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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

25 Responses

  1. Awesome advise thank you. It’s so sad to not see your large to new born in a long large pond any more with hiding spaces and heaps of weed they hide under. Never the less if there hungry it’s what you say there extremely smart. I’ve thrown a pebble or 2 at it as it sits on the house roof out of sight just waiting for as you say sushi bar to open.
    It will be fish food if I could nab it. All 25-30 fish & new borns gone. Unreal.

  2. We have had our pond for about 6 years. Never had a problem with herons until a few days ago. It has cleaned out all the smaller fish and now is going for the larger goldfish. The Koi are pretty big. We will be trying all the methods mentioned. I know it will be moving along soon. But not soon enough.

  3. We have just lost 16 fish in two days. I have read that Herons are territorial, but do they sometimes operate in squadrons because that is a lot of fish in a short space of time.

    • Hi Peter – I’m sorry to hear about your fish loss. Herons generally are only together during mating season but they eat a lot and very quickly. If the fish disappeared fast and you had a heron around it is not out of the realm of possibility that a single heron could have do it on their own.

      • Thank you. I thought there may have been a couple, but at the rate of loss I’m surprised it would be able to get airborne again – I’ll be following the tips given here about putting defences in place before I restock the pond… they are beautiful birds, but such pigs!

  4. I have a farm pond about 60′ x 60′. A couple years ago a heron got some of my 12-18″ long Koi. I called the Pond Guys (they’re so wonderful) and they suggested the fishing line. It has worked, but a note of caution. Make sure the first strand is very close to the ground. I watched the heron get on his belly and crawl under the line. So now I start at the ground and have 6 lines about 12″ apart. I also suggest if you have any gaps after running the line to put rocks or some other barrier because they will crawl underneath. I also put my heron decoy out in June and have Gator and Gator Junior. Don’t know if they help but they sure are cute to look at. Good luck to everyone. Would love to converse with others about these “problem” visitors.

  5. Hi I have been fighting herons for years, the fishing line worked for a little bit. Now they just land in the water which I thought that they could not do. My pond is small about 700 gals. I have even put string in a zig zag pattern about 2′ over the water. Now I have a net over it but all of this takes away from the beauty of the pond. I’m lost at what else to try. Michael Chicago land

    • Hi Michael – Have you tried just creating hiding places in the pond for the fish? It can be something as simple as a couple of rocks with a flat piece of slate or flagstone or a pre-made fish shelter, or even waterlilies that would make the fish harder to find.

    • I had posted below about successfully using fishline both around the perimeter and zigzagged. Late last fall before closing the pond down I had to bring the plants in because of a forecast frost. The plants cover the shallower planting shelf and that next day a heron saw its opportunity to try and land pond side of the perimeter fishline on the planting shelf. It landed successfully but let’s just say the crisscrossed fishline successfully thwarted its advance. From now on when the plants aren’t in the winter net has to be on. I don’t think they will land on water where they can’t touch bottom, but I could be wrong. My pond is only 1000 gal so an amphibious landing would be quite a maneuver.

    • I also have this problem, flying into pond now have fishing line going around pond straight line with zig zags. I have also put fishingline going across the top of the pond so they can’t flying in. Will see how this works this year,

  6. The aggressive blue heron eats baby ducks, baby geese and baby muskrat and the other “victims” listed in this article. The blue heron will fly over fish wire and scoop its’ prey from the pond while in flight. The great heron is a beautiful creature, however, that is all that is nice about them. They are quite aggressive, mean and cruel. I know….that is nature. But still….

    • Hi Mary – I know what you mean. On one hand you want to let nature take its course, on the other, it isn’t always pretty.

  7. I have a 1000 gal koi pond in Minnesota. Herons and egrets hang out on the ponds behind my property. I put small green stakes every two feet around the perimeter and run several layers of fish line around so they can’t wade in. That has worked perfectly thus far and it’s relatively invisible to my eyes. After losing three koi to an osprey a couple summers ago, I also zig zag the fish line across the pond in all directions. No more osprey problems. I don’t bother with decoys or a motion activated water sprayer. Netting before fall is impractical because of pond plants. One other thing to consider. I wouldn’t sic my dog on them. I’ve been told they’ll stab a human between the eyes in defense and zoo keepers where special heron protection. I don’t want to risk my dog over a fish.

