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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

Specific Predator Control | Learning Center

Now that we learned the basics of predator control, here are some specifics about each nuisance pest.

Geese
Geese have several natural enemies including swans, alligators and coyotes. Using one, a pair or all three of these decoy methods will help to ensure your pond (and the surrounding area) stays geese free all season long.

  • Swans and geese make similar nesting areas (like your pond). Swans are very territorial and aggressive towards geese. Geese will see the swan decoy and fly over to find a less inhabited water body.
  • Using alligator decoys is also an effective method for geese control. An alligator decoy is effective in areas where alligators do not live; the fear of alligators is instinctive, not learned.
  • Geese do not like coyotes. The Coyote Decoy’s 3D build makes it visible from all angles making it superior to silhouette cut outs, not to mention its tail and body will move with the least amount of wind. This movement can be spotted by pesky birds from a great distance away. Nesting birds and other rodents will not want to seek refuge anywhere near your property if they spot this lurking predator in the open!

Blue Heron
Blue Herons compete against their own breed for pond real estate. A blue heron decoy will deter a real heron from landing due to their territorial nature. Just be aware that late April to May (sometimes early June) is mating season. If used too early, your blue heron decoy may attract a heron searching for a mate.

Muskrats
Muskrats can be cute at first as they frolic and play in your water, but beware you likely have a bigger problem than you think. Muskrats wreak havoc on your shoreline by digging tunnels around your pond to the den causing unstable ground. Here are tips to remove them from your pond:

  • Disrupt their diet. Muskrats are mostly vegetarians, eating aquatic vegetation such as cattails, grasses and pond weeds. Although, you may see them munching on snails, crayfish small fish and frogs in some areas. Removing vegetation in and around your pond is a sure way to limit a muskrat’s access to food.
  • Disrupt their environment. Muskrats prefer shallow ponds with still or slow-moving water. Adding an aeration system or fountain will provide circulation and, in most cases, enough wave movement to deter muskrats. You’ll get a cleaner pond out of it too!
  • Remove them from the pond. Muskrats can caught using a live trap baited with apples or other fruits and vegetables. Make sure you do not fully submerge the trap in case other wildlife accidentally becomes trapped. Monitor your traps several times per day. Check with your local DNR to determine rules involving relocating these pests.

Once you’ve trapped and released your muskrats, make sure you cave in their tunnels and den. You may need to backfill these spots with additional dirt or gravel.

Leeches
Leeches can be quite the nuisance pest in a swimming pond, but, thankfully, they do not do much harm. Leeches can be found in most ponds but a healthy fish population can keep their population in check. Redear Sunfish do a great job eating leeches out of their mucky habitat.

If you do not have fish, there are some prevention and removal techniques we can share with you.

  1. Control the muck. Mucky areas are a breeding ground for leeches. Rake out as much muck as possible and use MuckAway™ to reduce muck by up to 5” per year.
  2. Remove weeds and debris. You have the muck under control but what about weed growth? Another hot spot for leeches is among weeds and debris. Raking out weeds and any decaying dead weeds from shallow waters will also keep your leech population in check.
  3. Add fish. Redear Sunfish and Largemouth Bass will help to reduce the overall leech population.
  4. Set a leech trap. Punch leech-size holes in a coffee or aluminum can, bait it with raw chicken or fish and position it in a shallow area of your pond. When the worms go for the grub, they can get in – but not out. The burrs from the whole punch will prevent them from escaping. Remove the can once it’s full and repeat until the leeches are gone.
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