IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME
Water feature or pond owners are quite used to the fact that water will naturally attract all types of critters. In fact, that's a very common reason customers give us for why they built a water feature in the first place: love of wildlife. Some people enjoy watching birds splash and play in the shallows of a stream. Others have a picture of a lily pad in their mind that just wouldn't be complete without a frog perched atop it. For those who are thinking about building a water feature, you may have a lot of questions about exactly what types of critters will be drawn to your pond and, more importantly, which ones are a welcome addition and which ones are unwelcome visitors.
AMPHIBIANS AND REPTILES
Thinking back to biology classes in school, we learned that amphibians and reptiles are cold-blooded creatures who come in a variety of shapes and sizes. From the mighty Nile crocodile to the smallest salamander, many of these creatures have evolved to live their life in and around pond, lakes and streams. Let's take a look at a few varieties of these visitors you might see in your backyard water feature.
With close to 1 million known species of insects and new species being discovered annually, the variety can be astounding. They live in virtually every type of habitat and environment on earth, including your pond or water feature. Most prospective pond owners want to know about one insect in particular: the mosquito. Most of us know that mosquito larvae live in pools of water and it is a common concern that having a pond or water feature means giving the mosquitoes a breeding ground. Thankfully, if you build and maintain an ecosystem pond or pondless waterfall properly, the running pump will keep the water from becoming stagnant and therefore will NOT be a place where mosquitoes will thrive.
Dragonflies are nature's masters of flight. They can quickly zip about in the air or hover in place seemingly motionless. The over 5,900 species of dragonfly come in a variety of shapes and sizes but are all characterized by a pair of multifaceted eyes, two pairs of transparent wings and an elongated body. Many people mistake damselflies for dragonflies, but there's an easy way to tell the difference: dragonflies hold their wings out to the side when not in flight and damselflies hold their wings up above their body. Besides being a natural beauty to behold, dragonflies will feed on the dreaded mosquito, so they are a welcome addition to your water garden!
There are of course too many species of insect to talk about all of them, but there are some that are more common than others. A crane fly, or mosquito hawk, is one that many of us have seen before. They look like large mosquitoes, but they are totally harmless and much less of a nuisance. If you look under stone or debris, you may see a stonefly. They are multicolored with brown, black tan and yellow markings and they are a great sight to see! The presence of stoneflies actually indicates good water quality because they need cool, clear and running water to survive.
No matter where you live, there's a good chance that, if you pay attention, you will see a lot of different varieties of birds of all colors, shapes and sizes. If you listen, especially on a warm summer day, you can hear a cacophony of bird calls floating in the air and making music as only mother nature could. We will get to predatory birds to watch out for later in this article, but here we will look at 3 basic types of birds that one might see in their pond on any given day.
A backyard pond or pondless waterfall is a bird enthusiast's dream. For those of you who enjoy watching birds splash and play in a birdbath from a window in your house, you are missing out on a truly wonderful experience! Song birds in particular will flock to a water feature if it is designed well. By giving birds a place where the water is slow-moving and shallow, you are giving them an even more natural and inviting place to take a bath or splash about. In pondless waterfalls, there is often a shallow (1"-4") pool at the base of the falls that is ideal for a bath. In larger and deeper ecosystem ponds, a flat spot in your stream from the falls to the pond will provide a place where the water is both slow-moving and shallow enough for birds to enjoy.
Many people hang hummingbird feeders outside their homes and fill it with sugar water to attract these small hovering birds. The most common hummingbird is the Ruby Throated hummingbird. These little guys come in at three inches long and only weigh about 6-8 grams. What they lack in size and stature, however, they more than make up for in performance! They have been know to flap their wings up to 75 times per second and fly as fast as 60 mph! If you want to attract hummingbirds naturally, just place plants whose flowers have a trumpet shape, like lilacs or petunias. Foxglove, columbine and coral bells are perennials that will bring them your way.
One would expect to see aquatic birds in their pond just based on their name alone. For those who build larger ponds, ducks and geese may become a common sight depending on where you live. You might even see a whole flock of geese land on your pond in formation as they make their way south for the winter time. Even in smaller ponds, a curious duck or two may pay you a visit. If you're lucky, you'll see them swimming around in your pond, occasionally dipping their heads below the surface to take a drink or just to look around. If you're worried about your koi or other pond fish...don't be! Ducks and your koi will get along just fine.
Now we come to what is probably the #1 concern for koi pond owners: predators. There are a lot of misconceptions about which animals are a threat to your koi. Just because an animal is a predator doesn't necessarily make it a danger to your fish. Here we will discuss the two predators that can pose a danger to your fish: the raccoon and the blue heron.
The raccoon is a crafty little creature. Even though they don't have apposable thumbs like we do, they still are extraordinarily dexterous. They also don't mind getting a little wet in order to snag a meal. They don't really like swimming that much and this fact is something you can use to protect your koi from their prying paws. A properly built pond has a plant shelf. This is a shelf that goes around the edge of the pond and is the shallowest part of the pond. If this part is shallow enough for a raccoon to reach in and grab a koi, the plant shelf isn't deep enough. Be sure to make your plant shelf deep enough so that the fish can swim out of the raccoon's reach if they are caught unaware on the edge of the pond. Most raccoons will look elsewhere for an easier meal if they have to swim to eat. An alligator decoy can also help to deter the curious creature.
The blue heron is probably the most dreaded pond predator because of its superior aquatic hunting skills and willingness to kill prey that might seem too large for it to eat to the casual observer. To add to the problem, they are a protected species so you must use non-lethal means of keeping your koi and other pond fish safe from them. In addition to the alligator decoy mentioned previously, there are also heron decoys that can be effective. The brightly colored fish are what attract herons to your pond as they fly over. If they see what they think to be an alligator or another heron, they are likely to pass over your pond. The trick is to move the decoys periodically to make the illusion more realistic (they are smart birds!). There are also motion-activated "scarecrows" that will shoot a stream of water at any unwanted visitors. And last, but not least: give your fish a place to hide with underwater caves and overhanging rocks.
NOW ENJOY YOUR POND!
With a little proper designing and due diligence, you can attract the creatures and critters you want and deter the ones that you don't. If you have any questions, call us at (336) 578-6123, fill out the contact form on this page or come by and visit us at our retail location in Graham, NC. We are the premier pond installer in the Triad and Triangle and we service the central North Carolina area: Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, Greensboro, High Point, Burlington, Graham, Mebane, Hillsborough and more!