30 Wildlife Pond Design Ideas for Native Animals & Critters


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30 Wildlife Pond Design Ideas for Small & Large Yards to Attract Native Species

A haven for all sorts of wild animals, wildlife ponds are often final frontiers of survival in developed areas. They serve as a vital source of fresh water for hydration and the reproduction of many amphibians and aquatic insects. When it comes to their design, pond owners can take many liberties. Wildlife ponds can pretty much be any shape and size, though the depth should be at least 2 feet (60 cm) to encourage a well-rounded ecosystem.

For a wildlife pond to effectively attract animals, it should be designed with their needs for protection and shelter in mind. This means making use of many native plant species, with which they are most familiar and may use as a food source. Moreover, the general structure of the pond should permit ease of entry and exit.

The demands of wild animals need not be an impediment to great design. In fact, meeting their needs often results in beautifully naturalized ponds. Below are some attractively executed ideas to guide you!

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Wildlife Ponds with Organic Shapes & Sloping Slides

1)

Garden wildlife pond
Alex Thomson / CC BY-SA 2.0

The most effective wildlife ponds are those with features that mimic conditions in the wild. As the shoreline of natural ponds are seldom ever rigid or straight, those of a wildlife pond can be as organically structured as possible. Curves, narrowed-down sections, and an assortment of angles would create fantastic microhabitats for all sorts of animals. Boulders and roughly finished stone mosaics define the edges of this attractive wildlife pond. A few emergent and floating plants dapple the margins, creating a partially naturalized border. They provide a nice, textural contrast to the rocks and will likely lure in a few adventurous amphibians.


2)

Fenced wildlife pond
Land Between the Lakes KY/TN / No copyright

A curved, sloping edge is another great feature of well-designed wildlife ponds. It’s easy on the eyes and serves a handful of functional purposes. Apart from creating depth levels that cover the needs of both juvenile and adult wild animals, it allows them to enter the depths of the main pond without too much trouble. This slope can be made with a pebbled edge, much like that of a pool. Plants can be placed on just a few selected areas of the edge and in the center of the pond, making the pebbled slope a main visual feature.


3)

Small wildlife pond
far closer / CC BY 2.0

This lined wildlife pond has a slope created by an earthen edge. This helps give the shoreline an organic finish. Marginal grasses and rocks help naturalize the appearance of the exposed liner while blurring the edges of the pond. A few colonies of small floating fronds, likely duckweed, is a key functional component that will greatly benefit herbivorous pond inhabitants and visitors.

Note that the sloping edge is partly cast in shade. This is important as the primary point of entry should be kept cool and inviting. A few floating and emergent plants should ideally be placed there to provide additional protection.


Wildlife Ponds with Fully Planted & Trailing Margins

4)

Wildlife pond with plants
Marcin Konsek / CC BY-SA 4.0

Grasses, ferns, groundcover plants, and large, fleshy fronds dot the margins of this stellar wildlife pond. They open up so many pockets of shelter for wild animals. The roots and submerged structures of emergent plants also provide structural features to protect the pond’s small inhabitants. Tadpoles and fingerlings can benefit from the shade provided by the leaves. These help regulate the pond’s overall temperature as well.  

This pond’s vegetative structures are able to accommodate minor fluctuations (in the drawdown zone) of the water level. If your pond’s slopes easily permit the entry of water during rainfall events, make sure to choose edge plants that can withstand being submerged.


5)

Small wildlife pond with plants
Aravind Sivaraj, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A little bit of texture goes such a long way in wildlife ponds, both ornamentally and functionally. Shoots of flowering plants trail into this pond’s edges, creating an attractive backdrop of greens and spritely reds. Turf serves as groundcover around the rest of the pond, pleasantly contrasting the smoothness of the water’s surface. These marginal features draw one’s attention to the center of the pond, which is dotted with lily pads and their beautiful flowers. Overall, the attention to detail and cohesiveness of the design would undoubtedly lure both human and animal visitors!


6)

Wildlife pond surrounded by trees
Steve Knight / CC BY 2.0

Wildlife ponds are often dazzling displays of greenery, just like their naturally occurring counterparts. A bountiful combination of pond edge, marginal, floating, and submerged plants creates an irresistible refuge that many animals will repeatedly return to. Some may even choose to stay permanently!

As the large trees surrounding this pond likely provide ample shade throughout the day, the margins of the pond need not be covered heavily. Fine grasses work best to provide light, albeit effective, coverage. As the water’s surface is almost wholly covered in greens, pond inhabitants can remain hidden from many external predators.


Wildlife Ponds with a Handful of Floating & Emergent Plants

7)

Pond with fish
Tomwsulcer, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s nothing like a carefully selected lineup of emergent plants to effectively naturalize a pond. With both submerged and exposed features, these plants support animals that thrive on the interface between terrestrial and aquatic habitats.

With a maintained spread, these colonies of emergent plants are likely the very means of survival for fingerlings and seasonally occurring tadpoles. Their submerged portions create a maze-like microhabitat. They also increase the surface area on which algae, as a source of food for many juveniles, can grow.


8)

Tropical wildlife pond
Fresh Waffles / CC BY 2.0

Floating plants can really enhance the appearance of a small pond. In terms of ornamental appeal, they add complexity and texture to the water’s surface. Functionally, their fronds contribute shade, while underwater structures may serve as food and shelter.

The lily pads of this circular pond regulate water temperature and prevent algal colonies from spreading like wildfire. Their abundance and even distribution make up for the lack of marginal plants. They also help the pond blend in with its rich, green surroundings.


9)

Wildlife pond with fish statue
Teyvan Pettinger / CC BY 2.0

The floating lily pads are truly a statement feature of this pond. Its inhabitants can navigate just underneath the water’s surface without the risk of being targeted by overhead predators. Complementing the appearance of the floating fronds are a planted centerpiece and a thick tuft of tall papyrus stems. A fish sculpture that also serves as a water feature (a gentle stream of water is emitted from its mouth) brings everything together. It adds an element of motion to an otherwise still pond surface.

Note that the vegetative coverage is definitely great for inviting wildlife, but it may not be the most ideal for observing ornamental fish.  


Miniature Wildlife Ponds

10)

Miniature wildlife pond
Rusty Clark / CC BY 2.0

Don’t be so quick to dismiss the idea of cultivating a pond if you have limited backyard space. Wildlife ponds can be quite effective even in miniature sizes. What’s more, they can significantly alter the appearance of a garden. A miniature wildlife pond can be a haven in highly urbanized areas, so one is well worth the effort.

The pond shown here makes use of a pre-made structure that can simply be fitted into the ground. Installment of this type of water feature is quite foolproof, especially as the form is already quite secure. A few creeping and emergent plants can be placed along the basin’s edges for color and naturalization.


11)

Wildlife pond with floating plants
Dion Hinchcliffe / CC BY-SA 2.0

Small wildlife ponds can have all the elements of larger ones. An elevated rocky wall, a few sprigs of emergent grasses, a patch of creeping plants growing into one edge, and fairly thick coverage of floating plants make this pond lack for nothing. It achieves a minimalist, yet fully functional, look that gives it an almost Zen-like appeal. As some of the features give the pond vertical dimension, they distract from the notion of limited space.

Note how the creeping plants ever so slightly touch the water’s surface. As the rock edges may be quite jagged or steep, small animals would likely enter and exit the pond with the help of the trailing stems.


12)

Miniature wildlife pond with aquatic plants
Radarsmum67 / CC BY 2.0

Fun and function do go together! This whimsical miniature pond is a pocket of natural delight. The pre-formed, irregular outline is certainly a distinguishing feature, giving the pond lots of character. The selection of quirky sculptures seems to indicate exactly which creatures are invited. Frogs and turtles would gladly take a brief dip and possibly even lay their offspring here. The small floating plants and singular tuft of grass would help oxygenate the water and filter out excess nutrients while serving as food for visiting herbivores.


13)

Miniature pond in bowl
Rictor Norton & David Allen / CC BY 2.0

Even a ceramic bowl can be transformed into a beautiful miniature pond! This humble setup makes room for a tiny fountain that stimulates a gentle current while increasing oxygen levels. A few horsetails and tiny leaf pads naturalize the pond’s appearance and make it more inviting to small animals.

This pond brings to mind all sorts of images. It looks quite like a glorified birdbath or a luxurious pool for a gang of frogs! The surrounding plants would benefit from the spray coming from the raised structure. Also, they would likely draw in pollinators which, in turn, increase the overall biodiversity in the area.


Wildlife Pond Designs with Inorganic Edges

14)

Wildlife pond with rocky edges
Nowis, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This uniformly stony edge is a clean, yet natural, finish for this generously sized pond. Built into one end is a waterfall that harmoniously blends in with the rest of the features. As this pond’s surroundings are covered in vegetation, the texture and color of the stones are a welcome interlude. Just before the edge are a few pots of emergent grasses, which stand in stark contrast to the grey stones. Grasses of a similar build are grown outside of the pond as well, adding an element of seamlessness to the overall setup.


