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!
All copyrights to this material belong to Mike Gannon.
THE GREAT BLUE HERON AND YOUR POND
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!
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
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.
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
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.
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!!
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.
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!
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
So tried leaving the radio on from dawn till dusk. It’s working so far. Do you think I need to continue to leave it on? I just don’t have an outside speaker and wondering how much my electric bill will go up. I have the pond covered with nets and fishing wire going around the outside as well. What are your thoughts?
Hey Lorene thanks for getting in touch! The radio works pretty well! I think it would consume only minor amounts of electric and perhaps a couple dollars a month (or less?). However, if you have your pond netted and strung with fishing line you may not necessarily have to run the radio full time, maybe only when you are away from the pond. Thanks again for reaching out! -Mike
Hi Mike. I am having a huge problem with BH. I saw two just this morning hanging out on the roof top of my neighbors home. They then flew to tree tops in my yard and then one of them flew down to the ground around the ponds. The other stayed in the tree. The one on the ground snuck closer and closer to the ponds until it was in ear shot of the talk radio station I have on and they both flew away. These two BH were smaller than the 4′ one we saw two weeks ago in the yard and that we found another time standing very still in one of the ponds. We have two large ponds, which are 3.5″ deep. We have 4 outside speakers. We moved one of them very close to the ponds however, found that if the volume is not high enough, the BH will ignore it. We actually found a BH in the pond while the talk show host was talking. I turned up the volume as high as it would go and scared the crap out of the heron which flew off with a 6′ wing span. We keep talk radio on ALL THE TIME with the volume up fairly high. We’ve informed our neighbors why we have the radio at such high volume so they won’t think we’re crazy. Most of my koi are 15 years old or older. I have approx. 40 or so and it’s difficult to tell who’s missing. We’ve since installed the water sprayer but now the BH come in on another side of the yard. I’ve purchased another water sprayer which may help in deterring them. I think the radio is a great help in keeping them away.
Sorry to hear about the persistent herons! They can be a real pain sometimes and I’m glad to hear the radio has been of help! I still recommend using a multi level approach to deter them if possible. Let’s hope the GBH gets the hint to stay away! -Mike
I use blue dye to color my pond water. Will that keep Heron’s from seeing my Koi fish or can they see thru dark blue water?
Hi Jean, using dye can help protect from a heron alot. Blue dye is good, using a black dye would be better. Nothing with a heron is 100% and I would usually recommend utilizing a couple of different methods of deterrent with the dye being one of the strategies that you use. Thanks for checking out the blog. -Mike
I too have been fighting with the herons at my pons, have bought Herron decoys, coyote decoys, put string all around waters edge, purchased a motion detector siren alarm am at my wits end started the season out with about 200 goldfish am now down too maybe 20, heartbreaking to me, help!!!!
Thanks for reaching out. I always recommend a multilevel approach to predator control and it sounds like you have certainly done that. There is no “one” trick to controlling predators. My favorite approach it to use a outdoor radio tuned to a talk radio station left near my pond. Herons are very bold but they will shy away from entering areas where they hear or see human activity, so the talk radio is very effective that way. Give that a try if you have not already and you may be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Best of luck!
Any chance that a mirror will work since they are territorial?
Hey Mark. A mirror can help but probably is not the magic bullet. I always say a multi-level approach to predaor deterrents is necessary and if a mirror helps even ONCE, then it is worth it. -Mike
I have used a little fence made from the 3 foot tall black metal poles from Lowes spaced about 5 or 6 feet apart. Then I put a monofilament nylon fish net I got from Memphis Net and Twine. Since I put this net up there hasn’t been a Blue Heron show up. A green heron did show up and it got under the netting and was able to sit on the row of rocks on the inside of the net. Green Herons can eat a fish about 6 to 8 inches long. They are like Blue Herons in that they sneak up to a pond from where they land on the ground. Before I put up the netting I lost 2 gold fish that were about 6 to 8 inches long to a Blue Heron.
