Managing Predators in a Garden Pond
One of the biggest issues with keeping a pond comes from outside of the pond itself. Predators stealing and 'disposing' of your fish stocks is a horrible experience nobody wants to see. In the New Zealand context, the two most common culprits are neighbourhood cats and wild birds. In this article, we discuss some of the best solutions for protecting your beloved water garden from these poachers.
We will first start with the solutions that will protect your pond from all the possible predators discussed. These methods will cover the threat from both birds and cats.
• Maximising Cover
The first, and easiest method for reducing predation in your pond is to maximize cover for the fish. The more hiding spots available, the less likely your fish will be to be eaten. Fish are smarter than we give them credit for. When there is hiding space available to them, they will make use of it to prevent themselves from being eaten. They will limit their time in the open areas to when it is safe to do so. The instincts of a fish are developed to keep themselves safe. The final goal of generating more coverage can be achieved in any number of ways.
The most popular option is the use of plants. Plants are the most popular option because they of course add cover to the fish, but they also look beautiful. The addition of plants is always going to be helpful for the overall health of the pond. The fish will use the plants as shade from the sun and protection from the eyes of hungry birds and cats.
I would recommend mixing aquatic plants with marginal plants to maximise efficacy. Broad plants such as water lilies are good for providing cover in the ‘open’ areas of the pond where the fish are likely to be actively swimming. Marginal plants are ones that grow up and out of the water. The root and stem structure of these plants provide rest areas for the fish to hide and sleep when they are not so actively swimming.
You are not limited to plants when it comes to providing cover for the fish. You can create structures out of rocks or driftwood, lay flowerpots on their sides to form caves, or even add decorative statues.
When it comes to adding cover to your pond, there are numerous options that would be suitable, no matter the aesthetic goals of the space.
• Limiting accessibility
The second predator control method would be limiting the ability of animals to even reach the pond. The best method for this is suspending a mesh net over the top of your pond.
The obvious problem with this method is that it will take away from the overall aesthetic of the pond.
One way around this problem is to install a retractable net. There are a few options out there where the nets can even be retracted by the touch of a button. That way, when you are out there enjoying it (and scaring any predators off with your presence), you can enjoy the pond in its full glory. However, when you are at work or in bed, the pond is kept safe from the prying eyes of cats and birds.
Using a mesh fine enough that the animals physically cannot access the pond is ideal, however, using a less fine mesh can work too. Making it harder for the animals to get to their target can be enough for them to not bother and focus on other food sources.
Here we will take a look at some of the specific ways in which birds may be deterred from taking an interest in your pond.
• Keeping the pond out of sight
Making it harder for birds to see the pond is a great solution. Something as simple as a shade cloth over top may be enough to obscure the view of the pond from birds and prevent them from being tempted to steal the fish.
This method also has the added benefit of helping mitigate algae growth by limiting light into the pond!
• Fake Bird Scarecrows
I am sure this idea sounds silly but bear with me, I promise this one works.
You can buy plastic or metal owls with moving heads. They usually would come up to your knee height roughly. Generally, they have a fake rock that is perched on with a solar panel on it. When powered, the head swivels back and forth.
I first came across this when my Auntie was having problems with her little patio area being overrun with pigeons seagulls etc. She purchased one of these little owls to scare them away from The Plant Barn.
As soon as the owl was set up, the birds never came back. I saw this and took this idea and put one next to a client’s pond who was having issues with birds stealing their fish.
This completely solved the issue, and the birds left their fish alone. Now full disclosure is that its efficacy will likely vary on the exact bird that you are having issues with.
Placing one of these owls next to your pond is a great method to keep the birds away.
• Hanging CDs
This is a method that we pinch from the gardening hobby. A common method for keeping birds off fruit trees for gardeners is to hand CDs from a piece of string in the area.
This method will also work for a pond. Hanging them from a piece of string allows them to twirl in the breeze. The sun glinting off the disks deters the birds from the area.
Now of course, nowadays, finding CDs may be the hardest part! Asking around on local community groups on Facebook or similar will be a good place to start. ]
I have found that cats can be slightly more difficult to manage than birds. However, the methods outlined below are effective methods for dealing with cat problems.
Using citrus to deter cats is another method to be borrowed from our friends the gardeners. I have found that using citrus is an effective way to manage cats for both vegetable patches and ponds. Lemons are probably going to be the easiest and cheapest option, however, any citrus would work.
Cut your lemon into chunks or slices, maybe the size of your thumb. You will then want to lay them around the pond at maybe 30cm intervals. These chunks will need replacing every few weeks.
• Growing Strong Scented Plants in the area
Cats do not like strong-scented plants such as lavender or rosemary. Growing these plants around your pond is a natural deterrent to cats.
I personally like lavender as I have found it easy to grow, and also a very pretty plant. If you are limited by space, simply keeping them in pots, spaced around the outside is a good option that prevents it from taking over the space.
• Ultra Sonic Cat Deterrents
Ultra Sonic cat deterrents emit a high-pitched noise that deters cats but is not audible to humans.
I have not personally used these options before but have seen some people having success with them. I do not see any reason why these would not be a good option; I have just personally found the methods we have previously discussed to be adequate in keeping cats away from our beloved fish.
Losing your precious fish to predators such as cats and birds is a horrible experience that can suck the enjoyment out of a fantastic hobby. I would always recommend utilising multiple methods for pest management for your pond. Using as many strategies as possible minimises the risk of anything slipping through your protective net. Enacting the strategies we have discussed in this article will provide your fish with the best protection from the dangers posed by predators.