problem, but I think I have a raccoon around. Will it eat my fish, too?

Q: I know herons are a common pond problem, but I think I have a raccoon around. Will it eat my fish, too?

Matt – Burton, MI

A: Bandit-masked raccoons are a familiar sight just about everywhere because they will eat just about anything, including your fish. Found in forests, marshes, prairies, suburbs and even cities, raccoons can be a nuisance around ponds and lakes. Here’s what you need to know to keep them away from your pond – and your garbage cans.

ID, Please

With the exception of 75-pound Bandit that holds the world record for “World’s Fattest Raccoon,” these nocturnal foragers are typically between 15 to 23 pounds and 30 to 37 inches long, or the size of a small dog. They sport heavy fur streaked in brown, black and gray, and have black eye stripes that resemble a mask. Raccoons have bushy ringed tails that grow up to a foot long, and their dexterous paws and long fingers make distinct prints in the mud or snow.

Sushi for Dinner

Though raccoons love to eat mice, insects, and tasty fruits and vegetables (particularly sweet corn) plucked from your garden and garbage can, the opportunistic water-loving critters will happily take a dive in your lake to hunt for crayfish, fish, turtles, frogs and worms. They’ll use their lightning-fast paws to grab both aquatic and terrestrial prey.

Tracking a Bandit

Raccoons aren’t exactly stealthy. If they’re prowling around, they’ll leave telltale signs around your home and property – like knocked-over garbage cans, overturned rocks and flower pots, rooted-through plants and disheveled yard decor. They’ll also leave tracks in the wet soil around the pond. And, if you’re lucky, you may even find a shelter or den made in a hollow tree, culvert, woodchuck burrow or under a building.

Evicting Raccoons

Mother Nature provides her own raccoon control in the form of coyotes, foxes, great horned owls and bobcats, but you can give her a hand in several different ways.

  • A live-animal trap baited with cat food or tuna will allow you to capture and relocate your problem raccoon.
  • The Nite Guard Solar® deterrent keeps raccoons away with its solar-powered LED lights. Activated at dusk, the red lights resemble a predator’s flashing eyes flash and cause the critter to run away.
  • Keep garbage cans securely sealed and manage other easy-access food sources, like cat food bowls and compost bins.

With hundreds of thousands of raccoons traipsing across the countryside, you’ll likely discover one or two (or an entire family!) living on your property near your lake. But if you use some wildlife management tactics like these, you can keep them under control. Good luck!

Pond Talk: How do you manage the raccoon population near your pond?

Protect Against Nighttime Predators - Nite Guard Solar®

I think I have a muskrat visiting my pond. How can I know for sure? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I think I have a muskrat visiting my pond. How can I know for sure?

Q: I think I have a muskrat visiting my pond. How can I know for sure?

Elizabeth – Portland, IN

A: The muskrat, scientific name Ondatra Zibethica, is a common critter that’s widely distributed throughout North America. This furbearing rodent depends on habitats with water – including lakes, rivers, creeks, ponds and marshes – so your visitor could very well be a muskrat. Read on to learn how to identify them and how to prevent these troublemakers from damaging your pond.

IDing a Muskrat

Weighing only 2 to 4 pounds and measuring 22 to 25 inches (including its nearly hairless, scaly tail that it uses to propel through the water), the muskrat is covered in short, dense fur in shades of brown, grey and blonde. It has relatively small front feet with four major toes and small thumbs. Its hind feet are much larger and partially webbed to assist with swimming.

The small-eyed, small-eared muskrat is classified as a rodent because of its four incisor teeth in the front of its mouth. The two upper and two lower incisors overlap, allowing them to self-sharpen as they are used. Folds of skin behind the incisors allow a submerged muskrat to cut vegetation without getting water into its mouth.

The “musk” part of the critter’s moniker derives from musk glands that are predominant beneath the skin on the male’s lower abdomen. In the spring, the glands swell and produce a yellowish, musky-smelling fluid.

