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A Three-Part Series on Building Ponds
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Bigsnest Wildlife Pond, Sebastopol, California
Build a Pond for Wildlife
by Kathy Biggs, California USA
Click images to enlarge
Why Build a Pond for Wildlife?
Building a pond for wildlife is just the natural thing to
do! Around the world the loss of riparian and aquatic habitat
is negatively affecting many wild creatures. By developing a
pond for your wildlife, you can recreate some of that lost habitat.
At the same time, the pond will give you dual pleasures: the
tranquil, restful enjoyment of a garden pond and the opportunity
to observe your local wildlife, up close and personal.
Many people are looking for ways to be green and
to contribute to our planets health. A wildlife pond is
one way. But, as Kermit the Frog said, It isnt easy,
being green! Everywhere you turn, youll find gorgeous
tropical waterlilies and beautiful koi and goldfish being sold.
Unfortunately neither koi nor goldfish are native to the Americas,
British Isles or Europe, and they wont belong in a pond
built for wildlife in these areas. However, if you live in a
tropical climate, tropical lilies are just fine.
The techniques for creating a wildlife pond are somewhat different
from those used for tropical ponds. The first part of this three-part
series on building wildlife ponds explores the ideas and mindset
needed to embrace the concept. Parts 2 and 3 will cover the steps
to take in building and maintaining a wildlife pond.
Here are some pointers to get you started in the right direction:
Choose to give priority to wildlife and enhance
Our native fauna and flora evolved together. In order to provide
the creatures in your area with the very best habitat, you must
resist the temptation to use the exotic. If you use mostly natives,
your pond will not only be more attractive to wildlife, but it
will also appear to belong in your yard, instead of looking like
Your mindset is the very most important aspect of your whole
wildlife pond endeavor. Whenever possible, choose the plants,
edgings, or other materials that fit best with your local terrain
and habitat. Try to avoid buying commercial fish and building
a circular rock-lined (necklace-effect) edged pond
set in a lawn. Rock-lined ponds are fine for observing koi, but
they make our native frogs and other creatures much more vulnerable
as they cross into and out of the pond.
What animals might visit a wildlife pond?
The animals that will benefit the most from a wildlife pond
are those that need water in which to breed. These include animals
that spend their whole lives in the pond, and also those that
only need the pond for breeding, such as frogs, some salamanders
and newts, dragonflies, many diving beetles and other aquatic
Female dragonflies like this eight-spotted skimmer might lay
eggs in your pond. These eggs will hatch and live as underwater
nymph for about a year before emerging as adult flying dragonflies.
Dragonfly nymph are voracious feeders on mosquito larvae; by
providing shallow sunny areas with emergent vegetation, you can
encourage them to breed in your pond.
Male dragonflies, like this blue dasher, will claim a territory
on your pond, awaiting a female to claim. The males will perform
amazing aerial maneuvers when they duel with each other, and
also when they find a female. Their amusing and entertaining
antics can be a source of delight for the wildlife pond owner.
Adult dragonflies feed on mosquitoes and other flying insects.
Sometimes dragonflies attempt to breed in koi ponds, but koi
and other fish feed on dragonfly eggs and dragonfly nymph; they
will not be successful. Read more about dragonflies in the May issue of WGI Online.
Almost all frogs need water in which to breed, and frogs worldwide
are in distress. A fishless wildlife pond offers them a safe
place. Their polliwogs eat algae! Frogs should be able to find
your pond on their own during wet spells. Some areas are plagued
by non-native frogs, so please educate yourself as to what is
native in your area. To the left is a Pacific tree/chorus frog
sleeping in the center of an Indian rhubarb leaf. This frog is
the size of an American quarter coin, but its song
(croaking) can be heard for about a quarter mile (400 meters).
Other animals will use your pond mostly as a watering hole.
During periods of drought, your pond can be a real safety
net for them. Depending on your continent, and whether
your area is urban, suburban, rural, or even wilderness, some
of the larger animals that might use your pond could include
deer, opossums and raccoons or kangaroos, wallabies and
other small marsupials!
Birds of all sizes and colors will not only use your pond as
a watering hole but also as a birdbath. Some will
even collect the moss and mud from the edges for nest building
materials. Fly-catching birds specialize on skimming insects
off the water surface. Such a bird is the black phoebe, shown
at the left.
