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How can I tell if the duck that visits our pond is a wood duck? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: How can I tell if the duck that visits our pond is a wood duck?

Q: How can I tell if the duck that visits our pond is a wood duck?

Robert – Galesville, WI

A: As some of the most stunningly colorful visitors to pond, wood ducks – scientific name Aix sponsa – are easy to spot as long as you know what to look for. Get out your binoculars, because here’s a quick primer on wood duck field markings and behavior.

Unmistakable Appearance
Both male and female adult wood ducks measure about 19 inches high and have a wingspan of 26 to 29 inches. Unique among the duck species, wood ducks have a boxy, crested head, a thin neck and a long, broad tail. When airborne, their silhouette shows a skinny neck, long body, thick tail and short wings.

During mating season, which runs from autumn to early summer, male wood ducks sport colorful, ornate plumage. Some of their telltale markings – which are designed to attract females – include:

  • Red eyes and bill.
  • Metallic purplish-green plumage on his head and crest.
  • Black cheeks with a white stripe along his neck that extends up each cheek.
  • A yellow patch at the base of his bill.
  • Dark red chest and rump.
  • Drab yellow side with black and white stripes at the edges.
  • White belly.
  • Blackish tail and back.
  • Black and blue wings.

After mating season, male wood ducks lose their bold colors, but they retain their bright red eyes and bill.

Females lack the showy plumage of male wood ducks. Rather than colorful feathers, they don subtle yet intricate grayish-brown feathers on their bodies, with their sides a lighter shade than their backs, and a white ring around each eye. Their heads have a crest of feathers at the back and white feathers on their throat and chin.

Water-Centered Behavior
Wood ducks pair up in the late winter and breed in the spring. If you listen carefully, you can hear their calls: Males attract females with a squeaky whistle of “jweep,” and the females answer with a different, louder “oo-eek” whistle.

After they breed, wood ducks build a home – preferably in a tree that’s near a wooded swamp, pond, lake or marsh with cattails stands, or along a river or stream. They fashion their nests in cavities in nearby trees that are either natural or abandoned by a woodpecker. If they’re unable to find suitable trees, wood ducks will readily use nest boxes built by people. (Check out how to build one here.)

Lined with feathers from the female, a wood duck’s nest can house anywhere from six eggs to more than 40 eggs. Why the wide range? If a female cannot find a nest of her own, then she will lay her eggs inside another wood duck’s nest.

After a few weeks, the ducklings – which are already covered in a full down coat – hatch from their shells and venture into the world. Rather than being raised in the nest, however, the tiny ducks get their feet wet by literally jumping out of the nest cavity and waddling their way to the water. Talk about sink or swim!

Grubs and Greens
As ducklings and juveniles, wood ducks eat a lot of protein, preferring bugs, worms and, occasionally, a small fish. As they get older, their diet grows to include more plant-based grub. They’ll seek out wild fruit, seeds, nuts and aquatic plants, along with flies, beetles, caterpillars, isopods and snails.

Wood ducks are particularly drawn to open-water areas with dense, vegetative cover for hiding and foraging. They also prefer clean, clear water when diving for fish, aquatic bugs and greens. You can optimize their food sources by using muck-busting and water-clarifying solutions like Pond Logic® MuckAway™ and EcoBoost™.

The bacteria and enzymes in MuckAway™ eat through the accumulated muck and debris at the bottom of your pond, and EcoBoost™ is a natural bacteria enhancer that will bind organics suspended in the water. When used together, you’ll see a cleaner, clearer water column – perfect for any wood duck!

Pond Talk: How do you encourage birds to visit your pond or lake?

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When is the best time to install underwater pond lighting? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: When is the best time to install underwater pond lighting?

Q: When is the best time to install underwater pond lighting?

Lou – Winston, OR

A:  Whether it’s illuminating a patio, a landscape or a water garden, outdoor lighting can have a dramatic impact on the area’s space. It creates a special mood and spotlights stunning features while adding ambient light to the environment.

