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Do great blue herons fly south for the winter? – Water Garden & Features Q & A

Got herons? We have solutions!

Water Garden & Features Q & A

Q: Do great blue herons fly south for the winter? – Derek in Massachusetts

A: The bane of fishpond owners, great blue herons, will make a quick meal out of pricey koi and graceful goldfish. The good news is that those in the northern swath of the United States are about to enjoy their exit – at least for the winter months.

These birds are one of the most widespread wading birds in North America. While herons’ breeding range stretches from the southern Canadian provinces to southern Mexico, their wintering and permanent range extends from southeastern Massachusetts along the coastal states and west across the southern half of the United States, and into Mexico and northern South America. So when the temperatures dip, they prefer to fly south to the warmer climates.

If you live in the northern regions of New England, the Great Lakes, the Northern Plains and regions that freeze during the winter, you will see the herons fly for warmer skies. Experts report the birds migrate south from the northern portions of their breeding range beginning in September and October, with their return in mid-March.

For those who live in great blue herons’ wintering and permanent range, you’ll unfortunately enjoy no wintertime respite from these sushi-eating birds. Here are some ways to keep your fish safe:

Install pond netting: A near-invisible barrier, pond nets, like the Atlantic™ Pond Protector Net Kit, prevent the birds from landing in your water feature and spearing your fish. They also keep fall leaves from turning your pond into an over-sized tea pot.

Put up a decoy: Because herons are territorial, you can place a Heron Decoy near your pond to dissuade others from landing. Be sure to move it periodically to keep up the appearance of a live bird.

Spray the birds away: Motion Activated Scarecrow devices, which shoot a 35-foot blast of water at any animal that breaches its sensor sweep, make excellent deterrents for not only heron, but raccoon and other predators, too.

POND TALK: What do you do to deter herons from landing in your yard?

26 Responses

  1. First year without a heron!

    I have a pretty large pond (70 feet x 130 feet x 15 feet deep). Lots of koi. I have tried a lot of different things to keep the flying jerks from eating my fish. I’m a bit of a techie, so decided I’d try something different this year. I have outdoor speakers for summertime music. With some geeky computer jockying, it plays, randomly between 30 minutes to an hour, a set of different sounds. Heron noises. Hawks. Eagles. Godzilla 🙂 It changes them up every time it fires.

    I’ve seen the heron fly over the property, but it hasn’t landed. At least not that I’ve seen. I’ve got a camera pointing at the pond, so I’m more apt to see him than not.

  2. I saw a blue heron flying over ALake Erie at Presque Isle in Erie, PA on February 2, 2019 while taking photos of the snow caps and sunset. He is either very late leaving for very early coming back.

  3. Well as we all know winter this year was a huge “whoKnows”. It was a strange year here in Atlanta where at any minute it can snow and shutdown the entire city. That didn’t happen. While waiting for my pond water to warm it’s been on and off for a month yesterday I noticed the pond was cloudy more so than “normal”. I checked for dead things and cleaned the filters. I then noticed that three of my fish were gone! Today, I saw it, he has to be 30 inches high beautiful color and an 18″ bill. Yep, Mr. Blue Heron had come to my house for lunch again. There were only three left. Nets in place now albeit too late!

    • They are sneaky and you’re right, often you don’t know they’ve been hanging around until fish are already missing. Hope the other 3 fish stay safe!

  4. The blue heron who uses my pond as a drive thru has been here with two others at the same time as for the scarecrow don’t waste your money you just have to net your pond really well and watch over it, take it from someone dealing with them for 20 yrs now and lost great number of koi learned by experience

    • Have you ever heard of using a outdoor radio? The belief is that they will not come if they hear talk radio. Also the net is the best bet.

  5. I’ve had a blue heron in my pond for a month now. In minus temps. It’ll stand in the water with its head under its wing. I’ve never seen one here in Pennsylvania this time of year! Thought about calling a nature group in case it’s hurt. It has left for short periods of time. I cannot understand how standing in ice cold water didn’t kill it??

    • Hi Melissa – I think with our winters arriving a little later in the season some birds are sticking around. As long as food is available many birds stay here instead of heading south. I’m not sure why the heron would stay right in the cold water other than to try and catch some food in any available open water that it can. If the heron is leaving and coming back chances are it is probably not hurt and may just be staking out multiple areas in search for food.

