THE GREAT BLUE HERON AND YOUR POND

By: admin | Posted On: March 27th, 2011 | 8 Comments | In: Blue Heron

great-blue-heron22

LOOK! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a pla… no, actually it is a bird! About the size of a plane!
The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is North America’s largest heron coming in at about 4 ½ feet tall, 8 lbs., and with a wing span close to 7’ across!
This is no hummingbird.
This commonly found heron has made its home from Mexico to Canada, and even shows up in the Caribbean here and there. The Great Blue Heron likes to roost and hunt along the coastline, estuaries, lakes, and ponds of most of the North American continent making this bird a pretty successful resident of all parts; living in tree top colonies raising 2-5 babies annually. The Great Blue Heron has also managed to find its way right into the backyards of some North American koi pond and water garden owners too.
For most pond owners their first experience with the heron is indirect, when their pond fish start to disappear in part or in whole. A call is made to their pond guy and that is when they first start to hear about the Great Blue Heron. At that point is when customer pond vigilance against the heron usually begins. And it should, because if the heron knows that a quick meal can be had at your pond (aka the Great Blue Sushi Bar) they will come back, and that is when a pond owner will first see this long-legged bird hanging around their pond. Typically the heron will wade into the pond, or stay pond side in a crouching position, and wait patiently for a curious fish to come investigate. These huge herons can crouch into a surprisingly small size. The heron knows that in time a curious fish will approach, and BAM! the GBH spears the fish with its long sharp bill, flips it into its mouth, and swallows the fish whole; this whole process happens lighting quick and is very quiet with hardly a splash to the water. If the fish are small enough the heron will continue this until there is nothing left in the pond, or it cannot physically fit anything more into its body; whichever comes first.
But the Great Blue Heron is not at the pond just to eat fish, oh no, this bird will also take down frogs, large insects, shrimp, crabs, small birds, chipmunks, squirrels, mice, snakes, turtles, baby rabbits and just about anything else that it can eat. It is an equal opportunity hunter and a pond can provide many variety of delicacy. It always seems that the pond owner encounters the Great Blue at mid-feast. Although, these birds might have the appearance of being slow and awkward, they will disappear in a flash. The GBH is incredibly swift on the getaway flight; it gains height and distance quickly, and can reach up to 30 mph when cruising. The GBH also will often cruise at heights just above tree line at 80-90 ft up looking for reflections of water from below. Once that body of water reveals itself to the heron, like a mirror in the sun from below, it will go to investigate it, little colorful fish in the pond; all the better.
The heron is pretty sophisticated in its approach and does not just drop out of the sky haphazard into your backyard pond. Hunting activity is typically done alone on smaller bodies of water, but they will share larger bodies of water. The heron spots a reflection from a pond and will then circle in slowly to find a tree or roof top where it can then use its incredible eyesight to scout out your pond and see what type of meal(s) may be available, and if there are any threats in the area. The Great Blue Heron is very patient and can take quite some time before starting the approach to your pond. Once the area is deemed non-threatening and meal worthy, the heron will fly down to an open area by the pond. It will not plunge into your pond like the return of Apollo 11, nor drop into the body of water like ducks or geese do, the GBH prefers a landing strip and a slow careful “wade-in” approach; stealth is the way of the Great Blue. Once the heron is pond side it has the ability to blend in very well. I’ve actually looked straight at a heron that was IN my pond and did not see it because it was so motionless and its coloring of slate grey mixed with white and black, is such that it just was not very visible even right in front of my eyes. But before I could get to my door to chase it away, it was already high in a tree and gave off a heron call; not a pretty sound either but a kind of harsh croak. The GBH will often fly off just to circle back within minutes and if the threat (you) are gone they are right back to their fine dining.
The GBH really is a majestic bird apart from its desire to eat our pond fish. It is very intelligent and capable of figuring out deterrents that are meant to scare it away. With a life span up to 15 years they can get lots of experience with our sometimes useless methods of trying to keep them away. They seem to have “routes” and will visit the same ponds again and again with each visit being a learning experience about that pond. Typically Great Blue Heron hunt early morning or early evening, but will come at anytime of day. The best means to keep the bird away is to use multiple methods of deterrent. Do not rely on any one form of deterrent because a heron will eventually figure them out to be harmless. I have watched herons figure out ponds protected by fishing lines, I’ve seen a customer’s home video of a heron attacking a heron decoy. Herons do not mind getting the blast of water from motion detector deterrents once they know it does not hurt (they ARE water birds), and scant few of us pond keepers can really put in the time to sit next to our pond waiting in ambush (and if you do have that kind of time, would you want to admit it?) So use multiple deterrents and be creative, but the most important thing is to simply not let the heron have any sense of welcome or peace at your pond site. Chase it; yell at it, throw things, let out the hounds, do what you have to do to keep the bird away. This way you can get to learn how to enjoy this truly amazing, adaptable animal back in Mother Nature’s waters, not yours!
The LOVE YOUR POND blog is written by Mike Gannon of Full Service Aquatics. Mike is a professional pond builder and expert in the broad topics of fishkeeping and water gardening. Mike also produces THE POND HUNTER video series which can be viewed on Youtube. “In The Pursuit Of All Things Aquatic” the Pond Hunter videos provide how-to pond construction videos, pondumentaries, and videos of related interest. Mike resides in Summit, New Jersey with his wife and 2 daughters. To visit his website go to www.loveyourpond.com and visit The Pond Hunter at www.youtube.com/thepondhunter. All copyrights to this material belong to Mike Gannon.