We have a large backyard pond in the southern California desert. We have a waterfall that feeds the pond so the edges are not level. We have a net over the pond so imagine our surprise when we came home to discover a GBH walking around the pond under the net. We were quite impressed by it’s intelligence. Luckily we have a lot of caves and shelves for the fish to hide. We have seen the GBH walk on the net many times but this was the first time we had actually seen it get underneath. We are now adjusting the net.
Hi Mike–Installing a new liner in my pond soon and will be increasing the depth to 3′ and the shelves to 2′. We presently have a net but want to get rid of that. Can you recommend plant types that you like to act as a deterrent? We will also deploy 4 speakers to keep a radio on. Additionally, I will also use a “scarecrow” water device. Thank you for all that you do to help us protect our vulnerable koi. You are probably the most knowledgable and helpful resource available.
Hi Bob! Thanks for the feedback! Plants around the exterior of the pond, landscape plants, can be used to great effect; but I’m not sure what to recommend without having a better idea of your landscape, especially since you want it to look good and function too. But generally speaking, using grasses or evergreeens like junipers come to mind. Within the pond some good aquatic edge plants that will make it uncomfortable for heron would be iris, pickerel, canna, some of those taller type plants are helpful. Water lily of course will give surface coverage helping to obscure the location of fish. Mike
Our pond has straight sidewalks and is 3.5 to 4 ft deep and we have had no problems with Herons. They come take a look, but so far no losses that we have noticed.
Thanks Bruce! Straight down vertical walls are a great deterrent for heron, great feedback. Mike
A few years ago I bought a thin black net and covered the pond to keep the herons out. It works 100% of the time. When we entertain outside enjoying the pond, we remove the net. As our plants grow out of the water, we raise the net above the plants. The nylon net is thin enough that it doesn’t really interfere with seeing the fish and you can still feed them by throwing in fish food. After 10 years of decoys, etc., this is the only method I’ve found to work. We probably lost 100 fish over that time, and the herons became so bold that they would even try to sneak up to the pond while I was mowing our half acre yard. The net cost $30 online.
Love it! Thanks for the feedback, sometimes the simple things work best and cost least! Mike
What is the deal with these GBH causing trees around my pond to start dying?
Hi Ali, I’ve never heard of GBH causing trees to die!! I don’t know what the deal is! Sorry I can’t help. Good luck! -Mike
Thanks for all your help sitting out ond guard duty now. Have had a pond for five years never a problem tell now. The GBH are beautiful but a pain. It has eaten several fish. I am trying strobe lights, chairs with garbage bags over them. Hanging jackets, garbage bags on hangers, aluminum foil and yard decoration figurines around the pond. My herons usually show up around 1230 to 100 in the morning. It got my Archie Bunker who was from my inside tank. Really upsetting….Thanks for your blog
Hi Mona, thanks for reading and offering feedback! -Mike
Hi Mike. I’ve just started looking into blue herons. I live in an apt complex in Indianapolis, IN, and have seen a blue heron in the pond behind my patio for the last 3 summers. My neighbor and I are fascinated by this bird. Over the years it’s gotten less skittish when we come out to watch it. My questions are:
1. How can we tell if it’s male or female?
2. Do they always hunt alone (we’ve only seen the one)?
3. Is it common for them to be in the middle of a city?
4. Can you recommend any book or website to learn more about them?
We just want to know as much as we can about these majestic birds.
Thanks for your help in educating me!
