DESIGNER DUCK PONDS
Ponds and ducks, they are perfect together. Or are they?
Most constructed backyard ponds are designed and built with the intention of keeping fish and plants, not ducks. So what do we do when a pair of local ducks decides to make our pond their home? I say enjoy it for a short time, take lots of photos for the memories and then gently discourage the ducks from making your koi pond or water garden their home. Not that I have anything against ducks, I am not an anti-duckite. I just have seen the impact that ducks can have on our backyard koi ponds and water gardens. I am also confident that there are plenty of other homes that the ejected ducks can make out on the lakes and ponds that are naturally occurring; or at least larger scale man made ponds that can handle a duck or goose population. Ducks tend to enjoy plants as a food source or for bored entertainment, and can very quickly destroy the water garden that we have invested so much time and money on. Lilies will quickly get shredded, submerged plants uprooted, marginal plants trampled. Our smaller fish and invertebrates can become sources of protein for the backyard duck. Ducks spend a lot of time out of the water too and will impact the surrounding area and landscape. The primary reason they are at your pond is to set up house, and a nesting site will eventually be established. Ducks can get a bit territorial when nesting and may not be too happy about people coming by the pond at that point, and they may even exhibit aggression. Being chased by a hissing duck or goose sounds funny until it’s you! But for the fish pond that most of us install, a duck or more can have a dramatic impact on our pond. Impacts that we may not consider when we first discover our web footed friends paddling ‘round our backyard koi pond or water garden. This is not the picture of serenity that most of us have when we are planning our koi pond or water garden; so we should try to plan these projects accordingly.
However; ducks and geese add a whole new dimension to pond keeping and with some intent, planning, and purpose a “duck pond” can be constructed that will attract local ducks, or the pond can be stocked with exotic or ornamental ducks and other water fowl of numerous and interesting varieties. However, I think one of the biggest impacts in and around the pond is the waste droppings that the new resident ducks will create, and it can become quite a mess. Our backyard koi pond or water garden filter systems were not designed with this type of waste production in mind and your pond water can become very foul (no pun, …ok it’s a pun). Forget about water clarity, and prepare for some odors to begin wafting around once you have some ducks established in your non-duck handling koi pond. You will find that a whole lot of extra time for maintenance will become a necessity as well, which means increased costs for water treatments, and filter materials.
So your backyard koi pond or water garden definitely is not the place that you want to have shared with ducks or geese. But, as mentioned earlier with planning and intent you can absolutely build that pond that will attract and support ducks and assorted water fowl yet still be fairly low maintenance, beautiful, and enjoyable. These various water fowl can be kept with certain pond fish successfully. The varieties of ducks and geese that can be kept in ponds may actually surprise you if you are not familiar with exotic water fowl. Keeping and maintaining these birds can be very rewarding. Ducks and geese can be very domesticated, even get along with the family dog or cat, and over time become a pet that is close to your heart. Most water fowl have a pretty long lifespan so if you are planning a duck pond take that into consideration. Some water fowl may need winter housing, so that is another consideration when building your duck pond.
So yeah, ducks and ponds are perfect together as long as some planning takes place before hand. If you’re planning a duck pond the first step is to plan on your stock level and then think BIG even if for just a few birds, or it will be overwhelmed by the ducks or geese too quickly to offer you any enjoyment. Go long and wide with your duck pond and a depth of about 3’ should be sufficient to keep these water birds happy. After size has been considered think about maintenance or better yet think about how much maintenance you want or are willing to do and plan your filtration based upon that. Whatever you think you need in filtration double it! A constructed or designer duck pond should definitely have water that is moving a lot and plenty aerated. Establish a skimmer or skimming zone for your duck pond so the surface of the pond is constantly swept clean, this also does a tremendous job of oxygenating your water and degassing your water so you don’t have a smelly pond. Add a waterfall, but this time not just for the aesthetic value, this has got to be for oxygenation too. Design your waterfall for maximum water agitation, I like create a waterfall that has many rocks that the water has to run over. This will create a “white water” condition in the waterfall and that is very desirable; all that white water is highly oxygenated water. Speaking of oxygenation, you will want to install a good, no wait, an EXCELLENT aerator for the pond with multiple points of aeration within the body of the pond. This not only moves the water from the bottom of the pond to the top but its bubbling action also breaks up duck waste into smaller manageable sizes that your main filter system can process that waste more efficiently. Submerged water jets can be installed by tapping into your pump line or by having a dedicated pump for submerged water jets. The submerged water jets also are meant to move water and break up animal waste into smaller particles, a good strong flow, and several points of output for your water jets will help the overall filtering of your duck pond very nicely. Gravel added to a pond with ducks can help to capture much of the waste and help to break it down, but your gravel filtration will need to be cleaned periodically as well. Gravel maintenance will need to be done at least annually.
The actual biofiltration of the pond can be tackled with any number of manufactured filters or you can construct a wetland filter (bog filter). I favor the wetland filter because of the incredible capacity they have to strip water of debris and the powerhouse of biofiltration they can offer when built correctly. The wetland filter is also aesthetically pleasing when it comes to integrating it into the overall design of the pond. The wetland filter can be planted with plants such as sweetflag and others, so the plants do not appeal to the palate of your stock. Again the name of the game for the biofiltration of a duck pond is to double what you think you need!
The main complaint that people have when building their duck ponds is maintenance issues. Many of these issues can easily be addressed by thinking out your duck pond carefully and not treating it like a koi pond or water garden; because it is not. The key components to a successful duck pond are size, water movement, aeration, filtration and stock level. Plan all of these on the front end and you will not constantly be playing catch up on the back end, resist the urge that because you have a great looking duck pond you feel maybe 1 or 2 more birds won’t make a difference, they will. And accept the fact that no matter how well you are set up, a duck pond requires a significantly higher level of maintenance than a fish pond or water garden ever will. If you are at peace with all these factors them you to will have a great duck pond and be able to enjoy all that comes with keeping these fun and interesting birds of the water.
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 or on www.facebook.com/thepondhunter. All copyrights to this material belong to Mike Gannon.
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