The Heron Won

Years ago when we started filling a bird feeder in our carport, I learned an unhappy lesson. One snowy December morning in Bellevue, I looked outside to see an immense snowy owl dining on one of our little birds. Lesson: If you feed little birds, it turns out you end up feeding some big birds as well. The sad fact is, if you feed fish, you end up feeding a few big birds, too.

I’ve been avoiding writing this post for several weeks, but now that several loyal blog readers have written inquiring after the health of The Big Guy, it’s time for me to come clean. Our accidental koi has eaten his last handful of Pond Guy Fish food. The blankety-blank heron finally got him and all our other fish as well.

For those of you unfamiliar the back story of J.A. Jance versus the heron, here it is.

When we bought the house here in 2006, there was a fishpond in the back yard all right, a very leaky fishpond that didn’t hold water. Hence it didn’t hold any fish, either. A couple of years later, when we redid the backyard and installed the garden, we installed fishponds as well, two of them, front and back, both with working waterfalls. Then we went to PetsMart and bought two bags of fish, fifty fish a bag, ten cents a piece. They were tiny goldfish—some orange, some speckled gray, and even a couple of coal black ones, and feeding the fish became my job. I fed them every day and watched them grow from tiny to three or four inches. I loved how they’d come out of hiding when I showed up with the food.

Somewhere along the way, a rock got into the water pump in the back pond, and the resulting oil spill took out the fish, despite our best efforts to save them. When we tried to restock it with a few small fish, a missing screen resulted in the poor little guys getting sucked into the pump. So for years, the back pond stayed empty of fish and remains so today. In the meantime, the fish in the front pond continued to grow and prosper. One in particular, a gray speckled fish, was noticeably larger than the others, enough so that he was given his own name The Big Guy.

Two years or so in, however, the heron showed up—a huge blue heron with immense eyes who loved hanging out down by our fishpond. He’d come flying in low over the house in the early mornings while we were sitting outside on the back porch. I’d jump up in my white bathrobe and go flapping down into the backyard to chase him away. Someone suggested we put a heron statue down by the pond. We did, but to no effect. He would stand right there beside it and fish to his heart’s content.

We tried a motion activated water cannon. It may have nailed the heron a time or two, but it mostly nailed the person who was going down to the pond to feed the fish. Guess who that was?

For Father’s Day our daughter and grandson would bring Grandpa a new bag of fish. Gradually, the price went up. The last I saw, fish that used to cost ten cents apiece now cost a quarter. A few of the little ones hung around long enough to grow to the size of some of the others, but not that many. The heron kept on coming by and grabbing them. The Big Guy, however, who was smart enough to stay out of sight most of the time, kept getting bigger until he was good four or five times the size of all the others. Obviously a single tiny koi had made it into that first batch of ten-cent fish.

For Mother’s Day several years ago, Colt presented me with a Nerf Machine Gun that was powerful enough to send whistling nerf bullets over the pool house and onto the grassy lawn next to the pond. (Colt and his mother were in the aisle at Toys-R-Us discussing the range and fire power of each Nerf weapon when another shopper paused long enough to ask who they were shopping for. “It’s for my Grandma,” he said. “She shoots birds.”)

Well, one bird only, and I can assure you that herons do not whistling Nerf bullets!

The fish went mostly dormant while we were in Tucson for the winters, and when we’d come back I’d do an inventory to see how many of them had survived. This year we were home for the winter, but when spring came around, my annual fish count came up to thirteen, including an orange one, much larger than the others, who mostly hung out with The Big Guy.

Then in the middle of April we left for Tucson to pack up the house. When we came back there were only nine fish left—with no sign of the two big ones. I hoped they were still hiding, but that’s not the case. They’re gone. All of them.

A few days ago, taking the dogs out in the late evening, I discovered that the heron had changed his routine. Rather than dropping by in the mornings when we’d be out there to spot him, he had taken to coming by in the late evenings, just before dusk.

So this is my Requiem for The Big Guy. Rest in peace. You were here for seven plus years, and we enjoyed getting to know you. It’s not easy to admit defeat, but there were no fish among Bill’s Father’s Day gifts this year. We’re done. I’ve packed up my back porch arsenal. We are no longer in the business of providing a sushi bar for the neighborhood heron, so I no longer need to keep my supply of whistling bullets readily at hand. My backyard war is over.

The heron won.

16 thoughts on “The Heron Won

  1. I’m sorry that the fish are gone, but it is a fact of life that each living thing has an enemy. In the days when I still put bird food out for the birds, I would sometimes see a hawk who liked to hang out around the feeder. I stopped putting food out for the birds, but another reason was bears who are a problem here in NW CT.

    I love your grandson’s comment in the store. That woman must imagine you as an Annie Oakley type person. I’m sure the heron has found another pond.