    • Yes, herons can be very defensive and don’t give up easily. Glad to hear you’ve been able to keep your fish safe!

  8. I have tried all kinds of devices to deter herons and have abandoned most. I’ve found the best is a heron decoy suspended by thin mono-filiment fishing line from a shepherd’s crook. It moves in the breeze, and slowly changes direction with temperature changes. Therefore it doesn’t require the frequent moves of the stationary staked decoys. It has fooled most herons and quite a few humans.

    Don’t put it out till the middle of May in southern NJ. It also does’t work as well when the herons are migrating in the fall, but by then I have usually put up nets to keep out the leaves as well as the herons.

    • Thanks for the information!

    • Simpler still is just using thin bamboo for posts and run monofilament line around them and the pond, about 2 feet off the ground. I live on the Chesapeake Bay with lots of predators and they are protected from all harassment. Herons are waders and when they encounter the fishing line at chest height they will not (or cannot) step over it. I have not had one heron theft of my koi in 3 years. The line is difficult to see and the bamboo blends in with the vegetation.

  9. We have a 2500 gallon pond with waterfall.. After losing all our koi, we replaced with fancy gold fish, put up netting and surrounded the pond with fishing line in about 8 different directions.. The heron landed on the waterfall walked down and stood on the netting, nabbed a fish and then couldn’t get it out through the net. he also got his foot stuck. Needless to say the fish died anyway, and the heron is always on the lookout. they are smart, patient, and very persistent birds.. Now I have only inexpensive fish..

  10. Jim, I live about 1/2 mile from the Chesapeake Bay and have lots of fish eating birds come to get my koi. My landscaper told me to put in a ring of bamboo poles with monofilament fishing line connecting them. .It’s about 2ft. off the ground. Herons will not step over the line. I haven’t had one wading bird in over a year. They land and as soon as the line touches their chest they leave. The bamboo is about the size of my little finger and turns darker with age. It’s virtually invisible.

    • Thanks for the comment, happy to hear your pond is bird free!

    • Jim, I answered this in 2015 and am updating with improvements. My landscaper told me to put monofilament fishing line around the pond. He said that herons are waders and will not step over a line or duck under it so I put one line about knee high on the heron and one about chest height. I use 6 ft. threaded rods,(sturdier than the old bamboo) sunk into the ground far enough to prevent the large birds from bumping them over. I painted them black to disappear into the background. I wind fishing line around the threads, using 2 half hitches to hold in place and ring the whole pond (mine is 28,000 gallons and 4 ft deep at the center). It doesn’t need to be taut, the birds will not push. In 10 years I have not lost a koi to a heron. Red tailed hawks, bald eagles and ospreys are harder to discourage. It has been a super simple solution for me. Once a year I need to repair something the deer got caught in but no more herons. Giving the fish some slabs to hide under and putting plant cover on the surface also helps to keep non-waders from getting my fish.

  11. I am unfortunate enough to have a blue heron as a guest every day. As beautiful as they are I like my butterfly Koi better. I have tried decoys (a heron actually pick the head off my decoy heron) water spray and decoy alligator. I have had to resort to netting the 2000 gal, pond. These birds are very smart and it wouldn’t surprise me to find it has found a way around or through the net. My other deterrent is a golden retriever named Max.” Go get big bird”

    • Hi Sandy – Good to have Max on your side. You may want to try the clear fishing line trick. May make the pond a little more visible to you and less accessible to the heron.

    • We lost our golden retriever in July and then we lost about 10 beautiful fish to Mr. Heron. Cooper was definitely a deterrent so instead of trying all these decoys, we’re just getting another puppy! Lol

  12. For my smaller ponds I use a net over the top. Decoys have to be moved every few days or the herons figure it out. Also, they need to be removed in mating season (spring) or you might get attraction instead…

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