Some of the insects a phoebe might find delectable are those
that are able to skate on the waters surface
tension, such as water striders, right.
Many aquatic insects will inhabit your wildlife pond, including
diving beetles, backswimmers, water boatmen, and even microscopic
Butterflies may use your pond as a mineral lick and
dozens of them fluttering about a wildlife ponds beach
as they puddle is a delightful sight. Many species
of butterflies will also gather nectar from your flowering pond
plants, and if you plant their host plants, some may breed on
plants in the bog or, possibly even on those in the pond. If
one lays its eggs there, the caterpillars must find their way
carefully from plant stalk to plant stalk. To the right is a
painted lady butterfly puddling getting not only
a drink, but also minerals from the beach area.
Sometimes building a pond and opening it up to wildlife means
setting aside prior ideas as to what is a varmint, and what is
a guest! For example, in many areas, wetlands and raccoons have
evolved together for centuries. Because they eat fish, many pond
owners consider them a nuisance. But, if you build the pond large
enough, then their visits wont totally disrupt it.
Raccoon photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Its a good idea to give ownership of your pond to your
wildlife visitors and take the role of pond steward for yourself.
Trapping and relocating wild creatures usually just provides
the animal with the territory next door the opportunity
to move in!
However, the animal that might get the most use/enjoyment
from a wildlife pond could be you! Not only will you enjoy both
the action and the tranquility of the pond, but you can also
cool down in your pond during hot weather. Its the perfect
time to do maintenance or just to sit lazily along the edges
with your feet in the water and a cool drink in your hand.
Research whats native in your area
and what you personally like
Having established the correct mindset, the next step to take
in building a pond for wildlife is to determine what plants and
edgings appeal to you. Go out into the wetlands in your area
and take pictures and/or notes on what you see growing there,
especially noting what delights you.
Then find out which nurseries sell native plants in your area,
and learn about local native plant societies. Visit them to see
what they have available.
It is against the law in most places to collect plants from
parks, recreation areas or the private property of others. But
in some cases it may be possible to secure permission to collect
plants, since most aquatic plants reproduce readily through seeds
Look for plants, items and situations that please you personally.
Do you like seeing rocks inside the pond sticking out of the
water? Logs partially submerged? Tall plants? Lots of underwater
plants? Pointy leaves? Colorful flowers? Are there certain creatures
youd especially like to attract? What would invite them
into your pond? Time spent on research will be time well spent!
The more seasons in which you do your research, the more opportunities
youll have to see how things look in the wild.
If you love damp wildflower meadows, perhaps youll want
to plant those species in a sunny bog adjacent to your pond so
that you can grow native wetland wildflowers there. The possibilities
are nearly endless. To the left is shooting star (Dodecatheon
pauciflorum), Indian paint (Castilleja) and buttercup
What are some aquatic plants for use in wildlife
An example of a plant that would be useful planted inside the
perimeter of a wildlife pond is blue flag Iris (Iris missouriensis),
left. Besides having plants inside your pond, a wildlife pond
should have transitional bog areas. The cardinal flower (Lobelia
cardinales), right, is an example of a good bog plant.
Although native plants will best accommodate the critters
that have evolved with them, that doesnt mean that you
cant use plants that pre-exist in your yard, especially
those that are closely related to natives. In the Bigsnest Pond,
a non- native azalea (Rhododendron sp.) provides double
pleasure with its reflection (left).
here for a list of native North American plants that are
appropriate for a wildlife pond.
here for a list and photos of wildlife seen at Bigsnest Wildlife
And click here for a list and photos of wildlife
seen at Dragonfly Roost Pond.
Some examples of wildlife ponds, all of these built in North
America, mostly in California but one from New York, are below.
Dragonfly Roost Pond
Mt. Shasta City Hospital Pond
Once youve decided to create a pond for wildlife, the
next step is to design its perimeter and interior. These steps
will be covered in Part 2, which will follow in the next issue
of WGI Online.
to learn more about Bigsnest Wildlife Pond, 14 years old in 2009.
2: How to Design a Pond for Wildlife
Part 3: Maintaining a Wildlife Pond coming in issue 5.2