Written by admin


    8 Comments

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  1. Demi Fortuna Says:

    on March 28, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Great Blog, as always, Mike! We’ve found deterrant success in building the pond with a rock shelf that starts 8″ below water level, with a vertical drop all the way around of about 10″ down to a flat plant shelf at about 18″ /knee deep around the entire inside perimeter. The Rock Shelf, Vertical side, Plant shelf (RSVP?)profile seems to be pretty effective with all the waders – raccoons, egrets, even the Great Blue Heron – apparently because they won’t just ‘jump in’. We haven’t caught them crouching at the edge yet to fish, but that may be because we usually set the overflow a little low to keep max water level at 4-6″ typ. below ground level (to make it appear more natural?), and that may make it harder for them to spear fish from above. What would you guess about how far down can reach when they fish from above? I’m getting one of those BirdCams to see what I can catch them doing…
    Thanks again for the great posts, what a resource! Demi

  2. Ron Motherwell Says:

    on May 5, 2011 at 9:28 am

    I have several underwater and above ground lights and are a new pond owner. I wondered if the lighting attracts preditors, but don’t know if heron visit in the dark (before or after sunrise / sunset). Can you please elaborate on their typical visiting times.

    You have the most informative publishing re: Ponds that I have ever seen. I am certain that you must have saved many ponds from being emtied by predators.

  3. Mgannon Says:

    on June 2, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Herons will typically do their hunting in the early morning hours or around dusk. They have definitely started showing up at other hours of the day too in more suburban areas, which I think is a response to human activity levels, no one is ever home mid-day and they may have figured that out. I don’t think lighting attracts herons, or necessarily other predators like raccoons, but I’d say it does make it a bit easier for them to see if they do choose to hunt your pond. Thanks so much for checking out the blog and your comments. Hope to hear back from you. -Mike

  4. Lori Says:

    on June 2, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Great blog! What do you think of the idea of chicken wire over the body of the pond (my mom’s is maybe 3 X 4 at the base of a circulating waterfall? Blue Herron has wiped out her fish population 2 years in a row. There’s sentimental value to the pond and I hate to keep buying fish only to have the herron feed on them.

  5. Mgannon Says:

    on June 2, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    I don’t really like the idea of the chicken wire, it is kind of ugly and will rust when exposed to the water. How about using a grid of clear nylon fishing line. I use fishing line with a 50# test and it works great and is not really that visible on the pond! Thanks for checking out the blog!!

  6. Melissa Says:

    on August 17, 2013 at 3:09 am

    Hi,
    so today I’m really bummed. I live in Rural Colorado and last year was my first year as a pond owner (my landlord started the pond years ago before she moved and rented her place to me…) In late August I had a Heron wipe out my entire pond except for my 13″ Asagi Koi. The others were goldfish, and a couple small koi that I had added.

    This year when we took off the pond cover in the spring we had five tiny baby fish. They looked black until netted then, they had a yellowish gold color. They have since turned entirely orange w some white markings, no visible barrels, so we assumed they were a hybrid, but have nurtured and loved them to about 3-4″ in size this summer. Two weeks ago we introduced two new koi about the same size. All fish (5 baby hybrids, 2 small koi and ‘Skeletore’ our now 14″ Asagi koi) have been happily getting along. I have lots of plants around my small garden pond and several water lilys in pots. Our pond is 12″ atthe shallow side and 25″ in the middle with an upper basin that has a hose that waterfalls into the main pond. This spring I purchased a good Heron decoy, better than the ones my landlord had.

    Today I came home and two of the orange hybrids and one of the new koi are gone. There were a couple floating white strips that looked like fish flesh and lots of leaves floating in the water indicating a disturbance. The other fish were also very skittish. I’m afraid we may have just missed the Heron feeding at our pond.

    We are going to cover the pond w our hard plastic molding we use during the winter until we figure out what else to do. I’ve read everything I can about deterring heron, but am greatly disappointed to read how they remember a feeding spot and will return. I will take any advice I can get from anyone who’s gone through this. It’s crazy, but I’m heartbroken. I feel like I could have done more… Thanks.

  7. Mgannon Says:

    on August 27, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Hey Melissa, I’m sorry to hear about your fish loss. I guess lots of people go through it and it is never easy to see that your fish have been consumed or killed. During periods of heavy predation by heron or any other pond predator, netting is probably the most sure fire way to protect your pond. I always suggest using a multilevel approach to predator control with several methods being used simultaneously. The method I have been using, and experimenting with on my own pond is simple and very effective so far. I keep an inexpensive outdoor radio, tuned to a talk radio station, running by my pond. I believe that the sound of a human voice is a great deterrent for any predator and they will not be very quick to enter an area where humans are to hunt for their meals. I have not lost any fish this season and have run the radio most of the season. However, I still use a heron decoy, I have fish caves in my pond, and plants around the edging to restrict access areas.
    Thanks for reading the LOVEYOURPOND blog and commenting!
    -Mike

  8. John Says:

    on November 14, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Hello I live in Mexico and I am a fish farmer and I welcome the herons with my 12 ga. But then thy start coming at night. And you can kill a hundred and there are always more so I’m out of ideas. Thanks

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