Waking up to an empty pond is a koi owner’s worst nightmare. While you see your pond fish and other critters as pets, pond predators see them as an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet. Your pond fish are special. Many live for many years, and become part of the family! Having some vanish overnight is horrible! Even in urban areas, pond life can be preyed on by birds, raccoons, and snakes. There are simple measures you can take to keep predators away from your fish.
Types of predators
If you fish are going missing during the day, birds are most likely the cause. Herons, particularly Blue Herons, will eat fish, even larger koi from your pond. They can eat lots of fish in a short amount of time. Kingfisher and egrets are other possible candidates. Some birds may swoop down to feed, while others use their long legs to wade in the water, waiting patiently for the right moment to strike.
In urban areas cats, raccoons, and possums are pond predators to watch out for. As land is developed, wildlife habitats are often destroyed, eliminating food sources. Foxes, otters, muskrats, beavers, and even sometimes bears may come into your yard in search of food. Many of these animals hunt during the night. If you’re noticing less fish in the morning, these predators may be the culprits.
Frogs and snakes
Smaller fish may be snacked on by frogs and snakes. Bullfrogs and snapping turtles can prey on larger fish. These smaller predators can eat new fish spawn.
What you can do?
Fish and other pond life are more at risk in smaller, shallower ponds; there is less room to hide. Koi and goldfish are often brightly colored, which makes them easy to spot. You can add floating plants, or even faux ones to help prevent your fish from being spotted from above. Trees and bushes also shield your pond from above.
A motion activated repellent, like the scarecrow, can scare away wading birds and mammals. It’s motion activated, making a noise and spraying water if a predator gets close to your pond. Herons and owls are territorial, and can sometimes be deterred using decoys. The decoys should be moved periodically so the birds do not catch on. The smartpond® heron spitter works as a decoy, while the stream of water agitates the surface, making the fish harder to spot. Fountains can also be helpful to keep the surface water moving, so the birds have a harder time finding your fish.
Many pond-stalking mammals are nocturnal. You can install pond netting at night to protect your fish. The netting will be less noticeable in the dark, and does a great job at stopping predators by providing a physical barrier. Netting can also deter birds during the day. It will also help leaves from entering the pond during the fall as an added bonus.
Predators like racoons and cats do not like to swim. They prefer to sit on the edge of the pond and use their hands and paws to catch fish. If the pond is deep enough, or the edge of the pond high enough, they will not be able to reach in to grab the fish. Make sure that plant shelves aren’t helping them to get in.
You can give your fish a place to hide in the event of a predator. You can DIY by turning a potted plant or bucket on its side and putting it at the bottom of the pond, making a cave. During the winter, your fish will be sluggish, and have a harder time swimming away from predators. They will be drawn to the warmer based of the pond. A short PVC pipe works great for smaller fish. If you want something less noticeable a Koi Kastle works great, providing a mesh bridge for the fish to hide underneath.
Raccoons are drawn to food sources and are quite smart. If a raccoon is preying on your fish, they’ll probably leave a few signs. They enjoy making messes and getting into mischief. Raccoons may not be fooled by decoys or repellents. You can prevent raccoons from coming to your yard by removing any trash, fallen fruit, or pet foods left out. Raccoons love trash. You can use animal-proof trash cans or keep trash cans indoors.
Snakes, Frogs, and Turtles
Most snakes, frogs, and turtles, are smaller predators, making them typically only a threat to smaller fish and spawn. Some varieties like bullfrogs and snapping turtles can threaten your larger koi. You can prevent them from entering your pond by building up the edges, so there is no easy entrance. Keep in mind, this will make it harder for them to escape too. Make sure that nearby plants aren’t helping them slither or hop into the water. A surface water agitator like a waterfall or fountain will help make the fish harder to spot. You can also use pond tint to help disguise the fish.
Koi, goldfish, and other fish are often the best part of a pond. They add activity and are beautiful to watch. Koi in particular can live for a very long time, and grow quite large. They become pets, often having their own names and personalities. Your fish can learn your schedule, greeting you at feeding time. Koi can be very expensive too, but the predators have no idea! It can be really sad to lose a fish. They can disappear overnight without a trace. Keeping predators away from your pond can help protect your pets.