    I haven’t seen the blue heron on the river bank here in a long time. Maybe he’s moved on. No one comes to fish anymore so the trout may be gone here, too.

  2. Sorry about the loss of your fish. But. The story is funny. Just put it under the “Trials and tribulations” of being a pet owner heading. We have had many of those over the years.
    Our pets get frustrated with us, too. We had a big ole GSD when my son was born. He’d watch over Sam (the baby). When Sam was sitting up to eat in his high chair. He was usually fairly neat. Pepper (GSD) would be cleaning up the floor, the tray, and the baby. Unless I got there first. When I did. Pepper would give me a most reproachful look. Now I get it from our cat when we have our granddaughter

  3. I hate when that happens.

    We had a koi pond for a number of years. Awhile back, I looked out the back door and saw what I thought was a red-tailed hawk at the top of the huge tree beyond our yard, grabbed the camera, and took a picture. When I loaded the picture onto the computer and cropped it, there was a large orange and white koi in the bird’s talons. “Oh, no!” I thought, “He’s got my biggest koi!” Went out and covered the whole pond with an ugly net setup.

    But in the process of covering the pond, I thought I saw all the fish. And I had. He got someone else’s koi. It turned out to be not a red-tailed hawk, but an osprey.

  4. I recently read an article where a river otter or otters had somehow come to the Sun Yat Sen Garden in Vancouver and was making his way through their koi pond. I don’t know what the denouement to that story is–whether the otter or the koi won–but it is all part of nature. Sorry the Big Guy became sushi

  5. Love your story telling style, so sorry about the loss of your fish. The only thing that seens to work is screens and somehow the “look” of your landscaped yard isn’t as nice.

  6. Admitting defeat is tough.
    This granny was gifted a pellet gun for my war on squirrels at the bird feeder. Turned out I was a good shot, but appalled my best friend who bought me a Yankee Spinner. That was fun until the squirrels chewed up the cord. The squirrels won here.

  7. No one told me about those big birds. Here, big birds are hawks. I loved watching the birds in the backyard. Sparrows, chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, blue jays, and more. Then hawks and an occasional owl came. Cats also came, then the coyotes and foxes. There’s a Little Blue Heron that comes after dark. I never thought of him as danger to the others; he’s too late anyways.

  8. Hmmm this story is very familiar. Years ago we had a pond in the back yard. My son (a teenager at the time) was quite bored. We’d just moved from Chicago and, of course, there was “nothing to do”. So he went about digging a hole for a pond in the back yard. Filled it and went down to the pet store and purchased a bunch of 10 cent feeders. Years passed and they thrived quite well. We put in a pump but naturally it didn’t last nearly long enough. They thrived anyhow. Several became rathere large — koi like — and became rather tame. I would take fish food out and some would come up right to the edge to take the edibles from my hand. One day I noticed fish parts in the yard. Could not figure out what caused this disaster. Thought it might be the occasional raccoon that passed by. Then a bird showed up in the tree that I could see. It disappeared. Showed up in a very short period of time. Then the light hit in my brain. Watched the bugger dive down, catch a fish and take off. Munching on his “lunch” in the yard and leaving the parts he didn’t like behind. Like you I finally said enough is enough. No more fish in the pond. No more free lunch.

  9. I always love your blogs. And each brings me a special memory of someone or something in my life. This tale reminds me of the bass in our large pond, or small lake. One grew very large. Paul called him Walter, after the fish in “On Golden Pond”.

    Thanks for the memories!??. They are so precious

  10. When I was a kid our next-door-neighbor had a fish pond. And we had a cat who liked to fish. Mrs. B bought some chicken wire and fashioned a cover for her pond. It probably wasn’t lovely to look at but it sure slowed our cat from cleaning out her pond. She never did complain to my folks either. Just solved her problem and lived a let live life.

  11. Loved your blog about your fish pond but sorry the Big Bird won.
    Reminds me of my sister who also had a fish pond in the yard, but their culprit was a raccoon or many raccoons and they ate all the fish in the pond.

  12. I had night herons attacking my pond. I got some window screening, sewed seams down the sides, and inserted pvc pipes in the seams, then laid the screens across the top of the pond (had to make 3 to cover). Saved the fish, and the screens were easy to slide off when I was sitting by the pond.

  13. My friend here in Tucson has a wonderful aquarium in her back yard with a lovely shaded area. She so enjoys feeding the fish, but occasionally, a stray cat manages to make a raid and devour a few fish.

    Still, you have a good story to share with all of us. Thank you!

  14. I now live in a senior living place in Renton. Across the street are 3 huge fir trees. One day I was looking out the window and I could not figure out what was balancing on the very top of the tallest tree. It was windy that day.I watched for a while and finally, the thing flew away. It was a very big heron.

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