Underwater lighting is best installed when your pond is empty, like while it’s being constructed or – in most cases – while you’re doing your annual spring cleanout. If you’re putting in lights this spring, here are four key tips to follow:

  1. Choose the Right Lights: Landscaping lights come in many different sizes and varieties, and so it can be hard to choose the best for your needs. Luckily, we offer three above- and underwater lights that will do the trick.
    • LEDPro™ 6-Watt LED Light Kit: These lights highlight your pond and landscaping with energy-efficient LED bulbs. It shines with the same intensity as a 50-watt halogen but with a longer life span and lower energy costs.
    • LEDPro™ 12-Watt Single Light: This spotlight also features an LED bulb, but it shines with the same intensity as a 70-watt halogen.
    • LEDPro™ Rock Lights: Featuring a realistic stone finish, these small warm-white LED lights illuminate 10 watts per light but use only 2 watts of power. They’re perfect for accenting special features in your garden.
  2. Point Lights to the Pond: Rather than directing your landscape lights toward the patio or other viewing area, shine the light on pond instead. Your goal is to illuminate your water feature – not blind yourself while viewing it.
  3. Cast an Underwater Glow: Beneath the water’s surface, install lights that will spotlight your waterfall or stream’s cascading water. And don’t forget to include some that will highlight landscaping around and pondscaping in your water feature, too.
  4. Stash Extra Power Cord: To give yourself easy accessibility to the underwater lights when you need to change their bulbs, wrap some excess power cord around the light. This will allow you to simply pull the light out of the water and change the bulb without having to drain the water or move a rock.

Over time, algae and other debris will build up on your lights – and so you’ll need to add a new to-do item on your spring cleanout checklist! Each year, plan to give those lenses a good scrubbing and replace any burned-out bulbs.

Pond Talk: How do you use lighting effects in your water feature?

Illuminate Your Pond for Night Viewing - The Pond Guy(r) LEDPro(tm) 6-Watt 3-Pack Light Kit

 

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Why do koi have barbels? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Why do koi have barbels?

Q: Why do koi have barbels?

Janice – Clear Creek, KY

A: Koi have been growing trendy whiskers way before the hipsters made it cool! Those whiskers—or barbels—are a defining characteristic of the fish. Here’s what they are, what they do, and why the popular pond fish has them.

Super-Sensing Organ
Barbels are sensory organs not unlike whiskers in mammals. Rather than being used for tactile sensing, however, a fish’s barbels are used for taste. Koi, along with catfish, goatfish, hagfish, sturgeon, zebrafish, some species of shark and other carp, have barbels. They use these taste bud-covered organs to search for food in murky water.

Tasting Without Ingesting
Koi and other carp have four barbels, with two on each side of the koi’s mouth (termed “maxillary barbels”). The top two appear shorter than the lower two, but they all serve the same purpose: taste debris without actually ingesting it. Being omnivorous scavengers that forage along murky pond and river bottoms, it’s a good survival skill to have.

Weird Appendages
As spring approaches and you start feeding your finned pals some Spring and Fall Fish Food, take a closer look at these weird appendages. Most koi (except those with mutations) have barbels—even koi fry have them! So go grab a pond net, catch a koi or fingerling, and look closely to see them.

As with hipsters and their whiskers, they probably won’t like you playing with their barbels. But they’re still fun to look at!

Pond Talk: Are some of your koi’s barbels bigger than others?

Easy to Digest in Cooler Water - The Pond Guy® Spring & Fall Fish Food

 

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The ice is finally melting and there are dead cattails and phragmites everywhere. Do I need to rake them out? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: The ice is finally melting and there are dead cattails and phragmites everywhere. Do I need to rake them out?

Q: The ice is finally melting and there are dead cattails and phragmites everywhere. Do I need to rake them out?

Dave – Gary, IN

A: What an eyesore. As the snow and ice melt, those brown, dried-up cattails and phragmites do little to enhance a landscape. They can, in fact, cause water quality and weed management problems, especially as spring approaches and those green shoots emerge from the dead growth. You need to do something about them, and here’s what we recommend.

Frosty Water

With water temperatures still on the chilly side, it’s likely too early to start treating your pond or lake with beneficial bacteria, like those found in Pond Logic® MuckAway™. Those little detritus-destroyers prefer water that’s at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit – and chances are good that it’s well below that mark (unless you’re in sunny Florida or California …). Besides, even with some oxygen-infusing aeration, it would take a long time before they would be able to decompose large cattail or phragmite stalks.

