There’s No Better Way To Protect Your Fish From Herons

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Carol, a pond friend of ours, wrote into us recently and had a great question about heron decoys.

Last fall, a Great Blue Heron came into her fish pond and may have taken out any number of fish.  It was hard to tell just how many, but some were likely eaten, and while eventually they did get the bird to move on, she was worried about the return of another one.

It’s a valid concern for fish pond owners, particularly in the spring and fall when herons are migrating around.  They’re always on the lookout for an easy and tasty meal, and fish ponds tend to provide that in droves.  These easy pickings tend to keep a bird around, and it’s not unheard for them to clean a pond out in a few days of feasting.

But this doesn’t have to happen to you…or Carol.

Now over the years, we’ve tried a lot of things, and I’ve talked with many pond owners who’ve experimented with ways to keep herons in check.  Keep in mind that the birds are protected by law so non-lethal means are the only options to pursue.

Specifically Carol asked about heron decoys primarily, so that’s where we’ll start.

I used to suggest these decoys, and even sold them in the past, but I don’t any longer.  At times I think they were helpful but often enough, we would get word that in some cases, these things would actually draw live herons into the pond.  In some ways this makes sense.  Wild birds do key off each other quite often.  You can see this around your backyard bird feeder for instance, where one bird shows up, and others quickly follow once they realize the first bird found the pot of gold.  Birds of prey will often see one bird rising in a thermal, and others will fly over to it and begin to circle as well.  And as for herons, I can certainly imagine that even though they may be solitary in nature, if they see one in a good feeding spot, others will probably check it out more closely.

If decoys actually deterred other birds from wandering in, that would be one thing, and probably good enough to suggest their use, but to attract a live heron is the last thing you want.  No flashing “open for business” herons signs for me, thank you very much!

Another popularly promoted tool, or array of tools, includes the motion activated sprayers, noise makers, light flashers, or shiny objects.  Like the decoy, I’m not going to tell you that these never work.  I think research has proven that on any given day, any of these just might deter a bird from causing problems.  But I think it’s also fair to say that none of these are full-proof, and none of them will stop a really hungry heron from coming into your pond.  

I’ve talked in the past about being careful in terms of training your fish to find by hand, or to come up to you for food.  This type of trained fish, in my mind, is kind of vulnerable to any motion near the surface of the pond.  Let’s just say if the activity is coming from a hungry bird and not you, that fish will be in trouble.

Provide some in pond shelters, or “koi covers” is a nice thing to do, and providing very deep water may provide some protection.  Anything you can do to make hunting harder for the heron is a useful step to take.   But again, none of these things are full proof.

So what does work the best?

Well it’s pretty simple really.  The only thing that I suggest for heron deterrence these days is pond netting.  If it’s in place and covering the pond well, it’s just something that a heron will not want to put up with for long.  If I had a choice, I would use the type of netting or pond shelter that had a framework to support the net.  This keeps it well above the water, and the only way a heron is going to get to any fish is to pull out a knife or scissors and cut his way through…thankfully the TSA doesn’t allow herons to use these in flight.

You probably won’t need to leave the netting in place all season long, but during times of migration (mainly spring and fall), you’ll want to be ready and watching.  And if you have a bird come in or see one in the area, pop the net up and you and your fish will probably sleep better at night.

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10 Responses to There’s No Better Way To Protect Your Fish From Herons

  1. Andrew Sandstrom March 23, 2013 at 2:58 am #

    I used a pond net covering a pvc frame. The next week I looked out the window and saw a Great Egret standing on the net for ten minutes unable to get in.

  2. Mark Washburn March 23, 2013 at 3:54 am #

    Your timing was perfect Andrew…well done! For protection it doesn’t have to be fancy, just effective.

  3. Rene Pomainville March 24, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    Rene I built a two ft high cedar picket fence around my pond several years ago and had no problem since.They land on the ground and walk into the water.They never land in the water

  4. Tom rodger April 9, 2015 at 2:27 am #

    Don’t believe the old myth that herons ‘ won’t land on water’ they do. I have watched a grey heron landing on a weed bed which has around 50cm: of water under it. We have fencing electric fences string lines at the edge, minimum depth of 50cm: at the edges. All fail to keep the heron out. Have now strung electric poly wire across entire weed bed. Next thing is it will probably land in the open deep water. 2metres. Deep. Our pond is fairly large, 80,000 gallons. 20×15 Myers: any advice appreciated. Going to try high volume fountain to disturb water surface when pond unattended, and turn off when we want to view the fish.