Home Sweet Home

So what do muskrats look for in a home? They like a spot that includes a plenty of food, a body of water and shoreline vegetation. These guys chow on a variety of greens and protein, including roots, stems and buds as well as frogs, snails and fish.

Besides eating cattails and other marginal aquatic plants, muskrats also use their honed teeth to cut down the plants and use them as building materials for their dome-shaped lodges located on stream or pond banks. Muskrat houses are smaller than beaver dens, but they do have one or more underwater entrances. They commonly house an entire family group, which can multiply in a short amount of time.

If you think your pond is home to a growing family of muskrats, look for lodges and burrows made from foliage and mud along the pond bank. Check for their distinctive tracks. And keep an eye out for them at dawn or dusk when they’re most active.

Damage Control

Uncontrolled muskrat populations can cause damage to private property and habitat. Their hole digging activities undermine earthen dams, dikes, irrigation canals and farm ponds. Their burrows and shelters may change the direction of water flow into or out of the pond.

The best way to discourage them from moving in is to keep shoreline vegetation – their food and shelter material – to a minimum. Use your rakes and cutters to chop down marginal plants and remove them from the pond area. In addition, try using a coyote decoy, muskrat live trap or motion-activated animal deterrent to scare them away.

Pond Talk: Have you ever contended with a muskrat colony? How did you convince them to move out?

Deter Pests From Your Pond - Bird-X 3D-Coyote Decoy

What is the best way to keep herons from eating my fish? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: What is the best way to keep herons from eating my fish?

Q: What is the best way to keep herons from eating my fish?

Jim – Milford, MI

A: Herons are beautiful birds – but they see your fish as their own personal sushi bar. Because they’re intelligent creatures, you’ll need to get creative when it comes to keeping them at bay. Before we dive into scare-away strategies, let’s learn more about them.

IDing a Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Herons’ range covers the entire North American continent. They’re partial migrants; they summer in the upper Midwest and Canada, winter in Mexico and hang out all over the rest of the United States all year long.

Sporting blue-gray plumage with a black stripe over their eyes and a thick dagger-like beak – not to mention a 6-foot wing span and 4-foot-long body – these guys are easy to spot. They stand like statues or walk slowly on long legs as they stalk fish and other prey in freshwater ponds, saltwater wetlands, estuaries, grasslands and fields.

In the air, these big birds fly with slow wing beats, reaching 30 miles per hour and at an altitude of 80 to 90 feet as they scan the land below for reflections in fish ponds. When they find one that looks appetizing, they’ll quietly cruise in and wade like feathered ninjas, waiting for their next meal to hop, walk or swim by. They’ll eat anything within striking distance, from fish and amphibians to reptiles, small mammals, insects and even other birds.

Herons prefer hunting, foraging and dining alone. In fact, they’ll fiercely defend their territory, putting on dramatic displays of dominance should a competitor fly in. They’ll throw their heads back, point their bill skyward and outstretch their wings, chasing the other bird (or human!) away.

Protecting Your Fish

Because of the herons ninja-like skills, you might not know right away if one has been nabbing your fish – especially if you have a larger pond. If your fish were used to being fed in particular spot and tended to hang out around the edge but suddenly stay away or loiter at the bottom, that’s a sign that something’s amiss.

So how can you discourage the birds from seeing your pond as their dinner table? Here are some tricks to try:

  • Use a heron decoy. A decoy like the Pond Logic® Blue Heron Decoy, in your pond. Herons are territorial, and so if they see that another heron has claimed the pond, they’ll keep flying by. Pro tip: Avoid using heron decoys during mating season, which is generally April and May but may vary depending on your location. The decoy may actually attract birds looking for a mate …
  • Create obstacles around the pond. Herons land around the perimeter of a pond and walk up to the water. Obstacles, like clear fishing line strung around the pond perimeter make access difficult by creating an impassable barrier that they would need to step over. Don’t worry: It won’t obscure your view of the pond.
  • Startle them with water. For ponds smaller than 1200 sq. ft. a motion-activated sprayer, like the Contech ScareCrow®, detects movement up to 40 feet away and spritzes the predator with water. It’s designed to startle them and scare them away.
  • Provide hiding places for your fish. Just in case a heron does find its way into your pond, give your fish a place to hide. Portions of submerged large-diameter pipe or beds of weeds work well, as does the addition or other fish habitat.

