Water for Wildlife: Backyard Ponds

Consider A Backyard Pond

If you decide that you want to add a larger water feature, attract a wider variety of wildlife, or add an aesthetically pleasing feature to your land, you should consider a wildlife pond. Backyard water gardens and ponds have become increasingly popular in the last few years, and the options are endless. Even with the large array of sizes, shapes, and designs, creating a simple pond can be cost effective and can attract a variety of wildlife. Remember, however, that a wildlife pond is not the same as an ornate water garden you see advertised in garden stores or magazines. The most effective residential ponds assimilate into an informal yard or garden that has trees and shrubs designed to attract wildlife. If you decide that a wildlife pond is right for you, you’ll need to make some decisions before you start digging.

Planning a Backyard Pond

One of the first things to consider is what type of wildlife you want to attract. A backyard pond can be a simple, shallow pool that attracts primarily birds, a larger deeper pond with plants and waterfalls, or anything in between. Because there are so many options, it is important to consider what wildlife you are trying to attract. Listed below are some of the animals you may find at a wildlife pond, as well as some of their preferences in a pond.


Birds will use even the smallest ponds for drinking and bathing, provided the water is not too deep. A larger pond can also provide for birds, as long as part of the pond has a shallow edge for them to land. Shallow rocks or sand along this area provide a non-slippery surface that birds like. A dripping feature or waterfall is also incredibly attractive to birds.


Amphibians will use a backyard pond and the surrounding vegetation for food, shelter, and breeding. In the wild, frogs and toads lay their eggs in temporary pools or the shallow waters of natural ponds, seeking areas where there are no fish that can eat their eggs. Unfortunately, fish and amphibians do not usually co-exist in a wildlife pond either, so the usual recommendation is to have a fishless pond if you want to attract amphibians.

Once tadpoles develop, they require shallow water so they can successfully come out from the pond. Some amphibians, such as bullfrogs, also need areas of deeper water (up to three feet), where they go underneath rocks and vegetation during winter. However, all amphibians require areas of wet vegetation, rocks, and logs around the pond’s edges to provide cover, shade, moisture, and food.


If you want to add fish to your wildlife pond, it is best to include species that you would find in a natural pond. Many smaller sunfish species or a minnow such as the golden shiner can thrive in a backyard pond. Although exotic fish like goldfish and Japanese koi are popular, they would not survive in your wildlife pond and are really only appropriate in an ornamental pond. Exotic fish, in addition, tend to be more brightly colored and they are more easily spotted (and eaten) by predators. If you are concerned about fish eating your frog and toad eggs or tadpoles, you can increase their survival by providing areas of shallow water and dense submergent plants or rock structures where the eggs and developing tadpoles can hide from predators.

Adding any type of fish to your backyard pond will mean more effort in maintaining water quality, temperature, and an adequate food source. Most fish also require a pond with at least two feet of water, although the exact depth depends on which type of fish you have. In general, it is recommended to add only one inch of fish for every five gallons of water (but remember that fish grow, so try to factor in their adult length).


Many beneficial insects such as dragonflies, damselflies, pond snails and water striders are attracted to a wildlife pond if you put large numbers of flowering plants in or near the pond. Attracting a variety of insects to your pond also means there will be more food for birds, fish, and amphibians.