  5. Nick March 15, 2018 at 7:43 am #

    Totally agree with most of the above …

    – I used a plastic heron because I was assured it would work, one morning I looked out and did a double-take when I saw two herons (i.e. the plastic one and a real one) standing together!

    – I’ve seen a heron land directly in the pond, once it works out that the water isn’t too deep it’s quite happy to land in the shallower (e.g. 30-50cm) sections of the pond, so pond-edge defences are pretty much pointless!

    – I used a motion-activated spray which I thought was doing the trick, it certainly dissuaded the cats from coming near the pond, but one day I saw the heron get splashed, look “put out”, but then just ignore it and still walk into the pond!

    – I tried 80lb fish wire strung back-and-forth across the pond, the heron just landed on the wires and then jumped into the water!

    – I tried a net over the pond but it just walked onto it and, even though it couldn’t get the fish out of the pond it still stabbed at and killed them!

    – I decided that the best method would be a net suspended 50+cm above the pond AND stretched 30+cm beyond the edges of the pond … I constructed a circular frame, about 80cm wide, and mounted it in the center of the pond where it is about 100cm above the water … I then made about 70cm high, T-shaped supports which also have a hook near the base and sunk them into the grass around the pond … then I stretched a net over all of that and held in place with the support hooks … last year I saw a heron walking around the pond, assessing it (they’re rather clever!) and then walking over the net but it couldn’t get to the fish … so, fingers crossed, this has now done the trick.

    The only problem with a (permanent) net is that it makes accessing the pond (e.g. to feed the fish and remove leaves) much more difficult.

    I had to replace the pond liner as it had been leaking for a while, I found lots of small slits, no doubt from the heron stabbing at fish.On emptying the pond I found that my fish stock had dropped from 100+ a couple years earlier (when I emptied and cleaned the pond) to only 6 Koi … six! As far as I’m concerned a heron is a menace, why protect one bird which so completely ruins a pond for nearly every other animal which uses it!?!

    Anyway, new liner and a net suspended above the pond, I’m hoping this now does the trick and I will probably re-stock the pond in a few weeks.

  6. john challis April 11, 2018 at 7:40 am #

    My 12′ by 14′ pond makes up a part of my yard that I spent many hours to beautify. I hate the thought of a frame and netting. I put a concrete reinforcement steel grid over the pond. The squares are 6″ X 6″. Since it lays on or slightly below the water surface. It is somewhat disguised. Im hoping that the Heron won’t ignore the wire and just go thru the openings. We will see.

  7. Teresa April 12, 2018 at 8:34 am #

    I live in central Florida, Heron just took out my 11 gold fish, now I’m deciding what to do. I looked at some photos of wire netting and it seems birds can and do get caught in this sometimes. I wonder if they can get caught in all types of netting? I am fearful of that. I can’t blame the bird when it sees that the sushi bar is open. My pond is about 5 ft by 5 ft. Maybe 3 ft deep. Does the netting get all algae ridden if it sits in the pond? Sad about my fish . Looking for solutions.

  8. Mark April 12, 2018 at 8:40 am #

    Hi Teresa,

    Over the years I’ve changed my opinion on a few things and netting is one of them. I still think it’s the best solution to protect the fish but I prefer the elevated netting…one that uses a frame under the net to keep it up and off the water. Pond Shelter might be one brand of it on the market right now. I think you’ll know it when you see it though and more offerings are coming every year for this type of protection.

  9. Teresa April 12, 2018 at 9:07 am #

    Thanks Mark, I saw some netting that has a pop up type frame .looked interesting. I have butterflies and dragonflies in my yard and am worried they will get caught in the netting. the doves come an drink out of the pond in the evenings. This would stop them. Then there’s the frogs. Would still love to have some fish but not sure I can have it all. Would be interesting to know if birds are consistently getting caught in any particular type of netting.

  10. Mark April 12, 2018 at 1:01 pm #

    Sure Teresa…I’m not aware of too many problems with birds, butterflies, etc. I’m sure in some respects there are trade-offs, such as with the doves not getting to the water, but compared to leaving netting down near or into the water, I think this is a better option overall. Just something to consider trying.

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