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Plus points and pitfalls of ponds

In the final one of his three articles on keeping waterfowl in the garden, PHILIP SCHOFIELD looks at the pros and cons of constructing a pond for your ducks

A good example of a home-made pond, with a bunch of Bahama pintails to boot!A good example of a home-made pond, with a bunch of Bahama pintails to boot!

IN MY previous two articles, I looked at a number of ways to house ducks in your garden. However, there is one more way of keeping ducks, but it is fraught with difficulties and can only work in special circumstances.
A very large, natural pond can hold pinioned ducks of the diving species, even if it is not fenced. Diving ducks are more aquatic than dabblers, and if they have half an acre of water they are likely to stay there. A few small domestics such as call ducks will help to “anchor” the divers.

Drawbacks to this system

  • If there is any outflow to a watercourse, one day your ducks will swim away down it.
  • If the pond freezes completely in winter, the ducks will be at the mercy of foxes.
  • There is always a risk of predation by otters and mink.

Step-by-step construction
It is easy to go wrong with pond construction and we all have different ideas. I will describe what works for me, in easy stages:

1. Dig a saucer-shaped hole. This shape makes it easy for ducks to walk in and out and prevents small birds from drowning. Even a chicken can get out of this sort of pond – chickens often fall into old sinks and drown when these are being used for ducks. The hole should be on relatively high ground to allow for drainage and reduce the amount of mud that gets walked into it on the ducks’ feet. I usually bank up the earth as I dig it out, so that part of the pond is actually above ground level. A concrete edge at least 30cm (1ft) wide is desirable.
A pond in an aviary should be well away from the sides if small birds are to be included, otherwise a finch, dove, parakeet or whatever, could be frightened from its perch at night, crash into the wire, fall in the water and drown before it knows what is happening – even the saucer-shaped pond will not completely prevent this kind of accident.
2. Line the hole to a thickness of about 10cm (4in) with “ballast”, a mixture of sand and gravel. Using a spirit level, make a lip to allow the water to overflow in whatever direction is most convenient.
3. Mix up three parts of ballast to one part of cement and line the hole with this to another 10cm (4in) thick.
4. Leave the concrete for a week to set, covered with sacking if the weather is unduly hot or cold.
5. Make a fairly “wet” mix of cement with a small amount of sand and plaster it over last week’s rough concrete, trowelling to achieve whatever “finish” suits your taste.
6. Leave for another week, scrub well and rinse with water to release any free lime, add water and ducks.

Advantages of concrete

  • You can make it whatever shape you like, subject to the basic saucer cross-section.
  • It can be made to look more “natural” than a flexible liner, and you don’t have to weight the edges down with anything.
  • Nothing can puncture concrete. Over the years I have had a polythene liner punctured by a poodle (which fell in) and a butyl sheeting liner irreparably damaged by couch grass (which grew through it).
  • You can stand on concrete when cleaning out your pond, without fear of damaging it.

Ponds require regular cleaning
My ponds are cleaned out once a week, with a hose left on for a short while every day. The latter enables a partial change of water and prevents any scum building up on the surface – also, the ducks enjoy it. The bigger the pond, the more work is involved in cleaning it out and you need to remember that ducks do better on a small clean pond than a large dirty one. A pond in an aviary, for one pair of ducks, needs only be about 1.2m (4ft) across and 0.3m (1ft) deep. Even the diving species can function very happily with a depth of 0.6m (2ft).

Wildfowl in an open enclosure must be pinioned. Most breeders pinion their birds in infancy, unless full-winged ones have been specially ordered. It is a good idea to check that any ducks you buy have been pinioned – and pinioned properly. It is also a good idea to get someone with experience to look at them for you.

Full-winged birds are likely to fly away, however contented they may be at ground level, as instinct will take over when they are airborne. Also they will feel unable to land in a confined space and then you will have broken the law by releasing non-native species.

Ducks love routine
Wildfowl become tame through experience. My own birds know that there are parts of enclosure I almost never visit, I use the same route through the pen when feeding and they know what I am going to do. If I come carrying the yellow bucket they congregate around the food trough, anticipating corn and pellets.

If I have the blue bucket they all get on the pond for the water weed they know will be tipped there. If I start throwing bits of wholemeal bread they watch where each piece falls and run for it. If I’m carrying the landing net they bunch together and look worried, because somebody is going to be caught. The duck that runs and hides when you first get it will sit calmly and look at you a few weeks later, when it knows how you are likely to behave.

 


Philip Schofield has kept birds since 1967. He is a council member of the Avicultural Society, and Breeding Registrar for the Foreign Bird Federation.


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