Hi Jeanne! Telling herons apart can be difficult to the untrained eye. The males are slightly bigger, their beak is a bit bigger too. Males may have a little nice plumage as well. They typically hunt alone but not always, I have definitely seen herons hunting in pretty close quarters to eachother, but yes, typically alone. It is becoming more and more common to see some of the major North American predators like the Great Blue Heron inside of and close to urban centers so it would not surprise me at all. It is common place to hear about coyotes and other predators within major cities these days. I think some great information can be found through Audobon Society. Youtube and Google will have a wealth information on these amazing birds as well. Thanks for checking out the blog!! -Mike
I live in the North GA mountains and have a dammed up ravine that runs through my property, with a rather steep graded woods on the far side. About 5 years ago, I had a culvert to control the water level & overflow and allowed the rain to fill it up. There are 3 creeks & a Trout stream that feed it as well and many little estuaries and nooks and crannies, overhanging trees, etc. I use a little row boat to paddle around it & lay out Lime twice a year. In all, it’s about 1/3 acre of water. I have stocked it with Blue Gill, Large Mouth Bass, Brim and 5 very large Koi (each Koi being at least 15″ or more). I had a large overhanging dock built and enjoy my pond very much. The BH that keeps coming back, is at least 5 times larger than the decoy I put out and he has perched right next to the decoy just to mock me. The pond is bordered by large rough slag stone on the dam side and lots of natural ground cover, but there is no way he could wade out into the water, as it drops off very close to the edge and is around 7 – 8 feet deep in the center. But I have found him hunkering down on a large fallen tree trunk just where it goes into the water, waiting for the fish. I am afraid I may have already lost 4 of my Koi, since I only see the one swimming alone lately. I send my chow out into the yard to chase him when I spot him, but he comes right back when the dog is gone. My neighbors say my Koi are too large for him to eat. I was wondering how big do the fish have to be to be “too big” for him to eat? Thanks so much for your wonderful article.
Hi Marylou. I have been mocked many times by my local GBHs, so you are not alone!! It sounds like your pond should be fairly “heron proof” but it will not stop them from trying. A 15″ koi would be a difficult meal for a heron, but it does not stop a heron from TRYING to eat them and effectively killing them, which I truly hope is not the case. I am optimistic so I want to say that you should keep watching for those other koi to show up. It is amazing how well koi, and most fish, can hide when they want to so I will be hoping they will show up when temperatures warm up a bit. Keep in touch! -Mike
I have quite the opposite problem. I am researching how to attract Herons. I am considering setting up a pond at my home FL near a swamp to attract them. My goal is to bring them in to be a predator to water moccasins. Advise please, will it help? -Loretta
Hi Loretta. Try stocking your pond with small goldfish. They are very inexpensive and have bright colors that a heron would come to explore. Good luck! -Mike
I’m amused by comments about coy ponds. We have a two acre pond that had catfish,bream, and crappie. After 5 years about 400 catfish are gone ranging up to 3-4 lbs. The survivors have scars behind their heads…. The pond is ruined, good luck!
I’ve had a small pond, roughly 3×6 for about six years. Stocked with cheap feeder goldfish that I bring inside for the winter (SE Michigan). I never had a problem with predators before. Last year I enlarged my pond to about 6×9, the fish have grown to bigger than my hand now, and are starting to vanish! Heron for sure. My dogs ran it off one morning last week while I sat on the patio having coffee! My question, would a decoy scare off song birds as well if I put one out? Does a rail around the border really work?
Hello Bill. I don’t think the decoy would scare off any song birds. A rail may or may not work, it really depends on the specific design you intend to have. Best of luck! -Mike
Mike- great read. Thank you for all the info. I have an active GBH feeding on my pond daily. I’m trying to take the multi deterrent approach. I feel like it is the same Herron every day that I’m running off. Could that be the case?
It knocks over my decoy as if it’s a game for him.
I’ve considered using a paintball approach as not to kill it but turning him yellow may deter him from coming back. Not sure if it’s allowed or not but I’m at my wits end.
Thanks again for all the advice. Trying the radio tomorrow
Hey Brendan. So if I see multi-color herons flying around I will know what you have been up to!! I won’t tell…. Cheers! -Mike
I have a blue heron stabbing my fish and placing them in the yard . It was at the edge of the pond just now and it had put two more fish in the yard . There is no damage to the fish other than the stabbed wounds . I had 26 and now 5 are left . In years past it did the same with the coy weighing 2 to 3 pounds . Why would it kill and not eat them ?
Hi Patricia. SEE MY OTHER RESPONSE. -Mike
Why does the heron that comes to my pond stab the fish and lay them in my yard ? They only have a stab wound , no other injuries .