Winter Management

One option is to leave those dead weeds in the water until spring. They may attract wildlife and create an ideal home for insects, amphibians and birds – as well as small rodents and other possibly unwanted visitors that will hide out in the shoreline brush.

Right now, your best bet is to pull out your weed whacking tools and get to work.

We offer a range of cutters and rakes that’ll make the job easy. From a double-sided cutter with an 11-foot reach to a V-shaped cutter that sinks to the bottom and slices weeds at their base, these tools help you cut down those dead plants. And a rake, like one of our weed rakers, will help gather the cut stalks for easy pickup and removal.

Spring Solutions

In the spring when the water temperatures rise and the weeds start to grow again, treat them with an herbicide formulated to tackle the toughest weeds. Remember: those chemicals only work when they’re absorbed by a growing plant, so there’s no sense in using them when the cattails and phragmites are dried up and dormant.

Happy winter weeding!

Pond Talk: What features do you prefer in a weed cutter?

Cut Through Tough Weeds - The Pond Guy® 28 Inch Weed Cutter

 

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How can I tell if I have male or female koi? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: How can I tell if I have male or female koi?

Q: How can I tell if I have male or female koi?

Ann Marie – Casselberry, FL

A: If only koi were as easy to sex as a pair of peacocks! Like those fanciful birds, koi are sexually dimorphic – meaning the males and females look and behave differently – but it’s not an easy distinction to discern. They grow to roughly the same size and they both have colorful scales, yet there are subtle differences if you know where to look. With these clues, you’ll know whether to name your finned friends Fred or Frieda.

Clue #1: Age

Koi are easier to tell apart when they’re mature, and so your first clue will be age – which is related to their length. They’re considered mature (3 years old) when they’re about 10 inches long. If they’re between 3 and 10 inches, they’re still juveniles and may be difficult to sex.

Clue #2: Body Shape

Immobilize your koi by capturing it in your pond net and take a look at it from above. A mature male koi will have a slender looking body, while a female koi will have a rounded body, particularly when it’s spawning season and she’s carrying a nest full of eggs!

Clue #3: Fin Shape

Next, examine your koi’s fins. A male koi’s pectoral fins, the ones near his head, will appear pointed and solid in color. In addition, the first ray of his pectoral fin may be more substantial when compared to his female counterpart, which will display rounder fins.

Clue #4: Tubercles

During breeding season, you may see little white growths, called tubercles, on male koi’s heads and pectoral fins. They’re perfectly natural and will disappear once the fish have finished getting frisky. Females don’t develop these protrusions.

Clue #5: Behavior

One final – and obvious! – clue: amorous behavior. When they’re not mating, they behave very similarly, but during mating season, the male koi will chase the female, encouraging her (sometimes enthusiastically) to release her eggs so he can fertilize them. After all that frolicking, the happy pair will benefit from some The Pond Guy® Stress Reducer Plus, which will help heal any damaged tissue.

It’s not easy to distinguish the male and female koi, but with these tips and clues, you’ll know your Freds from your Friedas in no time!

Pond Talk: Have you ever tried to determine the sex of your koi?

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How are algae able to grow in the winter when everything else is dormant? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: How are algae able to grow in the winter when everything else is dormant?

Q: How are algae able to grow in the winter when everything else is dormant?

Patrick – Vandalia, IL

A: Algae can be tough little buggers. An estimated 72,500 algal species exist worldwide, and some of them can thrive in inhospitable conditions, including areas with ice and snow. With a handful of nutrients and a little bit of light, they’re able to grow – even in the 39 degree water under the ice in your lake.

But if your lake’s water is clean and clear during the spring and summer, how can it explode with algae in the winter?

Food Aplenty

Algae feed on byproducts of decomposing organic debris, like phosphorous and nitrogen, in the water. During the warmer months, natural bacteria would typically break down these nutrients, leaving little food for the organisms. But in the cooler months, those bacteria go dormant. That means the algae enjoy a feast – and a population explosion.

If you keep a hole in your lake’s ice, you can help control the nutrient density with a product like Pond Logic® EcoBoost™. This bacteria enhancer, which has no temperature restrictions, binds suspended organics while providing trace minerals to fish. Simply mix it with water and pour it into the lake.

