People usually like birds. They’re cute, colorful, and make music. But it’s a different story when you see a flock of birds pecking away at your lawn. Here’s how to prevent your lawn from becoming a Hitchcockian nightmare using methods you probably never thought of!
A Bird’s-Eye View of Your Lawn
Let’s start with a little bit of avian psychology. Most birds in your backyard will be insect-, seed-, or fruit-eating songbirds. Their sharpest senses will be sight and hearing, and they will want to leave the moment they sense a predator. Their mindset is “eat and run (fly).”
Non-songbirds are another story. Crows can be particularly threatening for several reasons. One is that they travel in groups called “murders”—name aside, that’s an intimidating bunch of birds. Another is that crows are smart; they will figure out any tricks sooner rather than later. Crows can also gang up (“mob”) and attack their enemies if they’re feeling confident. They are still in your yard for the same reason other birds are: food.
If you have cherries or other small fruits that a bird can eat and fly away with, they will probably do exactly that. When a bird digs up your lawn, they are likewise looking to dine and dash. Use this simple psychology to figure out why birds are on your lawn and how to get rid of them.
How to stop Birds Digging up Your Lawn
Speaking of roots, newly-planted seeds are also a good food source for some birds. Again, they’re being opportunistic. Buy bird netting and put it over the areas of your lawn that you want to reseed.
Turn On the Sprinklers
If you want to get birds off your lawn and happen to have a sprinkler system set up, the quickest way to get rid of them is to turn the sprinklers on. The sudden burst of water will startle them enough to make them fly away.
Some companies have taken this to the next level by making motion-activated sprinklers. This can be so effective that any pests will ignore the area on subsequent visits. Brands such as Havahart and Orbit make motion-activated sprinklers that startle any critter that comes by.
Bear in mind that birds are smart enough to figure out when timers go off, so using a timed sprinkler setup will not do. Some may even see it as a free bath!
Birds live in a world of sight and sound. Many birds on your lawn will fly off at the slightest sound of something threatening. If you have an outdoor speaker system, now is an excellent time to play the music that would make others beg you to turn it down!
Other good ways to scare birds away with sounds include motion-activated sensors that sound like barking dogs or play distress calls. Fireworks work. Rattling and clanging are often intimidating enough to scare most birds away. Most birds want an easy meal and won’t risk encountering a predator.
But what if you want a solution that won’t annoy the neighbors every time a jay picks at your grass? Many companies make ultrasonic bird repellents. These make sounds above 20K Hz, which is outside the range of human hearing. Note that crows can’t hear these either, though! Their hearing is exactly as bad as ours.
Invisible Ink, String, and Flashing Lights
Speaking of sensory differences, birds also see light differently from humans. Our human eyes can only see a narrow slice of the full spectrum with 3 cones that let us see colors (the RGB part of the spectrum is how you can read this article). Many birds have 4 cones in their eyes. The extra cone lets them see wavelengths of ultraviolet light—a rare feat for mammals (reindeer are among the few who can).
Many products on the market take advantage of a bird’s ability to see UV light. The most common use of this is to keep birds from crashing into windows, but the same difference in vision can make fishing lines an effective deterrent. If you don’t want birds perching on or crashing into something, communicate with them in a way they can see!
Flashing lights may also scare birds away. Even if you think your phone’s camera doesn’t have the flash on, a bird can see it from a mile away. They see cameras, and other lights, in a different way than we do. Get creative!
Bird tape is a sort of plastic strip, usually prismatic, that you put in the branches of trees to deter hungry songbirds and woodpeckers. The movement and flashing create the illusion of a snake in the branches. Remember, most songbirds are looking for an easy meal and won’t risk an encounter with a predator. The flashing of this holographic tape might also scare them off.
Bird tape looks gorgeous to humans but is a strobing nightmare for any birds after your garden, trees, or lawn. At the very least, they think it’s a snake in the grass.
Do Scarecrows Work?
But what about the most well-known method of pest bird removal: the scarecrow? Do scarecrows work? (For this section, we count decoy owls, snakes, and other fake predators as “scarecrows.” The same logic applies.)
The answer depends on the scarecrow and how much time, money, and effort you’re willing to put into it. Ultimately, birds are smart, and will eventually figure out or ignore whatever trick you put up if you just leave it there. You will have to match wits with your winged adversaries to keep your lawn or garden safe.
This is especially true of corvids, the group of birds that includes crows, ravens, jays, magpies, and jackdaws. Corvids are the geniuses of the bird world. Certain corvids such as crows and ravens also have good senses of smell by bird standards. If you have a jay or crow problem, it’ll be harder to solve!
Once a bird determines that your scarecrow is not a threat, it will be useless. If you use a scarecrow, you have to maintain the illusion that it is alive and potentially threatening. That could be as simple as moving it. Adding reflective or noisy things will make it livelier. And if you have some old clothes, why not put them on your scarecrow?
Why Are Birds Digging Up My Lawn?
The main reason birds will dig up your lawn is food. Usually, the food in question is grubs. This means you will probably see unusually dry patches of grass on your lawn. If you have a bird problem, you probably have another kind of pest problem, too.
Please note that birds picking worms out of your lawn shortly after it rains is normal. Worms get flushed out by the rain, making a buffet for birds like robins. If anything, having worms on your lawn is a sign that it has good soil.
But how do you stop birds from tearing up your lawn to get their grub? Get rid of their food. That usually means applying one grub treatment or another.
How to Get Rid of Grubs
Birds like robins, jays, and chickadees all love grubs. Some sites even list birds as anti-grub measures. But if you’re reading this, that is not the grub removal you were expecting.
Here are some ways to remove grubs, which are probably the real source of your problem:
- Chemical pesticides. Follow instructions carefully. There are often seasonal timing stages for commercial grub-killers.
- Parasites (e.g., nematodes, milky spore). You can buy live nematodes online or in some garden stores. This is one of the more eco- and pet-friendly ways to kill grubs (parasites are usually host-specific, so don’t worry about your dog). Again, follow instructions.
- Limit moisture. This will also help prevent mold and other lawn issues. Do not overwater your lawn.
- Aerate/dethatch your lawn. This can expose grubs but may not kill them.
- Azadirachtin. This is the grub-killing compound in neem oil. Use the pure chemical if you can find it.
And if you are not dealing with a grub-eater, reverse-engineer this advice. Find out what the birds want on your property and take it away. Again, omnivorous birds like crows can be tricky to get rid of using this logic but do your best.
What if you have done all that and still have birds tearing up your lawn? There are solutions for pesky birds, too. Just know that you may be treating the symptom instead of the root cause.
Birds may be cute, but they can make a mess of your lawn if you aren’t careful. The main reason that birds will damage your lawn is that they’re hungry. Solve the grub problem, and the bird problem should also go away. If it’s not, your best bet is to scare the bird(s) off using any of the tactics above. They aren’t malicious—just hungry.
And if you have a crow problem…good luck. Hopefully, they will be deterred by whatever sprinklers, flashing lights, and loud music you have on hand.