  6. I have a pond that is two and a half. Feet deep. I live in Ohio and my fish are all missing. What would have taken them in the winter? There were no bodies. I feel just terrible about this.

    • Hi Judy – I’m sorry to hear that your fish are missing. Herons, raccoons and other predators may still be lurking around the area. If you haven’t seen any evidence of predators around your pond they may just be hiding out down at the bottom of the pond or under some rock edges, or if you have a skimmer check inside and see if they wondered in. Often once the temperatures are cold and fish are not moving around they are less likely to be detected at quick glance.

  7. on January eighth 2013, I saw a great blue herons fishin in 1 of the local creeks around my hometown Alliston Ontario,, how’s that for a northern climate bird!!

    • That’s quite unusual for a blue heron!

    • We are located in northwest London and I just saw a Blue Heron fly over our house Feb 3rd 2013 Now I was uncertain if they did migrate or not and came across your post Just my luck they would stay around as my ponds have been raided a couple of times over the years and it’s costly.

    • My husband just spotted a blue heron on Muddy Pond in the Windsor/Washington towns in Massachusetts. He was skiing on the pond with a friend and was surprised to see this beautiful bird so soon.
      Today’s date is March 18, 2013 !!

  8. all in all everything here sounds great. I have used the fish line around the perimeter, which is also great for geese. For ducks and herons i use a blow up alligator that floats on the water. I have a string and rock tied to it so that it moves with the wind but does’nt interfere with plants or anything else. Looks like its always moving. works great. The pvc idea is so that the fish have somewhere to hide.

  9. We have had a heron come to our pond like clockwork every September for several years. We tried nets-not pretty or effective….I read in a pond magazine to put 2 foot long pieces of 4″ PVC pipe in bottom of pond, they get covered with algae, looks weird but has been successful, he didn’t show up this fall!

  10. Have a Heart makes this plasticpiece that goes into the ground, and a hose attaches to it, this thing has a motion detector, and if anything gets in its path it sprays water for about 6 seconds or so side by side, no more Herons, and no more scampering chipmunks, I love this thing it is AWESOME!!!

  11. I have a very large pond and a net took away the beauty of the pond. Then one day I was at a shrub nursery and saw fishing line in different heights around the perimeter of their pond. They told me the bird has to land on the ground first then step into the pond. Because the line is at different heights and criss-cross, the bird stays away due to getting his legs cought in the line. No problem since, and you still enjoy the beauty of your pond!

  12. Is the aeration system any more than a compressor pumping air through thewater?

    • Howard, An aeration system is more then just the process of pumping air into the water. The method of delivery will make a big difference on how much of the air just returns to the surface of the water and how much is actually diffused into the water. Using membranes (or porous air stones) will divide the air into small bubbles, allowing them to diffuse into the water body. Using a line or pipe with larger holes allows the oxygen to stay trapped in the air bubble and release at the water’s surface, so little or no oxygen is actually introduced into the pond. Injecting air into the water around your pond’s average depth will allow better circulation than a floating fountain that only moves the top layers of your pond water. Having an aeration system that was designed for a pond will also save you money and electrical costs since those systems are designed to run continuously and with less amps than a regular air compressor.

  13. The best thing to do is to install an electic dog fence around the pond. Since the Heron do not land in the water but walk up to it problem solved.

  14. I couldn’t believe the NERVE of the heron that decided my ponds were HIS. I didn’t know whether to shoot him with my pellet gun or with my camera. Instead, I threw two rubber car mats into my pond to give the fish a place to hide. Then while I was frantically searching here for what to do, I discovered that every time I looked around my monitor (in an upstairs window), the heron flew away. So I hung my husband’s handkerchiefs in the window, left on a light and a fan — until my decoy arrived. I put four 6-inch PVC pipes with caps into the ground around my ponds so that I could easily (we have hard ground) move my heron from place to place. I haven’t seen the heron again. Amen.

  15. I put 5 beach umbrella around my pond. The birds
    will not land

  16. Surprise. Two winters ago I had a large Heron come to the air hole in my pond every day until late February. I thought it was unable to fly but it flew away every evening to come back the next morning and stand at the hole waiting for fish. Felt sorry for it so I got some perch from ice fishermen and set them on the ice. The Heron never touched the frozen or fresh perch as they were dead. It disapeared in late February and never returned. I understand they eat mice, small animals and birds.

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