When your fish pond is an egret's sushi buffet

Oct 8, 2014

Ah, the joy of a fish pond. 

Goldfish swimming lazily beneath pink waterlilies,  doves splishing and splashing, frogs jumping and croaking, dragonflies darting and ambushing, and honey bees collecting water, trip after trip, for their colony.

Wonderful, right?

Not exactly. Not always. 

Not when you operate a free sushi buffet for egrets. Free? The only “bill” around is the one they're using to snag your fish. 

Last winter when the crape myrtle tree that shades our fish pond dropped its leaves, it was easy viewing and easy pickings for the egrets. Step up to the board walk, dip down and eat your fill. The main perpetrator was a Great Egret, about 3 to 4 feet tall, which true to its name, exhibited a Great Appetite. Thirty fish went down the hatch, including Bubba, Nemo and Goldie.  Fortunately, they were not koi.

We were rather fond of them, though.  

How can you protect your fish pond from egrets?

Say that you don't want to net your pond or string fishing line over it. Nor do you want to play rap music, add plastic decoys (crocodiles, alligators, owls, snakes and bigger egrets), set mouse traps, install a motion-detector flood light, or change your pond logistics or landscape. 

You also don't want a water scarecrow that will spray water every time it detects motion. You don't want something that uses compressed air to scare the livin' daylights out of your neighbors in a dead sleep, not to mention the folks in the next zip code.  And, you don't want to enlist the help of your Resident Alert Dog (RAD) for Egret Duty (ED). (Besides at 5 a.m., RAD is not alert. He's sound asleep on the corner of the bed, dreaming of chasing cats that run, not 3-foot-tall egrets that don't.) 

What can you do for little or no cost to protect your pond from egrets? 

A terracotta castle.

A terracotta pipe lowered into the pond makes an excellent “hidey hole.” It's heavy. Egrets can't move it or reach it. It's earthy. Terracotta is Latin for ”baked earth.” It's used for bricks, flower pots, water and waste water pipes, and to tile the roofs of Spanish-style homes. 

And it makes a wonderful hidey-hole, as fish can dart in and stay in as danger lurks.

Of course, there could be some problems.  If your goldfish are accustomed to surfacing when their food magically appears, they may also surface when an egret shadows the pond. But just as the “second mouse gets the cheese,” many will escape to the hidey hole. 

If you want to learn more about koi, tropical fish, and water gardens, visit this page, California Aquaculture, part of the UC Davis Department of Animal Science.

Another good UC resource is Water Gardening: Aquatic Gardens, Not Aquatic Pests: How to Practice Responsible Water Gardening. It offers a wealth of information and links to more information.

True, egrets are majestic birds, but we'd rather the sushi buffet be in a restaurant, not in our fish pond. 

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By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist