24 Small Wildlife Pond Designs (Eco-friendly)

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Wildlife ponds are great additions to both rural and urban gardens because they provide many ecosystem services that aid in both the conservation and recovery of vulnerable plants and animals. The water features, which are typically designed to look as “natural” as possible, act as a form of shelter, source of hydration and food, and spawning site for amphibians, birds, small reptiles, and mammals that venture outside of their wild habitats. Typically shallow as they are not made to house ornamental fish, their physical features need not be elaborate nor require laborious maintenance. Browse through the designs below to get some creative inspiration for a small wildlife pond!

Like small, temporal ponds found in the wild, your very own animal-friendly garden pond should be free of overhanging edges and sharp, potentially dangerous materials. A grassy edge and a few marginals along the shallows should invite many pond visitors.


Wildlife pond with flowering marginals
m o n c h o o h c n o m / No copyright

To add some visual appeal to your wildlife pond, don’t hesitate to cultivate a few flowering marginals and floating plants. As much as possible, these should be native to your region. Plants that are unfamiliar to wild animals may deter them from coming too close to your pond.


Wildlife pond with human-like figure
Karen Blakeman / No copyright

Feel free to add quirky elements to a wildlife pond. You may also wish to attract specific animals, yet deter others. In a garden containing vegetable patches, for example, you may wish to repel certain birds yet welcome harmless amphibians. A human-like figure on the edge of the pond, likely to be ignored by lizards and terrapins, may discourage large animals from coming too close.


Pond with floating plants
The Fun Chronicles / No copyright

Patches of floating plants can be placed right next to the wildlife pond’s edge. This should help protect small amphibians as they enter and exit the pond. Juvenile fish, reptiles, and amphibians are likely to hide beneath the floating foliage.


Pond with wildflowers and grasses
Mark / CC BY 2.0

A wide border of towering wildflowers and native grasses can transform the look of a wildlife pond and increase its appeal to wild animals and pollinators. Both susceptible animals and small predators may hide amongst the upright stands.


Wildlife pond
Eljay / CC BY 2.0

Various growth forms of plants can be situated next to one another to simulate natural biodiversity. Structural richness should increase the number of microhabitats that open up specialized niches for wildlife.


Pond in garden with waterfall
daryl_mitchell / CC BY-SA 2.0

Though oxygenating water features, such as a waterfall or fountain, are not crucial in wildlife ponds, their presence definitely won’t hurt! In fact, they’ll invite aquatic insects that favor conditions in the riffle zones and aerated pockets of wild streams. These insects and their young should, in turn, provide higher trophic levels with high-quality nutrients.


Pond in garden
Karen Roe / CC BY 2.0

Small wildlife ponds need not be circular or found on their own. They can be part of a larger network of garden ponds. They can also be square-shaped, triangular, L-shaped, and more! Settle on a shape and size that befits your property the most.


Small lined pond
Les Orchard / CC BY 2.0

Though wildlife ponds usually have an earthen pond bottom, they can also be made using pre-formed basins or they may be lined with a non-porous material. These should prevent water from seeping into the surrounding zones of your garden, especially if the substrate in your area is unsuitable for permanent ponds.


Turtles basking on log in pond
Katja Schulz / CC BY 2.0

Logs, fallen branches, emergent boulders, and large pieces of natural debris should attract basking reptiles. These should also provide surfaces on which beneficial microbes may form colonies. Distribute these around the wildlife pond to create zones for sunbathing and rest.


Stone slabs around garden pond
vegaj / CC BY 2.0

If you have a lot of leftover stone slabs or bricks just lying around the garage or garden, you can place these around a wildlife pond for some structure and color. Tufts of emergent plants, placed on select corners, should aid animals as they enter and exit the pond.


Pond with sloping edges
Puddin Tain / CC BY-SA 2.0

The most effective wildlife ponds are usually those with sloping edges. These are more likely to mimic natural conditions, encouraging both small and large pond visitors to take a drink and venture into the pond itself. Organisms that hatch in ponds like this one should have no issues exiting its perimeter.


Floating plants in pond
Harry Wood / CC BY-SA 2.0

Small floating plants, like duckweed and mosquito fern, meet the dietary preferences of a wealth of freshwater amphibians, reptiles, and their young. In the wild, the spread of these plants is controlled by grazing activity, water flow, and seasonal changes in water parameters.


