PONDS ON THE WILD SIDE: PROS AND CONS
I recently visited a pond where I was surprised by a beautiful sight: a pair of
white swans floating near the far shore. Wait a second. Swans in Vermont? A rare sighting in the wild, although I have seen them in aquaculture ponds, domesticated for breeding. But wild?
As it turned out, the pond owner admitted that the swans were plastic decoys. Attractive they were, but that wasn't the reason for their presence. They were there as a deterrent to wild geese. In the past, when wild geese visited his pond, they left their droppings all over his lawn, and ate all the tomatoes in his garden. As any pond owner who's experienced the dreaded shoreline goose poop syndrome knows, geese can make a pond near unusable. Tomato robbery on top of that, and you'd be forgiven for reaching for the shotgun.
But hold your fire. Shooting wild migrating waterfowl is a federal crime. Better go for the variety of harmless geese deterents on the market. Geese do not like swans, real or fake, and will avoid them. My pond owner friend reports success keeping geese away with his double swan decoy. Or you might choose an automatic water spray system that shoots out a cascade of water to scare off the birds. Or maybe solar powered flashing lights that frighten sleeping geese and induce them to move on. One simple tactic I recommend is to keep the pond shore grass mowed short, which denies the geese a source of food, and even more discouraging, no shelter and nesting habitat to raise their young. Balloons disguised as owls are also used as a deterrent, and a dog or two to chase them off can help.
A different attitude to wildlife prevails with other pond owners I know. They want to encourage visiting waterfowl. Hence another angle for using decoy swans. They can be used as a way to lure ducks, for waterfowl hunting.
Sometimes wildlife pond owners create islands where geese and ducks find safe habitat. Also, bird nesting boxes may be built or bought, and nailed to trees or posts at the water's edge for nesting and shelter. Aquatic plants like cattails may be planted for waterfowl habitat and a food source, and plants like arrowhead and smartweed and many more, exclusively for food. But be aware that many of these aquatic plants can be invasive, so plan carefully.
By The Book
The following is a brief selection from the Earth Ponds Sourcebook, to introduce pond owners to the advantages of wildlife. The book includes comprehensive tactics for both encouraging and deterring wildlife, as well as plants and devices for attractions. The Earth Ponds Sourcebook will be published in December 2016 in a new edition by Echo Point Books.
Build a pond, step back, and wildlife happens. Whether you like it or not. Most people build ponds knowing that some increase in wildlife activity will come with the transformed territory. It could mean deer coming to shore for a drink, geese or ducks laying over during migration, peepers singing on a spring night. But you may not be so eager to welcome beavers or muskrats, which can do significant damage.
However, unless you cover your pond with a plastic bubble, some kind of animal immigration is inevitable. Frogs will come, and salamanders, and most likely one day you'll find minnows darting around the water, deposited perhaps by a bird who ate fish eggs elsewhere and then used your pond as a rest stop.
If you'd prefer to keep the pond relatively wildlife-free, don't incorporatedesign elements that attract them. The less aquatic vegetation, the less the food to sustain and attract wildlife. The same goes for shoreland grasses, brush, and trees. Don't build a pond in a wetland or remote wooded area, and don't stock fish, which also attract critters.
On the other hand, wildlife that does come is often invisible. Last year a moose took a two-hour bath in our pond. Alas, we were on vacation and didn't know until we got home and heard about it from our neighbors, who had watched from a nearby field. My kids said they wished we'd been home to see it, and I agreed, although I explained that the moose probably came precisely because we were away. Our lifetime list of visitors we have seen includes various ducks and geese, kingfishers, herons, osprey, deer, turtles, and endless supply of frogs, and a few leeches. When I'm stocking trout I try to discourage the herons and kingfishers by using scare-away balloons, with a little backup from the dog.
From the Earth Ponds Sourcebook, published by Echo Point Books.
The Earth Ponds Video also features sections
on waterfowl. Use the contact form to request purchase information.
December 1, 2016