Experts recommend using a variety of methods to chase away these hungry birds because they will eventually figure out the decoy, obstacles and sprays of water are harmless. But be vigilant! Your fish will appreciate the effort!

Pond Talk: How do you scare away heron from your pond or lake?

Protect Your Fish From Predators - Pond Logic® Blue Heron Decoy

We had a snapping turtle around our pond last year. Will he snap at us if we try to go swimming? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: We had a snapping turtle around our pond last year. Will he snap at us if we try to go swimming?

Q: We had a snapping turtle around our pond last year. Will he snap at us if we try to go swimming?

Greg – Chester, VT

A: Snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are large freshwater turtles that make their homes in ponds and streams with plenty of room and food. When encountered in the water, they typically slip quietly away from any disturbance – but because they can have fierce dispositions, it’s a good idea to get to know these shelled reptiles and their habits a little better.

Identification
C. serpentina has a look all its own. Resembling a prehistoric dinosaur, the snapping turtle has a large, muscular build with a ridged carapace (hard shell) that can grow up to 18 inches. They usually weigh between 10 to 35 pounds. Its most defining features, however, are its long, flexible neck and beak-like mouth that it uses to snap prey and defend itself from predators.

On the Menu
The omnivore’s preferred meals include just about anything it can capture and swallow, including aquatic plants, invertebrates, fish, frogs, reptiles, birds and small mammals. It’ll even eat carrion. In a farm or swimming pond, a snapping turtle might snap up some undesirable visitors, like snakes.

Night Life
A snapping turtle is mostly active at night, but it does venture out during the day to bask on fallen logs and scavenge and hunt for food. When C. serpentina is walking the terra firma, it can be aggressive, particularly when it feels threatened – and this is when you should avoid contact at all costs. A snap from a snapping turtle can be painful!

Remove and Relocate
If a snapping turtle is causing problems in your pond, your best bet is to safely and humanely remove it. Grabbing its shell with your hands is a bad idea; it can easily stretch its neck back across its own shell to its hind feet and snap your fingers, and it can scratch you with its sharp claws.

Instead, trap it in a turtle trap, like one of our Tomahawk Live Traps. The 32-by-18-by-9-inch trap made with 12-gauge wire comes pre-assembled and ready to use. Simply place it in the water partially submerged and bait with fish or meat. When you capture the critter, relocate it to a place that has a water body, food and shelter.

Pond Talk: What types of game fish do you have in your pond or lake?

Trap Unwanted Guests - Tomahawk Turtle Trap

The geese are really making a mess. How can I prevent them from using my pond? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: The geese are really making a mess. How can I prevent them from using my pond?

Q: The geese are really making a mess. How can I prevent them from using my pond?

Dawn – Ripon, WI

A: Geese can certainly make a mess of a lake’s shoreline—and that mess is unsightly. The best way to keep that mess off your lawn and pond is to prevent geese from stopping in the first place!

One of the best ways to do that is to put up a decoy. They’re designed to dissuade the mess makers from choosing your shoreline for their home.

Swan Decoy: Swans and geese make similar nesting areas, but they don’t flock together. In fact, swans are quite territorial and aggressive toward geese—especially when there are baby swans in the mix. So when geese see a swan decoy, like the Floating Swan Decoy, they will fly on by to find a lake or pond that’s not inhabited by their grumpy cousins.

Alligator Decoy: Whether your lake is in Florida, Wisconsin or Oregon, your resident geese will scatter when an alligator decoy, like the Gator Guard Decoy, is deployed. Geese instinctively fear alligators, even if they’ve never seen one before.