Ferns around pond
satanoid / CC BY 2.0

Ferns in between clumps of bordering rocks can create shady pockets of life where water-loving plants and tiny critters may hide. Keep in mind that the edge of the pond itself is a crucial habitat for many creatures.


Wildlife pond
Conall / CC BY 2.0

“Mature” wildlife ponds, which are self-sustaining and generally safe for pond visitors throughout the year, are great spots for curious observation. Don’t hesitate to place a chair or two along one edge, for your very own comfort. You and your family members will love observing ducks, frogs, and more as they make the most of your pond’s contents!


Pond with sloping edge
amber_h / CC BY-SA 2.0

Interested in drawing slightly larger mammals to the pond’s edge? Leave one sloping side free of plants. Cats, deer, raccoons, and rabbits are likely to remain perched on this edge as they sneak a refreshing drink.


Younger aquatic plants growing in bucket
Nic / CC BY 2.0

Younger tufts of aquatic plants may be situated in a raised basin or bucket, at least until they develop stronger features and can sustain mild grazing. Keep in mind that your wildlife pond will likely be rife with herbivores obtaining their food from natural sources. Young plants may be the most desirable treats due to their soft tissues.


Ornamental wildlife pond
Elliott Brown / CC BY 2.0

No rule states your wildlife pond can’t be made to look as eye-catching and visually rewarding as an ornamental pond. Just keep in mind that to be deemed attractive by wildlife, these need to have natural edge materials with varied levels, a diversity of aquatic plants, and heavily planted borders.


Squirrel on pond stone
Gareth Williams / CC BY 2.0

Stones of all sizes are great for both the shallow and deep zones of wildlife ponds. Those with emerging surfaces will often be used as a stairway, perching, or basking spot, whereas fully submerged ones can create little crevices and gaps where a wealth of small animals may thrive. If you ever find yourself close to a rocky natural pond, try to flip over some rocks. You’ll find that worms and all sorts of critters make their shelter beneath them.


Wildlife pond with flowering marginals
Alex Thomson / CC BY-SA 2.0

Aim to plant some flowering marginals in key areas of the pond. Apart from adding seasonal beauty to the pondside, these should attract butterflies and moths that will, in turn, attract insectivores.


Trees around pond
allen watkin / CC BY-SA 2.0

Moisture-loving trees and shrubs should create intricate root networks that aid in minimizing erosion along the shoreline of small to large wildlife ponds. As the pond’s water level is likely to rise and fall with the seasons, make sure to choose species that can tolerate brief flooding and dry periods.


Emergent grasses in pond
thatredhead4 / CC BY 2.0

Go big on emergent grasses. The submerged portions of their stalks can create an extensive maze through which juvenile amphibians, insect larvae, and small fish may feed and hide. Their aerial portions create a dappled shade and may act as soft landing spots for small waterfowl and insects.


Pond with creeping plants
Dion Hinchcliffe / CC BY-SA 2.0

Moisture-loving creeping plants, particularly those with highly textural foliage, are perfect for the sloping edges of wildlife ponds. Apart from stabilizing the shoreline, their trailing mats can act as gentle footpaths for a wealth of animals.


Fish pond with hanging foliage
Leonora (Ellie) Enking / CC BY-SA 2.0

Overhanging branches and dangling foliage are fantastic for increasing insect biodiversity levels around the pond. Many semi-aquatic animals may lay their eggs on dangling foliage, from which their young may fall to the surface of the pond and lie in its waters until they are ready to metamorphose on the pond’s edges.

Final Thoughts

Wildlife ponds are great for both inexperienced and seasoned pondkeepers because they leave much room for error and can be designed in all sorts of ways. Of course, the main thing to keep in mind is the pond should be as environmentally friendly as possible. Gardens with wildlife ponds are crucial in increasingly fragmented zones, where species that venture far from their natural habitats require clean water and food to survive. It’s often quite useful to try and think like an animal as you attempt to design a wildlife pond!

Angeline L
About the author

Angeline L

I'm a passionate researcher and scuba diver with a keen interest in garden plants, marine life, and freshwater ecology. I think there’s nothing better than a day spent writing in nature. I have an academic and professional background in sustainable aquaculture, so I advocate for the responsible production of commercial fish, macroinvertebrates, and aquatic plants.

Read more about Pond Informer.

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