What’s Happening in YOUR Yard?

What's Happening in YOUR Yard This Fall?

Late summer means a surge in calls to WildCare's Living with Wildlife Hotline 415-456-7283, and three of the most common questions involve raccoons, foxes and crows.

Young raccoon exploring a lawn. Photo by Shelly Ross

1. Raccoons are tearing up my lawn! Why is this happening, and what can I do about it?

This is a very common question this time of year, and what our hotline operators tell callers is that they don't actually have a raccoon problem, they have a grub problem!

A well-watered lawn offers prime habitat for the larvae of different types of scarab beetles, like Japanese Beetles or so-called "June bugs". The beetles lay their eggs during the summer, and the larvae (grubs) hatch right about now.

Raccoons have excellent hearing, and as they cross your lawn during their nightly foraging rounds (eating mice, rats, snails, crickets and other garden pests!) the sound of the tasty fat grubs moving around under the lawn is irresistible!

To further complicate matters, at this time of year the baby raccoons from this past spring are now rambunctious "teenagers" and their mother needs to teach them how to forage for food on their own. Food sources like grubs are easy pickings, so Mom makes a point to bring her brood to a grub-filled lawn to demonstrate how to dig for these tasty morsels.

After raccoons have been there. Photo by Kate Lynch

What can you do about it? First, change your lawn watering schedule. Grubs come up to the surface and become more active when there is moisture. Raccoons are most active at night (although at this time of year, you may see the occasional group of juveniles playing in your backyard during the day while mom is sleeping).

Watering during the night means the grubs are at their most noisy just as the raccoons are passing through. Change your sprinklers to spray after dawn and your yard won't be as attractive to wandering raccoon families.

Second, use beneficial nematodes! Getting rid of the grubs is the best way to permanently discourage the raccoons.

Obviously you don't want to use toxic pesticides, so organic gardeners and followers of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) principles recommend adding these microscopic roundworms to your soil. The nematodes invade the grubs and kill them, without harming you, the soil or wildlife.

Note that beneficial nematodes can take a couple of weeks to take effect. Learn more about beneficial nematodes here.

Third, in conjunction with the first two suggestions, try deterrents. The Scarecrow Sprinkler (buy it here http://amzn.to/2okHhSR) is a motion-activated sprinkler that sends a heart-stopping spray of water across your yard when it senses motion. It can be effective against digging raccoons, but you'll need to move the Scarecrow around regularly, as intelligent raccoons quickly become used to it. Strobe lights, loud noise and scent deterrents may also help.

Young Gray Fox in his den under the porch. Photo by Al Ramadan

2. "My backyard is full of bits of mice. I know I have a family of foxes nearby, but what's up with the icky bits of their food everywhere?"

If you're lucky enough to have your yard chosen by a family of Gray Foxes, all we ask is that you take pictures!

These wonderful animals love to find a protected backyard to raise their kits, and they seem to especially enjoy lounging on your patio furniture (and eating any rodents in the vicinity!)

Few things are as charming as watching baby Gray Foxes playing, pouncing and learning to hunt. But as the kits get older, callers report that they're finding bits of mouse and other prey items scattered around their yards.

Photo by Susan Mark

You can thank the diligent care of the father fox for that!

The youngsters are just now growing in their adult teeth, but as those teeth come in, Dad needs to "cut up" their food for them.This translates into lots of meaty bits strewn around the yard.

Don't worry, very soon, as the kits finally develop their adult teeth, they'll be ready to leave their protected nursery (your patio) and start hunting with their parents.

Note that foxes are very curious, but they're also shy. If you see them staring at you while they roam the neighborhood, they aren’t squaring off for a fight or trying to intimidate you, they’re simply checking you out.

3. "All the crows in my neighborhood look awful! They're all mangy and grubby looking. Are they sick?"

If the crows (and ravens!) in your neighborhood aren't looking their sleek black selves, it's not because they're ill. Late summer is when these birds molt, replacing old, worn-out and broken feathers with shiny, silky new ones.

Molting happens now, when this spring's baby crows have grown up enough to not need constant care, and the demands on the parent crows' resources are lower. There's still plenty of food around, and it's usually warm too, so suffering through a few "bad hair days" with missing feathers isn't deadly.

Keep watching, and within the next few weeks you'll see your crow neighbors looking sleek, glossy and waterproof again.

4. "Speaking of crows, what's up with the huge "gangs" of crows I'm seeing these days?"

Another frequently-asked question in late summer/early fall!

Crows are social animals, and they enjoy each other's company. Most of the birds in those big flocks are this year's youngsters, now able to fly, forage and socialize. If you've seen packs of pre-teens at the local mall, this is a similar phenomenon.

Young birds get together to play, squabble, chase and learn together, creating big, noisy flocks that seem to stretch on forever. Watch as winter comes for these groups to get smaller as the crows find mates and territories of their own.

Do you have other wildlife questions? Call WildCare's Living with Wildlife Hotline at 415-456-SAVE (7283) for advice!

6 Comments

  1. Nancy Caciola on August 30, 2018 at 2:38 pm

    I had a family of grey foxes in my yard last year ~ vixen, reynard, and 4 adorable little kits. And yes: at a certain point, lots of mouse and squirrel bits began appearing in the yard as the kits grew older; about 3 weeks after that started, they moved on.
    Much as I disliked finding those animal parts it was well worth it, given how much fun it was to watch the kits tumble all over one another for the 2 months they were here. And I’m proud to say that all 4 kits made it to maturity: I used to do a little headcount every evening. Glad I was able to do my part to offer shelter to this beautiful family.



    • Alison Hermance on August 30, 2018 at 3:43 pm

      Great story! Thank you for sharing!



  2. Richard Fisk on August 30, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    Thanks for this informative article, and for the all good work you do!



  3. Ruth on August 30, 2018 at 3:21 pm

    Thanks for all this information. It really is helpful. I have a fox that sometimes just stands and watches me from a distance for maybe 10 minutes. It is a little unnerving except I do not feel threatened, but definitely “checked out.” I took a photo of him one day when he was on the deck foraging, and there were tons and tons of orbs around him, which meant he has some spiritual company. Very nice.



  4. Tracy on August 30, 2018 at 8:49 pm

    Thank you for these insights! I was just wondering about the crows and thinking they may have mites – good to know it’s just a phase. A friend had a family of foxes in their yard for a good month before something got to the kits. They were adult cat size by then too. The mother or father began barking non stop one night and the
    next day no pups were to be seen. Any thoughts on what animal would take 4 good size kits? I believe there has been a wild cat heard in the area as well as bobcat. Do the parent foxes chose a different den following an attack?



    • Alison Hermance on August 30, 2018 at 9:28 pm

      Oh dear, that is a sad story! We suspect it is unlikely that a predator got all four fox kits, especially if they were nearly grown. It is more likely that one kit was taken (a Coyote or Bobcat could be the culprit) and the parents moved the rest of their brood away from an area that now felt unsafe. It is possible that the parent foxes may return to that den, but it’s more likely that they will choose another site for next year’s litter.