Let There Be Light

Algae also require sunlight to thrive – but not much. Even through a clear, solid sheet of ice, algae can get enough light to use for photosynthesis. When that light is impeded, however, the algae won’t grow as quickly.

A layer of thick snow cover is Mother Nature’s way of preventing light from penetrating the water, but you can also use pond dye, to block those rays. Pond dye is available as a liquid or in water-soluble packets that you can toss into your pond.

Algae’s Benefits

Believe it or not, algae growth in the winter does have its benefits. It helps to filter the water, and on warmer days it’s a great snack for your fish. Plus, when the algae photosynthesize, they give off oxygen as a byproduct – which is then available for your fish (and other aquatic critters) to breathe.

Don’t worry: The algae won’t take over your pond like it does in the summer. It can grow, but the cold temperatures aren’t ideal for explosive outbreaks.

Pond Talk: Have you seen algae growing beneath the ice in your pond or lake?

Shade & Protect Your Pond - Pond Logic® Pond Dye Packets

 

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We just purchased a house and it has a backyard swimming pond. How do we measure it? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: We just purchased a house and it has a backyard swimming pond. How do we measure it?

Q: We just purchased a house and it has a backyard swimming pond. How do we measure it?

Rob – Hawthorne, FL

A: Surface area and pond depth are important measurements to know. They’ll help you determine dosage rates with chemicals like algaecide. They’ll help you calculate the right-size aeration system for your pond. And they’ll help you figure out how many and what types of fish to stock.

Finding those magic numbers isn’t difficult – but it does require some tools, the right equation and a little bit of work. Before you head out to your pond, grab a rope marked at 1-foot increments, a weight that’s heavy enough to sink to the bottom, and something for notetaking.

Calculating Surface Area

The easiest ponds to measure are those that resemble a rectangle, but you can figure out the surface area of a circular, triangular or odd-shaped pond, too. First, you’ll need to measure (with your marked rope) or pace off (one step is about 3 feet) some specific distances, depending on the shape of your pond. Then, plug those numbers into one of these formulas:

  • Square/rectangle: Calculate length and width; L x W = Surface Area
  • Circle: Calculate radius; Pi x R2 , or 3.14 x R x R = Surface Area
  • Triangle: Calculate base and height; (0.5 x B) x H = Surface Area
  • Odd-shaped: Use a handy online tool like Bing Maps to measure the pond. Online tools may be easiest, especially for irregularly shaped ponds.

To determine how many acres your pond is, you’ll then divide that surface area figure by 43,560 (one acre).

Calculating Depth

Figuring out your pond’s depth is a bit trickier, particularly if you have plant shelves or if the pond has a slope. Grab your marked string, the weight, something to write with, and a boat or canoe. Then, head out to the pond and follow these directions:

  1. Securely attach the weight to one end of your string.
  2. Climb aboard your boat or canoe with your weighted string and note-taking materials in hand.
  3. Travel to at least five points in various areas your pond, more if your pond is particularly large.
  4. Drop the weight into the water and note where you feel it hit the bottom. Repeat until you’ve gone to all the different spots and gathered a good sampling of your pond’s depth.

If math isn’t one of your favorite subjects, just take your measurements and plug them into our pond calculator. Simply select your pond type and shape, enter your measurements and let the calculator do the math!

Why They’re Important

Now that you know your pond’s size, why are those calculations important?

You’ll need the numbers to determine dosage rates on chemical products like those found in Pond Logic® ClearPAC® PLUS. If the pond has been around more than three to five years, chances are good that you’ll need to address problems like muck accumulation and string algae growth in the spring.

Those numbers will also help you select the right-size Aquastream™ Fountain and Airmax® Aeration System. For instance, if your pond is less than 6 feet deep, the Shallow Water Series™ Aeration System is a good choice; if your pond is greater than 6 feet deep, the Shallow Water HP Series™ or PondSeries™ Aeration System is the one for you.

Since you’ll be able to calculate how many acres your pond is, you’ll also be able to determine what types of fish you can have and how many of them you can keep. Finally, because you’ll know the various depths of your pond, you’ll be able to stake out safe swimming areas for children – but don’t forget to put out your life ring!

Pond Talk: What pond maintenance tips can you offer to this new homeowner?

Keep Your Pond Water Moving - Airmax(r) Aeration Systems

 

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