Pond Construction For Waterfowl
Photo Aurelien McEvoy Jean
An undisturbed site away from dwellings, farm buildings and roads is by far the best. A pond situated close to an existing roost such as a lake, stands a good chance of attracting some of the local wildfowl for evening time feeding. Choosing a site where duck already want to be will be more successful than a site away from duck “traffic” Please remember that shooting takes place early in the morning and late in the evening so take this into consideration and avoid disturbing neighbors.
If there is a supply of running water and if the ground is suitable, flooding a dammed site is often the easiest way to create a pond. Having a flowing water source in a duck wetland will avoid the formation of ice and be more valuable to waterfowl in times of prolonged low temperatures. Another method of creating a pond is to excavate down to the water table using suitable machinery. This can only be done if the water table is near the surface (this can be checked by digging a test hole and observing whether if fills up with water over a short period). If a pond dries out during the year this is not the end of the world but if it can have water all year it is much better for wildlife. It is important not to destroy other wetland features when creating a pond.
Great care must be taken in deciding on the site for the pond. It is important to ascertain if the creation of this pond will do irreparable damage to existing snipe habitat for example. This is what is known as the “wise use” concept. Ducks like to see out so if the surrounding ground falls away so much the better. For evening flights make sure your shooting direction faces west to gain the full benefit of the setting sun likewise make sure spend shot is not accidentally falling on farms or residences.
It is difficult to be precise on the question of an optimum size for a pond, since ponds of all sizes have varying merits. However, when designing a pond, the general rule should be – make it as large as the ground and finances permit. Very small ponds will often be a waste of time and money. As a rough guideline, we recommend 30m x 30m approximately. The depth of the pond is relative to the type of duck you want to attract. Duck will feed where they can upend so the shallower water the better. Most flight ponds are designed to attract dabbler duck so a maximum depth of 1 meter sloped out to 100mm at the edges is desirable. Remember shallow ponds warm up quicker in springtime increasing invertebrate activity earlier leading to improved brood survival. Smaller duck like teal prefer shallower water so a large overspill area of 100mm depth, even if this only fills in winter is ideal for these sporting little ducks. Many when designing a pond make provision for an Island where ducks can rest and preen themselves in safety. Personally I would prefer to leave them out as they make management difficult and very quickly become look out posts for predators.
One of the most important aspects of a pond is it shape. A pond with an irregular edge with plenty of bays is essential. Try and create a situation where hides can be used no matter which direction the wind is blowing. The more edge created the better ducklings will hide in the vegetation around the edges so increasing these areas will aid protection from predators.
Photo Aurelien McEvoy Jean
Trees such as alder and willow are very easily sown and are fast growing. They provide insect life and encourage invertebrate life in the water which is of great importance for ducklings. By alternating the cutting of willow and alder increases the amount of ground covered and increases the insect life and nesting opportunities. Care should be taken not to allow vegetation to overtake the pond. So trimming back will be required. Bramble is very common and fast growing and offers excellent nesting cover. Please remember while teal will enter a pond through trees and branches mallard will be more reluctant to so keep access open on the west side if possible. Over hanging trees keep frost away giving birds access in harsh weather keep this in mind as birds quickly take advantage of such a situation.
Some common plants that are advantageous to waterfowl include:
Common bulrush (seeds eaten by Mallard, good cover value); Reed Grass; Soft Rush; Sedges; Yellow-flag Iris; Marsh Marigold and seeds of buttercup all provide excellent natural feed sources. Mares Tail – seed eaten by Mallard Good cones attracts insect life. Water Crowfoot ditto. Stonewort good in shallow bays. Duckweed – eaten by mallard. Frog bit – eaten by mallard
Duck nest tubes
Predation is a huge issue for breeding mallard. The main predators are invasive North American mink and fox along with avian predators such as hooded crow and magpie. While hunters aim to create a predator vacuum during the breeding season the sheer numbers of predators is quite often a problem. Duck tubes have reportedly a success rate of 60% this is a great return, combined with an effective targeted predator control program it will produce a harvestable surplus for hunters to share. Duck nest tubes are a great addition to any flight pond. Providing the right conditions and a safe nesting site it is a simple method to improve waterfowl numbers in the locality.
Artificial feed in the shallow water will attract ducks into the pond. Grain is always acceptable and potatoes are sometimes used. Extreme caution is advised when feeding potatoes to ducks, as left over will attract vermin and also can be the source of pollution. As a rough guide, a 2 gallon bucket of grain per 100 ducks per day should be sufficient. For Teal rape seed is excellent and both the size and oil content make it very acceptable. Indeed a mix of grains such as wheat, barley, oats and oil seeds may pay advantage over a single species. Tailings and screenings are often available from grain merchants during harvest time and usually contain enough grain to provide feed for ducks. Over-feeding will result in birds becoming slow to arrive for evening flight or can lead to the pond becoming a “day roost”. Feeding should be regular and late in the day. If there is food left over, cut back immediately as surplus food is money wasted. The aim for evening shooting is to provide just enough so birds to arrive early thus increasing the chances of some sport. When feeding a pond it is of great benefit for feed birds after the end of the hunting season. Female duck reaching the breeding season in better condition have greater success and rear bigger broods. While expensive look on this as an investment in the future. Encouraging plants that provide natural feed is a good idea. Rush seeds and those of the buttercup are readily eaten by waterfowl encouraging these plants can only increase waterfowls use of a newly constructed pond.
Extreme caution is advised when feeding potatoes to ducks, as left over will attract vermin and also can be the source of pollution.
Careful attention should be paid to regular feeding in hard weather. In years past, a temporary ban was put on shooting all wild fowl by the Minister of the day due to hard weather. We urge every sports man or woman to use their own discretion and stop shooting in such weather conditions if they feel it is necessary. The benefit or otherwise will be seen in following years.
Shooting on flight ponds should not be more than once every two weeks. We recommend to start early and finish early so as not to break the habit of the duck flight. It is imperative that a well-trained retriever is used for the collection of shot or wounded ducks to ensure that all birds end up on the dinner table. Remember, it is not the size of the “bag” that counts, it is the pleasure of being out. A flight pond is a treasure and must not be abused it will give pleasure year round as you watch it become colonised by different flora and fauna. Waterfowl are magnificent birds and taking a harvestable surplus is sustainable, abusing this resource is inexcusable. The requirement of good Game Management is habitat, food and predator control, in that order. Remove any one of these three elements, and your stock of game is under severe pressure. We urge you to invest some of your time and money in your sport to maintain and improve on those three important factors.
Duck Propogation - PDF document of the above Instructions
NARGC support to clubs in constructing Duck Ponds etc, link below;
NARGC Irish Habitat Grant criteria and application form