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How Do I Deter Herons From My Water Feature? – Water Feature Q & A

Picture of a heron catching a koi

Water Feature Q & A

Q: I have a hungry heron visiting my pond. What can I do besides a net? P.S. Is it legal to shoot a heron in the state of Virginia? – Earl of Virginia

A: A fish lovers nightmare…the heron! Ever wake up in the morning, walk out to your water feature with a cup of coffee (or orange juice for you non-coffee drinkers) and discover a heron eating one of your precious koi (see left)? Your heart begins to race and your not sure what to do, you grab the nearest broom and charge out to the heron like there’s no tomorrow! Are you tired of this? Well here are a couple of options for deterring and protecting your fish.

The Motion Activated Scarecrow: This motion-sensored sprinkler is a great way to deter not only herons but other predators as well. The sprinkler simply hooks up to a garden hose and is triggered by motion. There is a dial on the sprinkler that adjusts the sensitivity. When a heron/predator approaches sensor, it shoots a 3-second burst of water up to 180 degrees.

Pros: Extremely effective throughout the season. Can be easy blended into your water feature.

Cons: The Scarecrow doesn’t know the difference between a heron and a person so be prepared to dodge the spray!

Great Blue Heron Decoy:
Herons are very territory birds. When flying over head, if a heron sees another heron they will deter and go elsewhere. This life-like decoy, when placed next to your water feature, will do just that. We highly recommend to move them every couple of days. This will help prevent the heron from figuring out the decoy.

Pros: Effective when moved around. Adds a nice touch of nature to any water feature.

Cons: Cannot be placed outside during mating season (March-May) for obvious reasons. Once a heron has already established your water feature as its territory it becomes harder for the decoy to be effective.

Can you shoot a heron?:
Although they can be a pest, Great Blue Herons are protected under federal law. It is illegal to shoot them in the US.

47 Responses

  1. I have the heron decoy. It doesn’t seem big enough. Today a 4′ tall heron was on my bridge, eying my koi. In comparison, the real one could kick the decoy’s butt. I still don’t know if he got any of my koi. My pond is 3′ deep and there are no shallow parts. I do have lots of cinder blocks in the pond along the sides that hold my water plants. The blocks give the fish lots of places to hide in the holes. A flying heron could see them swimming around as my lilies have dwindled down to nothing and my water is really clear.

    My questions are, could a heron land in my pond? And – why don’t they make the heron decoys bigger like a real heron?

    • Hi Jill – Herons will typically not land directly into the water. They tend to land outside the pond and walk in. Otherwise, they will scare the fish they are trying to catch. If you have steep sides, it’s unlikely a heron will be successful in getting your koi. They are different species of herons out there. I’m not sure why the heron decoys are the size they are.

  2. GBH has been after our fish for 2 years now. Finally found a good solution. Used a truck sized oil changing pan, cutting 3-4 6″ holes in sides and placing it up-side down in pond with rocks to keep it down. Great place to hide. I then placed trimmer cord around pond (10′ x 15′) at 3 heights – 12″, 22″ and 32″. Also planted mint around pond and let it grow into the pond only a little bit. The fish have plenty of places to hide and the string seems to be a great solution that’s been working. The mint helps to hide the cord and the bird gets confused when trying to walk thru the mint and hits the trimmer cord.

  3. Heron are large cockroaches with feathers. We have tried decoys – they don’t work; we set out an owl and the ground squirrels sit on its head; a fruit tree leaf net works but it is ugly. We had about three dozen fish in a 3500+ gallon pond with three Koi about 18-20 inches long, several 4-6 inch Shubunkins, Comets, and Sarasa Comets, and many smaller Shubunkins and Comets. A Mink got in the pond when the fish were dormant and over the period of three nights cleaned it out except for three small fish. As far as I am concerned it is eliminate on sight as there are plenty of lakes and streams around for them to revert to ‘natural’ in their hunting.

    • Hi David – Losing fish is always tough for the pond owner. Before eliminating a mink, please ensure that it is legal to do so in your area by contacting the local DNR. You can also trap the mink and remove it to a natural water source. Be advised that herons are protected birds.

      Another option for protecting against predators is providing spaces for fish to hide. This can be a crate at the bottom of the pond or building a cave. You can also use the Koi Kastles as shelter against animals.

