Pond Basics

Photo ©

Are you considering adding a pond to your property to increase the diversity of wildlife found there? Before you get started, it’s important to consider which species you want to attract, how big you can afford to go, and what other purposes your pond will serve (fishing? outdoor education?). Most wetland birds prefer shallow water over deep water, with a high shoreline to surface area ratio. A long, irregular shape would provide more shoreline than a round pond. Pond construction for a city park, new green neighborhood, or a progressive industrial plaza might involve the following ideas for making your pond more inviting to birds while enhancing its recreational value:

  • Using excavated soil to build “islands” in the middle of your pond would increase the “shoreline” available to nesting birds.
  • If you would also like enough depth to stock fish, ensure that there is a gradual slope from the shoreline to the interior (check overwintering depth requirements for your region). Birds prefer to hunt and loaf in the shallows where they can duck into cover if needed, so at least some shallows will be valuable.
  • If the pond is to enhance a recreation area, like a neighborhood natural area or a walking trail, plant plenty of shrub and perennial cover plants to give birds hiding places.

Nest Box Against a Pond

Nest boxes and ponds go together like frogs and lily pads.

Photo © Alex Vranas

Perk Up An Existing Pond

Perhaps you already have a pond, yet the birds seem unimpressed with it. Make sure your pond is attracting the widest variety of birds possible. If your pond is large enough to support several “microhabitats” around it, you can pump up your yard list by increasing the variety in shoreline vegetation profiles. For example, you could allow one side of the pond to fill in with dense brush and a few trees while maintaining the other half in a more open profile (i.e., don’t let it fill in with woody species; think grassy and open) — you’ll attract birds that like to feed along the marshy edges as well as songbirds that nest in brush near water. It’s a good idea to avoid letting invasive species, like phragmites or purple loosestrife, overtake your shoreline. They aren’t used by birds very much, and they can actually change the hydrology of your pond. Vigilance is key…eradicate them before they colonize the entire pond! On a private lake in the winter, you might also try “social attraction” methods like using decoys to lure passing ducks to come check out your pond (decoys are available at most sporting goods stores).

A few other tips include:

  • Avoid mowing the perimeter of your pond; this leaves no place for waterfowl to build nests. Simply mow an access trail if needed; this has the added benefit of discouraging large flocks of generalist species, like Canada Geese, which can become a nuisance.
  • If you have trees around your property, install a nest box for Wood Duck on a tree near the pond’s edge, complete with predator baffle.
  • Add a few logs or boulders in the shallows to give herons a hunting perch and a loafing/sunning spot for turtles and frogs.
Great Egret

Large stocked ponds can bring in predatory birds like this Great Egret.

Photo © vidular

Garden Ponds

Small garden ponds will attract thirsty wildlife to your property, as well as provide habitat for aquatic insects, dragonflies, frogs, and minnows. A wayward beaver even found its way into an 8 x 5 foot pond in an Ontario backyard recently! Many such backyard ponds involve the installation of black sheet plastic or a preformed plastic pool into a prepared excavation site, but there are many variations of the backyard pond. Standing water has the potential to grow algae, mosquitoes, or even harmful pathogens, so regular cleaning, or a good filtration system is a requirement. As with larger ponds, you should use aquatic plants effectively for cover, filtration, and food items. Here are some other tips for enhancing its wildlife value:

  • Birds may not be able to bathe in your pond unless there is a shallow area of less than 2” deep. Create a bathing area using large flat rocks near the edge of the pool.
  • Make sure to place your bird feeders at a distance to avoid seed falling into the water.
  • Finally, a fountain or dripping mechanism will alert passing birds to the presence of water, so adding an element of sound will enhance the sensory experience of the pond and serve as a welcome mat.
Water Feature

A garden pond is a nice way to attract more wildlife to your yard. The sound of running water is particularly attractive to songbirds.

Photo © Cindy Mc

Even a small pond will satisfy the water component of birds’ habitat requirements, but a bigger pond can serve as a more holistic habitat for some species of birds. Whether your watering hole is all or part of its visitor’s habitat, you won’t regret making it a part of yours! What will your pond reflect?