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Identifying Animal Damage to your Gardens, Landscapes and Lawns

How do I know what kind of pest is in my yard?

It can be hard to identify what sort of animal is causing damage in your garden. Here are some highlights and links to pages to give you more information and ways to treat your flowers, bushes, lawn and trees to prevent further damage.

Rabbit Damage
  • How to identify damage from a Deer:

Deer damage will look random and ragged. When they eat foliage, they tear it off, leaving ragged leaf and stem edges and often leaving only the stems behind. The damage can be found as high as 6 feet up the plant. Deer are herbivores and some of their favorite vegetation to munch on are shoots, twigs, grass, clover, green leaves and bark. They also like to feed on garden vegetables, fruit trees and landscapes with a particular fondness for Hosta. However, deer are also known as scavengers and will devour other foliage, especially during the winter months when green vegetation is scarce. Deer droppings will be small elongated pellets and sometimes may be mistaken for rabbit droppings. In the spring and summer months when deer are feeding on lush green shoots, leaves, grass, fruit, etc., the pellets clump together and are left as a mass. Deer tracks are shaped like 2 halves of a broken heart and are about 2-3 inches long. The distances between the tracks depend on whether the deer are grazing or running. 

  • How to identify damage from a Rabbit:

While rabbits certainly have their favorite snacks such as on young seedlings, bulbs, vegetables and flowers, rabbits will dine on just about anything nature provides, provided they're hungry enough. Chew marks of rabbits can be found on the trunks of trees and shrubs a few inches aboveground. Rabbits may even remove the bark completely around the trunks and stems, effectively girdling, them several feet above the ground. This behavior is also called ring barking. Rabbit damage can be identified by a clean, 45-degree angled cut on the end of stems and leaves. You may also want to look for tracks left behind by the culprit ravaging your gardens. Wild rabbits have five toes on their front feet and four toes on their much longer hind feet. Look for droppings that resemble pea-sized individual pellets. 

  • How to identify damage from a Squirrel:

Squirrels chew on everything they come across in order to see if it's edible. Damage may occur in your lawn and gardens due to pilfering squirrels uprooting your plants and flowers. Look for stripped bark on the trunk of hardwood trees, split shells or husks of nuts and fruit. These are all good indicators of squirrel activity. Check for chew marks on your deck and home structure as well. Squirrels may cause harmful damage to your home particularly if they get in your attic. Chewing through power lines not only cuts off power, but can set off sparks, which can set the attic on fire and eventually burn down the house. Squirrels can also munch on or damage insulation, wooden window frames, siding or objects being stored in the attic. Squirrels tracks are about 3cm wide and show four claws of the front feet and five of the back feet, usually widely spaced apart. Droppings are oblong pellets, usually about 3/8 inch long and 1/8 inch in diameter, rounded tips and slightly bulging in the center.

  • How to identify damage from a Chipmunk:

Most often chipmunk damage is simply a nuisance problem, a naughty little critter digging up your garden by feeding on flower bulbs, gnawing on bark and eating nuts, fruits seeds and seedlings. However, Chipmunks, like most rodents reproduce quickly, and a large population of chipmunks creating runways of burrows near or under a structure, patio, retaining wall, or sidewalk can cause these structures to collapse. Look closely when identifying chipmunk damage - it can often be mistaken for squirrels or voles. Chipmunk tracks are typical rodent tracks showing four toes on the front feet and five on the rear. Chipmunk scat is a round pellet type excrement can vary from 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch in size and found in very small piles of 4-6.

Groundhogs are famous for destroying flowerbeds, vegetable gardens and lawn grass. These pests constantly chew on things to wear down and sharpen their teeth. Groundhogs can cause damage to crops by feeding in farm fields and home gardens. Their burrow holes and dirt mounds hinder farm equipment and can pose a threat to horses and livestock. Damage to fruit and ornamental trees is caused by gnawing for scent marking or wearing down the winter growth of their teeth and by clawing to sharpen their claws. If underground cables show chewing damage upon inspection, you may have a groundhog living under your property. The appearance of burrow openings on your property offers a major clue to groundhog presence. These openings will be scattered through your yard allow the groundhog multiple exits and entrances from the maze of tunnels underneath. Groundhog tracks, spaced 4 to 12 inches apart, are easy to spot. Look for paw imprints with four toes on the front paws and five toes on the back with one set lower than the rest. Both the front and back prints will have with sharp claws on the ends of each toe. You should see the front paw track immediately followed by the rear track. Groundhogs normally defecate in toilet chambers they dig underground. Their scat is round to oval pellets. 

  • How to identify damage from a Vole:

Voles can cause severe damage in landscape, orchard, hedge or timber plantings. They feed on seedlings and tubers and gnaw bark and roots. Voles damage plant materials by their feeding habits and their tunnel systems. Vole damage to trees and shrubs is characterized by low girdling and patches of irregular gnaw marks about 1/16 to 1/8-inch wide. Girdling to the roots of trees and shrubs is very common and the trees may appear to be suffering from disease or insect infestation from unseen vole damage. Voles construct many surface runways and underground tunnels with many burrow entrances. These runways are 1 to 2 inches wide, giving way to spongy soil from the burrowing activity. Vole tracks will be very small, only ½ inch in from heel to toe with 5 toes on the back paw and 4 toes on the front paw. The back tracks will show ahead of the front tracks. Look into the vole runways for very small, dark colored scat; it will be about one quarter inch to three-quarters of an inch long with tapered ends.