  4. Has anyone heard of a heron leaving a fish? We’ve had a new fish just show up in our pond and can’t figure out how it could have gotten there. Our pond is raised above ground and we know exactly how many fish we had and this one wasn’t there yesterday! It’s about 8 inches long, and is not a butterfly koi like the rest of our fish.

    • This is entirely possible. Fish can be displaced by floods, birds, raccoon & can even jump out of water and flop to a nearby pond. If you have a lot of plants and hiding spots it could have been hiding until it grew large enough to not be considered food by the rest of your fish. It is even possible for them to catch a ride into your pond from new plants or fish that have recently been added to the pond.

  5. I have set up a motion detector that will activate a loud sound, if anything comes near the pond. While I have seen herons during daylight hours, the motion detector is meant more for night creatures such as Raccoons. I can probably mask the light sensor so that it will activate 24/7.

  6. i lost dozens of koi each year to herons,tried fishing line over top of my pond,tried decoys,nets ect. nothing worked for long,this year i bought 2 trumpeter swans and i wish i would have thought of this years ago because they chase all preditors away and they are a great addition to my pond..

  7. I have killed 5 of the SOB’s this year alone. Don’t try eating them though, they taste like kitty cats when grilled.

  8. I have lost 40+ koi and goldfish to herons. The net is the only thing that works every time. I bought a 30’x30′ net and it is the only thing that works. It covers the entire 5000 gallon pond. Pull it tight and you practically can’t see it. The herons still land on it but they can’t get in! I live on the water so herons are like cockroaches here.

  9. We put in a water feature last summer and seem to be losing water daily. Can anyone tell me what an estimated normal amount of water loss per gallon per day one can expect from their water feature? We are losing 12-20 gallons of water per day. Is this normal? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Linda,

      It’s hard to say gallon wise exactly how much you should loose in a day. This will depend on the size pond you have. Most ponds experience a normal loss of a few inches of water due to evaporation depending on size, location, climate, and waterfall size. If your pond is at least 1500 gallons I would not be concerned with the amount of water loss. If your pond is only a few hundred gallons you may want to begin searching the following suggestions. If you have a water fall check for moist areas around sharp corners for possible water splashing, also check your plumbing connections to make sure they are secure. If all this checks out I would turn the pond off for 24 hrs or so and see if the pond level stops dropping once the plumbing stops running. If the water loss stops you know it is in the waterfall or plumbing somewhere. If it continues keep watching over the pond until the level stops dropping. The possible leak will be at the water line. Hope this helps you out.

  10. Is it legal for my landlord to shoot a fish heron or crane not sure which it is. but it is eating her coi and she wants it dead.

    • Most birds of that nature are protected species. There are many other types of decoys to help protect fish or you can build some habitat for the koi like a little cave. Lilies and floating plants are also great cover for ponds and make the koi less visable making them less attactive targets for predators.

  11. I have found a solution to the heron issue. I put 4 pieces of Rehbar pounded into the ground on each corner of my water garden with about a foot left showing. I then strung 50lb. fishing line in a matrix pattern over the pound. Leaving enough room to use my nets for cleaning and the perodic climb into the pound to arrainge plants. I had read that Heron like to walk into a water garden and don’t like anything to touch their legs. So far so good No problems with the Heron since last year. Obviously this would nto work for a very larch pound but for my 25 foot round pound it has.

  12. Wow! I would LOVE to have heron in my pond. I am letting frogs eggs develop into tadpoles, hoping for a heron. I would put goldfish in the pond to attract heron, but then wouldn’t they eat the frog eggs?? I am not sure which way to go on this. Any suggestions? Thanks

  13. We had a heron eating fish this year. I was so upset. Several things I did actually worked. First, on impulse, I threw several rubber car mats into the ponds to give the fish (who were totally freaked out) a place to hide. They did that very well. I also found out that if I leaned around my computer screen (upstairs but overlooking the pond), the heron would be there, but would quickly fly away. With that in mind, I hung a few of my husband handkerchiefs in the window with a fan going and the light on. I think that was the most effective.

