How to Design Garden Ponds to Attract Song Birds & Wildlife Guide (updated)
Your backyard pond doesn’t just have to be for fish – in fact, attracting birds and other wildlife can enrich and aid the ecosystem as whole, making it an even better environment for your fish to thrive. Depending on the species, birds perform a variety of functions, including dispersing seeds and pollinating plants both in your pond and garden, helping to control the insect population, and waterfowl can prevent vegetation from overtaking the water by utilizing it to create nests and roosting platforms.
Predatory birds, such as owls and hawks, can keep pests like moles out of your garden, but your pond may need some form of protection to keep them from predating on your fish. The size of your pond and where you live will determine the kinds of birds that you attract, but you’ll likely see some species of waterfowl, hummingbirds, songbirds, and perhaps some predatory birds if the area isn’t too populated or developed.
How to Attract Birds to Garden Ponds (Top Tips & Methods)
How to attract birds to your pond will, again, depend on your location and the types of birds that you wish to attract and are also adapted to your region. Nonetheless, a plethora of methods can be implemented to entice avian friends to call your backyard home or at least make it a suitable stopover point during their daily or seasonal travels.
1) Draw In Insects
While trying to bring in insects may inherently seem like an undesirable thing to do, and counter-intuitive to creating a healthy pond ecosystem, quite the contrary is true. Insects can aid in plant pollination, and provide food for fish, birds, and other wildlife. Toward the bottom of the food chain, insects are necessary for almost any properly functioning environment. They provide a very valuable source of protein and fats for a variety of bird species, particularly juvenile ones that are developing quickly and require a nutrient rich diet. Some insects, such as dragonflies and caddisflies, will show up on their own as adults and lay their eggs in your pond, provided the water quality is good and you have shallow areas with substrate, rocks, or plants for them to attach their eggs to. These species are also indicators of a healthy system, so if you see them around you’re doing great!
You should also plant native plants, which will attract some insects to munch on the leaves, seek out shelter from heat, and collect dew from the foliage, and others will come for the pollen if they’re flowering plants. Furthermore, avoid using any insecticides, as these will obviously kill off most insects and could harm anything else that in turn eats those insects.
2) Add Plenty Of Plants (Aquatic & Terrestrial)
On the topic of plants, you’ll be exponentially more likely to entice birds to your pond if you have a variety of native plants. These should include aquatic plants (including submerged, floating, and marginal), as well as grasses, shrubs, flowers, and trees. Waterfowl will utilized the aquatic plants and the grasses for food, cover, and nesting material.
Songbirds will make use of the shrubs, flowers, trees, and will forage about in the grasses for seeds and insects. Hummingbirds will capitalize on just about anything with nectar-rich flowers and tube-shaped or funnel-like corollas, such as columbines, bee balms, foxgloves, and petunias, among others. In addition, most birds will get some sort of use out of trees, whether for roosting, nesting, hiding from predators, or consuming buds or any fruit that they may produce.
3) Create Shallow Sections
Having a shallow section to your pond that is no more than two or three inches deep is not only good for emergent plants as well as some species of fish, but birds (and insects!) as well.
Waterfowl, and dabbling ducks (such as mallards and teals) in particular, will, as their name implies, dabble about in the water and substrate in search of seeds, tubers, roots, insects, and macroinvertebrates. Passerines will bathe in the shallow water, using it to clean themselves, drink, and cool off. Add in some large, flat rocks for them to perch on as well, and you have a fantastic little bird bathing and relaxing hotspot.
4) Improve Water Quality
Obtaining and maintaining good water quality is mentioned in many of our articles, and for a reason – its importance really cannot be understated. Good water quality means that your plants will thrive, algae will be kept at a minimum, invasive plant species will be less able to establish themselves, and all of these things in combination means attracting high quality pollution-intolerant insects, which in turn will attract frogs, birds, and other beneficial wildlife.
Providing aeration and steady water flow will help with this as well by not allowing water to stagnate and incorporating more dissolved oxygen into the water. However, make sure to keep the shallow areas of the pond relatively calm, as too turbid of water will deter birds.