15)

Small garden pond with plants
Odd Wellies / CC BY 2.0

A simple edge made of rock slabs and stones is easy to maintain. Acquisition and installment of these materials are also quite friendly on the pocket. A few sprigs of bright green grasses and distinctly patterned horsetail stems help naturalize the edge’s rough appearance. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of a setup like this one. It can be quite effective at drawing in a wide assortment of animals, especially when situated along a wildlife-friendly corridor located between fragments of pristine habitats.


16)

Small koi pond
Bill Golladay, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ornamental fish ponds, when properly naturalized, can serve as wildlife ponds too. If they can sustain delicate fish, many animals would be drawn in by their clean waters. Boulders along this pond’s edge give it an organic outline and pleasantly complement the blue-green leaf blades of the adjacent grasses. Elaborate stepping stones elegantly split the pond into two areas – one with koi and one with a roofed seating area for peaceful observation.

As the water’s surface is free of floating and emergent plants, the pond’s inhabitants are readily visible. This may not be the safest option for wildlife ponds with prized fish species, but fencing around the area should keep most potential predators away.


Wildlife Ponds with Straight or Fixed Edges

17)

Straight-edged pond with flowers
Mark / CC BY 2.0

There’s something poetic about a straight-edged pond, especially if it is bordered by a dazzling display of spring blooms and tall grasses. The texture and lightness of the edge plants, which can freely dance in a strong breeze, contrast the rigid nature of the straight edges. In the distance is an arch-shaped hedge that marks the far end of the pond. A mix of controlled and freely moving elements make this wildlife pond a natural art piece to remember.


18)

Garden pond with maple tree
James Petts / CC BY-SA 2.0

Seen again here is a mix of both straight edges and naturally curved components. A miniature red maple tree, likely grown using bonsai cultivation techniques, arches over a straight-edged pond.

The floating plants and marginal grasses effectively naturalize this residential garden feature. Wild animals that find themselves lost in this maze of fenced-in homes will definitely be grateful for the sustenance this pond provides. With an abundance of potted plants just beyond the pond’s edge, froglets and insects that have just exited the water have more potential sites for shelter.


19)

Wildlife pond with plants
sonnia hill / CC BY 2.0

This straight-edged, rectangular pond is given a dramatic flair by the stone slabs and well-defined foliage. The raised edge of the pond is just like that of the wildflower bed in the distance. Visitors, both animal and human, would certainly be surprised by the contrast in elements – one “raised island” of green is terrestrial, whereas the other is aquatic. A rustic water container pleasantly offsets the freshness of the emergent plants and emphasizes their healthy, green colors.

It’s important to note that it would be quite challenging for wildlife to enter and exit a raised pond. Regardless, this won’t hold back any truly determined animals!


Wildlife Ponds with Strategically Placed Grasses

20)

Pond with grasses
Arnaud 25, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The cultivation of marginal grasses is one of the most effective means of naturalizing a pond. You can count on wild animals to be quite familiar with the forms and textures of native species. Apart from their natural functions, the grasses here act as a visual border that raises the vertical height of the pond setup.

Cutting through the center of the pond is a bamboo pole that serves as a makeshift holder for a small spitter. Oxygen-loving juveniles, such as tadpoles, will likely revel in the bubbles and mild current generated by this spritz of water.


21)

Pond with lilypads
Irina Gelbukh, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Grasses don’t need to be placed right along margins to be extremely beneficial. Those elevated further along a pond’s edge can effectively shelter wildlife, including those that simply want to take a sip of water or bask in the pond’s mist. The overarching blades are perfect spots for some insects (with aquatic larvae) to lay their eggs. Once they hatch, the larvae can safely fall onto the pond’s surface. The lily pads can cushion the fall, allowing larvae to wriggle into the pond water at their own pace.


22)

Polygonal pond with aquatic grasses
HARTLEPOOLMARINA2014, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A dense tuft of grass serves as a textural focal point of this polygonal pond. Along with other species of grasses with varying heights, it helps soften the pond’s straight edges. The floating plants stand out due to their rounded foliage and delicate pink blooms. The tiled edges, which extend further out to form a stable pathway, afford this wildlife pond an air of grandeur. Dense shrubs and large hedges in the distance rival the textural complexity of the pond itself, giving visitors a breathtaking natural experience.