    We got a fake heron, but the idea is to move him frequently. One that’s left in the same place, gets spotted as a decoy. So we put in several 6″ PVC pipes with caps that screw on. When we move our heron, we just unscrew a cap, drop the heron into another pipe and cap the first. So far, so good.

    I hope something here helped. I was freaked out by losing some fish — and my fish were trying their best to hide. They even went about 2 weeks before getting up the courage to eat again!

    Good luck!


  14. We have been battling this problem for about 6 years now. I have tried everything there is to prevent both the Heron & the white egret from getting my Koi. We tried the Scarecrow, which managed to mostly get us, we tried the fishing line, not only around the perimeter, but across the pond as well (they still got in), the electric fence (that didn’t deter them), the decoy heron (he knocked it over), a decoy owl as well as an alligator & eventually the net. Unfortunately the net I had last year didn’t even deter him completely. When we discovered him, he was standing in a part of the pond that was not fully covered by the net ( we had trouble finding a net big enough to cover our pond 30′ X 30′). I didn’t know how he got in, whether he flew in or somehow climbed over or under the wire we had around the pond. I have since seen him land directly in my yard, then fly over the wire into the pond as well as ducking under the wire & climbing in. These birds are extremely smart & clever, they will figure out a way to get in, they will study the situation over & over. I have observed them sitting on a branch of a tree for over an hour, just watching. This spring I found a net large enough to cover the pond, with enough to hang down over the edges. One morning I woke to find the egret standing on the side of the pond, watching & studying the situation. Everytime the wind blew it raised the side pieces of the net up enought that the bird could see into the pond. Fearing that he would be able to still get into the pond that way, I reinstalled the wire lines around the perimeter of the pond. We worked really hard to build our pond & I really hate having to look at my Koi through the net, but its either the net or no fish. And since the heron & the egret already cleaned me out once, I won’t let that happen again. I know that the Blue Heron is protected, is the White Egret also protected?

    • in reply to maureen of july 5, 2009 and others: I cant believe you prefer koi over egrets and heron. Where do you guys live??? Must be where these birds are very plentiful and common. I would LOVE to see these magnificent beautiful birds here at my pond in Indiana. They are around, but have not chosen my pond yet. Would common goldfish entice them?

      • Kathy,
        Heron and Egret’s are not people friendly where you could attract tem and just sit out to enjoy them. They come when you are not around, steal your precious fish and then leave to raid another pond.

        To me the only good Heron or Egret is a dead Heron or Egret. Having a pond with Koi is with the desire to enjoy the Koi not view Heron’s or Egret’s eat them when you aren’t watching…

        Sorry I am not in agreement with you here….

      • Kathy, wait until a dozen or so of your magnificent herons nest in a tree right outside your bedroom. They scream 24 / 7 at each other — the sound is one of the most unpleasant you can imagine. I enjoyed watching them for years in the river bordering our property — now that they have been camping right outside for three years, NO MORE. Come to Oregon and take them all home with you.

  15. For anyone lucky enough to live in states where the “blackcat” type of fireworks are legal they can go a lobg way in scaring them off.

    The key is persistence. Get a “brick” or two of the firecrackers and AS SOON as you see a bird, sneak out and set off a strip of the firecrackers.

    They are loud and should scare them away as soon as they start popping. I had quite a few birds at my 1/2 pond last year and have only had one show up this year for one day.

  16. Thanks for your feedback. I have moved the scarecrow to a number of different areas and finally due to losing 30+ Koi over the last three years, I have decided to put a perimeter of fish line up. This guy will even change up on his arrival times if he knows it will help which prevents me from assuring that if the scarecrow move didn’t work, I would be there I would be there to scare it off… He’s probably grown a foot in height just from the protein of my Koi…. It is tough when to own a pond, you become controlled by a preditor you the government prevents you from taking care of. Funny…if a human had entered my yard and was perceived to be a threat, he could be shot but not the Heron…. Something is mixed up here…(*_*)

  17. I have battled with Herons the last 5yrs and the decoy worked only until he figured out it was phony. Even moving it frequently did not help. Herons are extremely intelligient birds and the one taking my fish was 4 1/2ft + tall. The water scarecrow worked for a short time as well until this year he found that if he walked extremely slow to the pond, the water scarecrow never went off until he was done eating and flew away. My neighbor and I watched him land and then take 5 plus minutes walking to the pond with one step then stop, then another step and stop and never set off the scarecrow. He recently took one f my 16 inch Koi and dropped it in the yard where I found it dead. This was even set on the highest sesitivity. I now put a perimiter of fish line, three strands aroung the pond with the highest line being about 3ft. This allows birds and such to come into the pond, but the Heron will not step over. This works extremely well for Geese as well! Wish I knew this years ago for I would have saved hundreds of dollars and Koi…. I still have not figured out why they are protected when there are thousand and thousands thoughout this U.S. and insreasing every day!

