WHEN IT COMES to the education of a gardener, the questions never stop coming. For instance, many of you might be wondering why crows are relentlessly digging up your lawn. It’s a mystery to me, but I know where to go for answers. Perhaps this corvid case study can inspire ways to investigate your future garden queries.

My sleuthing began with a call to the Plant Answer Line (206-543-0415), a free resource offered by the Elisabeth C. Miller Library. Librarian Jessica Moskowitz quickly responded by providing me with several links to ecological turf management and pest control. Brilliantly, she also connected me with John Marzluff, a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington and author of several books on bird behavior, including “In the Company of Crows and Ravens.”


Thinking about crow behavior prompted me to reach out to Lyanda Lynn Haupt, a Seattle-based naturalist and author of “Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness.” Haupt, a fellow West Seattle resident, pointed me to a story on the West Seattle blog that linked to an article from UBC Botanical Garden titled, “Why are Crows Ruining My Lawn! (a.k.a. Living with European Chafer Beetle in Vancouver).”

The technical resources and links provided information about the recent influx of the European chafer beetle, whose grubs feed on the roots of your lawn, and how to manage the problem. While the wildlife writers helped me understand the nature of the phenomena, which is simply an animal doing what it is good at and, incidentally, helping to control an invasive species.

Crows are smart and territorial, and they have amazing recall that allows them to successfully forage the urban environment. Once they discover a food source, you can bet they’ll keep coming back — and they’ll invite their flock to join them by day at the banquet that was your formerly tidy lawn. Once the grubs are exposed, neighborhood raccoons take over the night feeding shift.


According to Marzluff, crows will quickly habituate to anything that doesn’t pose a danger to them — a fact that perhaps suggests a few innovative control measures, like placing a creepy plastic owl near the feeding area. Marzluff notes that you must keep moving the owl around the property for the deceit to be convincing. Oh, and unless you make your moves after dark, when the crows can’t see you, all bets are off.

A motion control sprinkler might effectively disrupt feeding, but you’ll likely drench anyone passing nearby — and doesn’t it rain all the time, anyway? The most bizarre tactic involves dismantling a black feather boa and strewing the loose feathers about to simulate a crow casualty. Again, this will work only if the birds don’t see you staging the scene, and, honestly, is this an improvement on a pocked lawn?

Other, perhaps more sensible, countermeasures offered by the UBC Botanical Garden to tackle the crow/grub problem include diversifying your lawn by adding nongrass plants, like micro-clover, western yarrow and English daisies. Reseeding bare spots with a “shade seed” mix that includes creeping and red fescues creates a more resilient turf with roots that go deeper than the 1- to 2-inch zone where the grubs are feeding.

Finally, access the brain trust of horticultural pros at your local independent nursery. They might suggest applying nematodes, an ecologically friendly control, in summer. But according to my research, control is often short-lived. However, I think we all can agree: Avoid using pesticides that are toxic to wildlife.