Coyote Decoy: Geese (and just about every other critter) do not like coyotes. The 3D Coyote Decoy looks lifelike from all angles, particularly when the wind blows and moves its tail and body. Geese will spot this movement from a great distance and steer clear of it. Nesting birds and other rodents will not want to seek refuge anywhere near your property if they spot this lurking predator in the open!

When using decoys to deter geese, don’t forget to move them around every few days. If you leave them in the same spot, the geese will realize it’s a fake and move in.

Here’s a fun fact for you: Geese are flightless for one month beginning in late June through early August. They are in a serious molting period. So, it’s best to keep them away prior to being grounded.

Pond Talk: What are some other ways to keep geese off your property?

Keep Pesky Geese Away - OrnaMates(tm) Floating Swan Decoy

I see predator control options for geese and swans, but what about options for other animals, like raccoons? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

I see predator control options for geese and swans, but what about options for other animals, like raccoons?

Q: I see predator control options for geese and swans, but what about options for other animals, like raccoons?

Greg – Catawissa, PA

A: Overhead predators aren’t the only visitors looking for free sashimi from your fish pond or lake. Four-legged nocturnal critters like raccoon and opossum may also stop by for a snack. So what are the best ways to stop terrestrial animals from looking for food or water on your property?

The Predator’s Predator

Featuring flashing red LED lights that mimic the eyes of predators hunting and feeding at night, Nite Guard Solar® will frighten fish thieves and send them scurrying. The device uses an energy-saving solar panel to charge the lights, and an automatic photosensitive switch ensures the unit turns on when you (and your fish!) need it the most. Nite Guard Solar’s weatherproof construction includes a mounting tab on top, making it easy to screw to a post or stake for maximum effect.

Spray Them Away

Another option for scaring off predators is a motion-activated sprinkler like the Contech ScareCrow®. Though it requires a hose connection and battery to operate, the sensor detects movement in a 1,300-square-foot area and sprays water at unwanted—and startled—guests. The sprinkler head features spray distance adjustment, sprinkler arc adjustment and a low-energy trigger mechanism. The ScareCrow® helps to set up a boundary around your lake and protect its inhabitants.

Pond Talk: What’s the strangest predator you’ve seen visiting your pond or lake?

Protect Your Pond From Nighttime Predators - Nite Guard Solar (r)

Will my heron decoy still be useful since it’s getting cold out? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Will my heron decoy still be useful since it’s getting cold out?

Q: Will my heron decoy still be useful since it’s getting cold out?

Mary – Berkeley Heights, NJ

A: To prepare for fall’s and winter’s colder temperatures, you’ve pulled out your decorative fountain, positioned your deep water aerators, added your cold-temperature beneficial bacteria and performed all the other pre-season maintenance chores, but what about that heron decoy? Does he need to be put up for the season?

The short answer: no.

Realistic heron decoys, such as Pond Logic® Blue Heron Decoy, are used to dissuade birds from landing in your pond. Heron are territorial by nature, and when they fly by and see that one of their feathered cousins (fake or real) has already claimed the area, they’ll keep going until they find their own pond to fish.

Heron don’t hibernate, and so seasonal climate changes will trigger these colorful, statuesque birds to fly to warmer environments for several months of the year—which is probably why you’re asking about removing the decoy – but it’s still a good idea to keep that decoy in place.

Why? The foods that carnivorous herons love to eat, including fish, frogs, salamanders, lizards, snake and grasshoppers, disappear or become scarce, particularly in areas that freeze or reach chilly temperatures. As a result, these guys must find other ways to scare up some grub. They fly to a new territory (usually south) for a few months where the eating is good and the weather is warm.

In North America, herons’ range spans the entire United States and the southern regions of Canada, so chances are pretty good that you’ll encounter migrating herons passing over your lake or pond—and looking for some tasty sushi to spear. With your lifelike Pond Logic® Blue Heron Decoy in place, you’ll encourage them to move on and not stop to stock up on their trip south.

Pond Talk: How do you keep your blue heron decoy looking cleaned-up and realistic all year long?

Pond Logic® Blue Heron Decoy - Keep Pesky Herons Away

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