    • James,

      Sorry to hear you have been struggling with herons. They can definitely be a pain and can easily wipe out a bunch of koi in no time.

      What can happen is once a heron considers your pond to be its territory, any obstacle you put up, it will challenge. For instance, since herons are extremely territorial, once the real heron spots the decoy heron in it’s so-called territory it will challenge the decoy heron for the territory and obviously the decoy heron as no defenses. The real heron figures this out and eventually ignores it.

      With the motion activated scarecrow, depending on your size of your water garden, so be able to cover the water garden. I wonder if maybe it could be placed in a better spot?

      I appreciate the comment. Thanks!

  18. What Rosy calls an “attack” in reality is no more than what the Heron by nature, is programmed to do. As humans, we tend to forget that what we consider to be an intrusion into something that is personal, is food to the Heron.

    I have had an ongoing run in with Herons for the past 4 years. Not sure if it is the same one as they seem to act differently. Luckily, I am retired and am within arms reach of the ponds (of which there are five). I also have 5 dogs who have trained themselves to look upwardsevery time they go outside and then to set up as much noise as five dogs can make at one time.

    My biggest deterent are the electric fences that are around each pond and are hooked up to a doggie shocker. These fences are 4ft to 6ft high and comprise of garden support poles with three strands of wire on each one. I am working on the assumption that the Heron walks into the water which has been the case most of the time, However, it appears that one tried to land in one of the shallower ponds, unsuccesfully, I might add but enough to frightem the fish to where only 5-6 actually show themselves during the day and the other 6-7 only come out at night. I know this as I happened to be watching as he flew into a nearby tree and shook himself many times in order to get the water out of his feathers. I’m assuming that the water was deeper than he thought and that he panicked.

    I have since put cross wires over each pond to prevent this from happening again

    I might add that I am not alway successful in keeping out the Heron(s). He/she has cleaned out a small 350 gallon pond at least twice,electric fences and all. I am willing to lose thes smaller fish as the 20 odd Koi in the biggest pond are as big as 24 inches long and weigh several pounds.

    I have many pictures of these beautiful birds although they do remind me a little like a Pterodactyl.

  19. 1st heron attack 11 days ago – he injured a koi, she’s still alive barely.. so we got the decoy, then he attacked again sunday morning and took a 7″ goldfish and 2 comets, so we put the leaf net on the pond for the rest of the week, we didnt see him, so we put the fishing line around the ponds, and removed the net… now we had an attack Monday morning and think he took 12 — i said 12 — fish! there’s nothing that will work except for the net. we had 2 dozen fish, now we have 4 koi, a few comet babies (maybe) and one injured Koi that we will probably have to let die.

  20. Dee,

    No, herons will go after any fish. Sometimes they even hunt for sport; just killing the fish and deciding not to eat it. As for either standing on the edge of the pond or wading into the water to go after fish, I have seen a heron do both. Usually though, I seem to see them standing on the edge, very still, waiting for the fish to come close to them.

    If you would like to get rid of them, I would suggest the motion activated scarecrow instead of the heron decoy. Usually if a heron has already deemed your pond a spot for a fish buffet, they will challenge the decoy. Once they realize it is not going to put up a fight, they will ignore it.

  21. Do they only go after smaller fish? When we had the “dreaded heron” problem he/she ate all of our smaller koi and large goldfish only. Do they not go after the bigger koi? Some of ours are up to 16″, do they realize they’re too big to swallow? Also our two ponds are over two feet deep, so can the heron just stand on the surrounding rocks and pick them off or do they have to get in the water?