Wildlife Ponds with Water Features

23)

Wildlife pond with water feature
Pudpuduk / CC BY-SA 2.0

Running water significantly increases a wildlife pond’s attractiveness to animals. The sound of moving water usually signifies cleanliness and oxygenation to them. Moreover, it helps reduce the occurrence of mosquitoes and pathogens associated with stagnant water. This pond’s minimalist waterfall is quite clever as it is blended into the edge. A natural feature like this one can be made by securely stacking slabs of large stones over a pump and tubing.  The larger, light-colored boulders placed behind the waterfall provide a pleasant backdrop that effectively contrasts the aquatic and edge plants.


24)

Wildlife pond with spouter
Gail Frederick / CC BY 2.0

Just a simple fountain can drastically improve the water quality of a wildlife pond, making it more accommodating to a wide variety of animals. Some aquatic insects and amphibians can only thrive and reproduce in freshwater ponds with a current and with high oxygen levels.

Even with a low trajectory and mild force, this singular spouter disrupts enough of the water’s surface to promote gentle movement throughout the pond. The canopy of the adjacent tree casts the fountain in shade, which helps keep the pond water cool and reduces evaporation rates.


25)

Small pond with fountain and waterfall
Kevin Doncaster / CC BY 2.0

With two water features, this pond would definitely attract a whole host of amphibians and thirsty wild animals. The waterfall, which makes use of two shallow basins, can be a microhabitat for small animals that love to bathe in continuously moving water. The pump fountain in the pond’s center takes care of generating a current throughout the pond and increasing oxygen levels.

For a more equitable distribution of water flow, you may opt to space out your water features even more. The fountain here is also a visually appealing centerpiece, however, and the small size of the pond ensures that no water is stagnant.


26)

Pond with a spitter
Les Orchard / CC BY 2.0

This simple wildlife pond is equipped with an edge feature that keeps the water cool and in motion. A turtle spitter sits under the shade of a miniature red maple. Its mouth emits an impressive trajectory of water that is targeted toward the opposing end of the pond. The edge plants appear to be enjoying the pond’s spray.

The profusion of ferns and other herbaceous species, some of which are permanently cast in shade, would certainly keep pond visitors protected and happy. Once they’ve ventured to the water’s edge for a sip, they can retreat to the cover of foliage for safety.


27)

Wildlife pond with waterfall
Cephas, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This richly planted wildlife pond is a dream come true for every water-loving creature that chances upon it. Emergent grasses and lily pads increase structural complexity and help filter out nutrients at the near end of the pond. A stunning waterfall, flanked by beautifully textured stones, draws the eye to the far end of the pond.

Due to the pond’s narrower width relative to its length, there are areas with considerable water flow and pockets with calmer movement. The variance of flow strength, coupled with the variety of structural features, meets the preferences of most aquatic animals.  


Wildlife Pond Designs with Pondside Seating

28)

Garden pond with seating
Mark / CC BY 2.0

The benefits of backyard ponds aren’t simply restricted to wild animals. Humans can enjoy their therapeutic contributions as well. As a well-designed pond is both aesthetically and audibly pleasing, a pondside seating area can increase its value to every observer.

Beautifully bordered by flowering plants, this feast for the senses would be a source of pride for its owner. On the right-hand side is a perfectly suitable pondside setup that does not distract from the pond itself. A mahogany table and chairs, safely perched on a brick floor, would be a perfect place to entertain daytime guests and share a cup of afternoon tea.


29)

Wildlife pond with pondside seating
cultivar413 / CC BY 2.0

A pop of color goes a long way, especially when aquatic plants are a uniform shade of green. As the chairs are a bright shade of aqua, they stand out amidst the highly textural, tall grasses. Arranged around a matching table, their vignetted design makes this pond a splendid spot for casual meetings or for a quick rest after appreciating natural scenery.

You can choose vivid colors for a pondside setup, but keep in mind that wild animals may be turned away by unnatural or intensely bright shades. If working with colors that are not found in nature, opt for minimal pieces that won’t be a significant distraction.


30)

Large wildlife pond
DC Gardens, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes, the most ideal design choices for outdoor features are those that won’t at all draw attention away from nature. A modest wooden bench, blending in with the surrounding shrubs, trees, and stones, ensures that every visitor’s focus is kept on the pond itself. With a flurry of natural colors due to the wildflower blooms and diversity of grasses, the pond does not at all lack complexity, dimension, and color. Viewers will likely be drawn to the bench, simply as a resting area from which to comfortably view this immaculate pastoral sight.

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