5) Avoid Excessive Mowing
You can continue to mow your yard (if that’s something that you do), of course making sure that the clippings don’t end up in the water, as these will add nutrients to the water and encourage algal blooms. However, you should avoid mowing about a meter wide strip around the pond. This will allow for plants to grow around the pond, providing food and cover for birds.
If a bird spots suitable habitat such as this while flying, it’s likely to drop in and check it out, perhaps staying or returning later to establish itself there. If things become too overgrown for your liking, you can simply manually cut some of the plants back, making sure to compost them away from your pond so they don’t wind up decomposing in the water and causing nutrient overload or oxygen depletion.
Building or purchasing nest boxes near your pond can attract an assortment of bird species. Of course, different birds prefer different types of nest boxes, so you’ll have to figure out which birds you’d prefer to appeal to and incorporate the appropriate nest box.
For example, some species of ducks prefer large boxes placed either several meters up in a tree or on a stand of some sort, wrens and chickadees need smaller nest boxes located near a forest or at least some protective shrubs so that they can feel safe, and bluebirds require nest boxes that face east toward an open grassy area for easy entry and exit and plenty of ground foraging opportunity.
7) Create Micro-habitats
This step is simpler than it likely sounds, and merely means incorporating a few habitat types around your pond to attract as many different types of birds as possible. For example, on one side of your pond, you could plant trees and shrubs, while another side could be left open and grassy, and yet another could be a flower garden, marshy area, or a flat area with rocks and gravel. All of these different areas will attract a variety of different birds, making your pond and garden wildlife much more diverse.
You may need to research and experiment a bit here, as the birds native to your area may prefer particular types of habitats, and actively avoid others.
This one may seem a bit obvious, but adding bird feeders is just about a foolproof way to draw birds to your pond. Primarily, these would include seed feeders for passerine birds, and nectar feeders for hummingbirds and the like. Make sure to not have these too close to your pond, as any food that drops out will end up in your water and could damage water quality over time, or your fish if they try to consume it.
You can also add some bird baths close to your pond, preferably near shallow sections of pond water. Once birds become accustomed to using the bird bath in their new environment, they may start using the shallow areas of pond water near the banks in the future!
Considerations When Attracting Birds To Garden Ponds (Predators & Waste)
While birds provide many essential ecosystem functions and can truly add to your backyard pond and/or garden, there are some potential drawbacks and challenges. To begin, some birds (particularly waterfowl) may find your fish to be a tempting treat, so you may need to put measures in place. These can include draping netting over your pond that’s large enough to let small birds as well as insects and frogs through, but too small to let in waterfowl or other predatory birds. Adding in plenty of hiding areas for fish via plants, logs, rocks, or even PVC shelters will give your fish spaces to take cover where birds can’t see them. Placing decoy herons (NOT decoy ducks, as ducks will draw waterfowl in – herons are natural competitors with waterfowl, and they tend to stay away from one another) will help to keep them out of the deeper portion of the pond where your fish are located.
In addition, birds will likely defecate in the water, adding to waste and nutrient buildup. You’ll need to have reliable filtering equipment, and keeping your pond well aerated will prevent the waste from stagnating. In addition, aquatic plants will help to soak up and cycle the nutrients so that they don’t build up too much.
Another concern is the spread of disease, parasites, and bacteria. These can be carried within the bird and passed through waste, or carried externally on the bird’s feet and feathers, and thus transferred from one pond to the next. Most natural water bodies and their native inhabitants have evolved to deal with these things, but manmade garden ponds with fish stocks may be less ecologically sturdy and often need a helping hand in preventing and fending off these potential threats. Larger water bodies tend to be more diverse, and thus more adept at dispelling these hazards, so if you have a relatively small pond, you may want to limit how many as well as the types of birds that you try to attract (i.e. small passerines with small home ranges as opposed to waterfowl that have large ranges and as such have been to many aquatic habitats besides your pond and are more likely to spread things).