  22. The heron decoy is a decorative way – but it only works temporarily. Here in Florida, predators are a year round problem. The herons and racoons WILL find your pond and they WILL clean it out. Go to a Tractor Supply store (or shop online) and for less that $50 you can get the parts for a basic electric fence protection system.

  23. every summer in august the dreaded heron hangs around my pond. over the last few years he has gotten at least 6 of my koi. I have tried everything. nothing stops this bird except a net. i tried the wire, the decoys, the water gun. This bird is smart and fears nothing. I have 4 dogs also. i caught him one morning as he very slowly snuck up to the pond. i actually waited and watched him walk into the water. thats when i scared him away. he doesn’t go far. up to my roof and waites. she is a beautiful bird, very graceful in deed. I install a net in july and keep it up till october. i hate the net but it works. i did have wire up and the bird got caught in it, i cut him loose and i wont use it any more. I hate that bird but i don’t want it to get harmed in any way. the bird is only doing what he needs to do to eat. can’t blame him for that.

  24. Jerry Baecke,

    Herons typically walking into the water, so fishing line is a possibility. I have just had more success with the motion activated scarecrow as well as the heron decoy.

  25. I also have a problem with a heron can you tell me wether they will fly and land right in the water or do they walk into the water? Do you suggest fish line around the ponds edge or string over the pond and how high.

  26. We have had problems with herons, especially when they first come up from the south in the spring, being very hungry and thirsty from the long flight. Initially, we’d set out a big bag of pork rinds and case of beer. This was very effective with saving the fish, until the parties started every Saturday. When one big one flew up to our deck, kissed my wife and then pick pocketed my watch and wallet, I had enough. We now have a border collie and I’ve convinced Jada that heron are really tall, slim, feathered sheep and she spends the entire day in the yard on patrol shagging them out to the local ponds to fish for carp and bluegills. Nothing works like a border collie.

  27. Yes, I remember that dreaded day when I caught one of the blue herons making out like he was at a buffet dining. I freaked…. I use the fishing line about eight inches high around the perimeter of the pond. I also put a floating alligator in the pond. The decoy heron works during the mating season if you put a female with it.

    • Hi Edith,
      Thank u for the information u posted. I am trying to figure out the best solution to this problem that we have with our fish pond too in Maryland. Any idea where I could get a female decoy? And how far apart would u place the decoys from one another around the pond during mating season? Are 2 decoys necessary during other times of the year also? And do you recommend moving them around just 1-2 times per week also? Thanks for any additional info you can share

      • Hi Terri,

        During mating season you could try using two heron decoys placed near each other. However we’ve found it to be more successful to just not have a heron out at all during this time. The rest of the season you will only want to place one heron by the pond. Remember to keep moving it frequently for best results.

  28. I ave found that a couple large geese decoys near the pond will detere my local heron, and my husband add a couple pink flamingos. Heron boy does not like them, we move about once a week

  29. The fish line suggested by Matt Davidson sounds like a good way to injure the herons and other wildlife….It could easily become wrapped around their wings, feet, etc…and IMO isn’t a good deterent for them

  30. The cheap way to deter a heron is to string fishing line across the pond. Especially where the heron can wade in for his supper. I am told they need to get in the water in order to catch fish. Has worked for me ever since I did it about 7-8 years ago. M, Glen Allen, VA

  31. Oh yes, who makes the scarecrow? Do heron decoys work against egrets?

  32. What about large egrets as well? We’ve had both. Now we have an ugly net that gets in the way. Since the yard is small, there are trees nearby, and we garden near the pond a lot, I’m afraid the scarecrow wouldn’t do for us. Still, it sounds tempting…

  33. I certainly related to this article about the Herons. I lost 4 of my favorite Koi several years ago to a Heron. At first I didn’t know what happened, but then one evening the culprit returned and I saw him. When I ran out, clapping my hands and yelling, he merely flew up to the roof of the house and stood there looking down at me! I bought one decoy – several days later he landed in the yard and simply sauntered up to the decoy & stood next to it! I bought a 2nd decoy and then began moving them around the pond on a regular basis. This seems to have worked (so far anyhow) although a Heron did stop by last summer but I was able to shoo him away before he approached the pond. I wish they didn’t eat the fish because they are beautiful, graceful birds to watch.

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