How Your Pond Balances the Ecosystem in Winter

How Your Pond Balances the Ecosystem in Winter

Ponds can support an entire ecosystem, keeping it balanced and maintained during the seasons.  In the summer and spring, your pond becomes an oasis for local wildlife, especially on scorching days or during droughts.  The need for fresh water during the summer is more obvious, but no less important than in the winter.  Your pond balances the ecosystem in the winter, providing a vital source of fresh water and places for the local wildlife to hibernate and stay safe and warm.


Fresh Water

As temperatures drop, the water in ponds, streams, lakes, and even rivers begins to freeze over.  If the surface completely freezes, the wildlife that used these water sources as their drinking water now have to find somewhere else to quench their thirst.  Food is often also scarce during the winter for most wildlife.  You may notice your squirrels, rabbits, and birds become a little chunkier than normal in the fall.  They eat more than normal to build up a layer of fat they can use during the winter.  They try to be less active, burning the least amount of calories as possible until spring.  The search for fresh water can require too much energy, leading to not only dehydration, but also starvation.  Your pond can be a much-needed water supply for the local wildlife in your area.


You can keep an area of your pond’s surface open using a aerator, deicer, or periodically setting a pail or pan of very hot water on the surface of the ice until it melts.  The opening in the surface ice will also help gases to escape, which is important for fish and other pond life.  Never try to use force like using a hammer as the impact which can send concussion waves that can be harmful to fish and other wildlife in the water.  Here’s a guide for closing your pond for the winter.


Animals can eat snow, but it requires energy to heat their bodies back up again afterwards.  Birds need water to groom their feathers, preening them to maintain insulation.  You can use a birdbath de-icer to keep fresh water for your local birds.  The deicers often are programed to turn on only when the temperature drops to a certain degree, to save on electricity.  If you use a de-icer, periodically change out the water in the birdbath to keep it clean.


A Place to Hibernate

Your pond provides a much needed habitat for amphibious critters like frogs, newts, and turtles.  Cold blooded animals go into a state called brumation in cold temperatures.  Brumation is very similar to hibernation.  Cold blooded animals require heat to keep their metabolisms and bodies moving.  When the water temperature drops, they become less active, slowing their bodies, requiring little food and little oxygen until the weather warms up.  The bottom of your pond (if it is deep enough so it doesn’t freeze all of the way through), is actually the warmest part.  These critters will stay at the bottom, hardly moving, throughout the winter.  They breathe through their skin, rarely coming up for oxygen.  


The opening in the surface of the ice is to release gases and add oxygen.  Cold water holds more oxygen than warm water, and most ponds will provide an additional source of oxygen from its aquatic plants.  Plants need sunlight to photosynthesis and produce oxygen.  If the snow builds up on the surface of the pond, not only can people and animals accidentally fall in, but sunlight can not penetrate the surface.  Try to keep your pond’s surface clear from as much snow as possible, so your plants can create oxygen for all of your pond life.


Plants to Snuggle In

It can be tempting to give your yard a deep fall/winter cleaning, removing all of the fallen leaves, twigs, branches, and dead plant parts before the snow falls, but the foliage is very important to small animals.  Any plants that are outside by the edge of the pond, and leaves that fall into the pond should be tidied up before winter, so any leaves will not fall in and decompose in the water.


The fallen leaves and twigs provide food and a warm place for worms, insects, and other little critters to burrow and hibernate during the winter.  You can rake the vegetation into small piles further away from the pond and your home to provide shelter for the local wildlife.  Fall leaves can be composted into fertilizer for your plants in the spring.  Small animals like rabbits and squirrels may seek the warmth from under your shrubs or hedges, try to avoid trimming down plants too much until spring (unless they are very close to your pond and may shed leaves into the water).


If you are storing firewood for warm, cosy nights, the Humane Society recommends stacking the wood in a criss cross fashion.  You can do this with firewood, or just fallen sticks and branches.  The spaces inbetween the wood will provide a warm safe place for small animals like rabbits, birds, reptiles, and chipmunks to hide during the cold weather.  Always be careful when collecting firewood, making bonfires, and raking piles of leaves, for the animals that may be hiding.  They are often more sluggish in the winter and can have a harder time running away.  If you created a pile of logs for a fire, rebuild it a couple of feet away, in order to avoid any sleeping animals.


Your pond is a magical oasis that balances an entire ecosystem in your yard.  Local wildlife may depend on its fresh water on hot days, and in the cold when the other sources of fresh water are frozen.  The surrounding plant life provides a warmer place for small animals and insects to hibernate during the winter.  The leaves and twigs can also be a vital food source.  Your pond can make a huge difference for the local wildlife in every season.



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