Because herons are sick and twisted! AND they will sometimes stab a fish to try and eat it, but if it is too big to eat they will leave it and not necessarily put it back in the water like a nice polite heron would do. Sorry to hear about the fish. -Mike
How long will GBH continue to come to a pond after all the fish are gone? We had a GBH eat some of our fish 2 years ago; none taken last year; but goldfish are missing this year. The GBH has been here daily for at least a week but haven’t seen any fish after his first visit. Our pond has lots of caves and a good cover of water lilies. Know they are very smart birds and we enjoy seeing him. Interesting to read all your comments.
Hello Ann. Individual Blue Herons may return to investigate a pond for many years if that pond once provided a meal(s). They tend to have “routes” that they travel routinely and if your pond is one of their stops, they will stop. Consider too that if the particular heron that did the damage is no longer around, there is a good chance another heron will take over duties since by nature they will travel in very similar (and learned) patterns that other herons use. Be vigilant!! Good luck. -Mike
Hey, we have a blue heron that keeps eating our fish in our pond but we don’t know what to do to get rid of it. Please email me on what to do.
We have a backyard pond at our place a few miles from downtown Atlanta. The Blue Herons keep coming back. We’ve tried decoys, installed additional hiding places for our fish, have the pond completely surrounding by plants and lots of water plants in the actual pond. It’s about 1,500 gallons and about 3 feet at its deepest. At this point, I give up!
Hey Stephen, thanks for reaching out. Don’t give up because the heron will not give up! -Mike
Thank you for this blog, it is very interesting to read. I live in SE Michigan in a sub-division and this morning I woke up to a Blue Heron sitting on my skimmer filter. This is the second time I have seen one, the first time it was perched on my privacy fence around May/June of this year and I scared it off when it seen me in the window (I don’t think it even went near the water because none of my fish were missing). This morning when I seen it, it got scared off when I opened my sliding-glass door and my dog ran out.
I still have some plants in my pond right now. I glanced in my pond but my fish hide pretty well in the plants and since it is getting colder here they tend to sit at the bottom of the pond. From what I could see, it does not appear any of my fish are gone but I will not really know until I clear out all of my plants. I need to winterize my pond and clear it out but I am afraid to. Do GBH still hunt in the winter?
My pond is about 5,500 gallons. The shallowest part is a little more than 3 feet deep with the deepest being a little over 4 feet. Can the GBH reach down that far to grab the fish at the bottom? We had a really bad winter here with some issues with pond pond last year and I lost all of my Koi but one. I re-stocked with 12 more koi this year and they are all a good size. I am really freaked out and hate to see my fish gone again. Any input would be welcome.
Thank you! ~Jodi
Hey Jodi thanks for reaching out. The GBH will definitely be hunting during winter months. I feel like they tend to stick to natural water ways during winter months, but that is simply my personal observation and have nothing solid to back that up, so I would stay vigilant during winter months as well when it comes to the Great Blue Heron. Good luck!! -Mike
I had a heron at my pond last week . Scared me I looked out my bathroom window there was this 4 foot tall bird at my pond . My pond is covered for the season cause winter has set in to no way he can get to my koi . I have 6 koi in a 2400 gallon pond and my smallest is 14 inches my largest are almost 3 foot . Since the heron had no way of getting a meal from the pond will he be back to try again . I rather not keep it covered cause what we use is 1 inch pvc pipe with the colored thin vinyl fencing stuff attached to it . Keep leaves out of the pond and so on during fall and winter . My now wife has had a pond here for 17 years never seen a heron then I look out poof there he is . I’m scared to uncover this spring . Our pond is 4 foot deep most of us straight down . Got 2 2.5 foot ledges down from the top but they get covered with growing plants . When I seen him I went to open the window and he flew off . They are not as fast as I expected them to be . What are your thoughts will he be back ?
Hi Chris. Thanks for commenting. There is a very good chance the heron will be back. They seem to remember places that will possibly offer or have offered meals to them. Your pond does not sound like a prime target but, again, once they have found it, they will likely come check on it again. Good luck! -Mike