How to Spot a Grub Problem: Birds and Animals Digging in Your Lawn

Seeing birds, skunks, raccoons, or other animals digging in your lawn can be frustrating and alarming. Oftentimes, these unwanted critters are after grubs living in the soil under your grass. Grubs are the larval form of various beetles, like Japanese beetles, June bugs, or chafer beetles. They can cause major damage to your lawn as they feed on the roots of the grass. Identifying a grub infestation and taking the proper steps to control it is key to getting your lawn back to its healthy state.

What Do Grub Damages Look Like?

Before you can treat a grub problem, you first need to identify if you actually have grubs causing issues in your lawn. Here are some telltale signs that point to a grub infestation:

Irregular Brown Patches

Grubs chew through the roots of the grass, which causes the grass blades above to turn brown and die. This results in irregular dead patches in the lawn, rather than a uniform dying off of the grass. The patches may start small, but can expand rapidly.

Spongy Feeling Lawn

When grubs have damaged the roots and turfgrass starts to die, the lawn develops a spongy, loose feeling when walking across it. Healthy lawns feel firm underfoot.

Wild Animals Digging in Turf

Raccoons, skunks, moles, birds, and other critters can detect grubs in the soil through their keen sense of smell. They dig into the lawn looking for their tasty, protein-rich grubs to feed on. The digging spots are very visible, with large overturned sections of turf.

Rapid Wilting and Death of Grass

Extensive grub feeding on roots can cause rapid wilting and die-off of the grass, even when adequate moisture is present. The grass essentially loses its lifeline when the roots are destroyed.

Grubs Visible When Peeling Back Turf

The most direct way to confirm grubs are ravaging your lawn is to grab a corner of turf where die-off is occurring and gently peel it back. Grubs leave behind visible tunnels in the soil as they feed, and you may see them curled up in a “C” shape in the dirt.

When Are Grubs Most Active?

Grubs develop in cycles and are most destructive to lawns in their later larval stages. This typically occurs:

  • Spring: March – April. Grubs begin feeding on new grass roots as they emerge.
  • Summer: June – August. Rapid damage can occur as mature grubs reach peak feeding levels.
  • Fall: September – November. Grubs feed vigorously before burrowing deep to overwinter. Newly hatched grubs also appear.

While grubs are present year-round in the soil, their feast on turfgrass roots correlates with their growth stages. Be vigilant about grub damage particularly in spring, summer, and fall.

What Species of Grubs Should I Look For?

There are about 10 common grub species found in lawns, with the type varying by region. Learning what grubs are prevalent in your area will help you time treatments properly. Common lawn grub species include:

Japanese Beetle Grubs

These are one of the most destructive grub species in the Eastern U.S. They grow up to 1.5 inches long and are whitish in color with a brown head.

June Bug or June Beetle Grubs

About 1 inch long and thick-bodied, these grubs have a white curl shape and dark brown head. They cause extensive damage.

European Chafer Grubs

Up to 1 inch long, these grubs are thicker in the middle than at the ends. The head and rear tip are darker brown.

Green June Beetle Grubs

A larger species reaching 1.5 inches long, these have a wide rear end. They are part of the June bug family.

Oriental Beetle Grubs

These are smaller grubs under 3/4 inches long. They are a major pest species on the East Coast feeding on lawns and turf.

Asiatic Garden Beetle Grubs

Reaching 5/8 inches in length, these grubs have three pairs of thin legs. They feed on lawn and vegetable roots.

Black Turfgrass Ataenius Grubs

These curled white grubs have orange heads and only grow to 1/2 inch in length. They emerge in huge numbers.

May or June Beetle Grubs

Related to June bugs, these C-shaped grubs have brown heads and grow over 1 inch long. They actively feed in spring and fall.

Masked Chafer Grubs

These thick C-shaped grubs have brown heads and hatch in early summer, feeding through fall before overwintering.

Phyllophaga Grubs

There are over 30 species in this June bug genus. Their grubs all look similar and cause severe turf damage.

Identifying the exact species isn’t critical for treatment, but knowing the type of grub pests common in your area will help time control measures most effectively. Seek advice from local agricultural extensions for insights on your regional grub species.

How Do I Get Rid of Grubs in My Lawn Naturally?

Using natural methods to control grubs will reduce your reliance on chemical pesticides. Natural treatments also pose fewer environmental risks. Some of the most effective DIY natural grub treatments include:

Introduce Beneficial Nematodes

Nematodes are tiny worms that prey on grubs in the soil. Specific species attack only insects, not plant roots or beneficial microbes. Apply them during peak grub feeding times.

Use Milky Spore Disease

This natural bacteria only kills Japanese beetle grubs when applied to lawns. It must be reapplied for ongoing control.

Spread Diatomaceous Earth

The microscopic, sharp edges of this powdered rock damages the protective outer layer and guts of grubs. Apply a fine layer across the lawn.

Apply Neem Oil Sprays

Extracted from the neem tree, this oil coats grubs and interferes with their molting and development process when sprayed onto lawns.

water lawn deep at least once a week.

Grubs thrive in dry soil conditions, so maintaining good moisture deprives them of an ideal environment.

Allow Predatory Bugs and Birds

Skunks, raccoons, gophers, birds, and beneficial insects will prey on large numbers of grubs if allowed, providing natural grub control.

Boost Turfgrass Health

Robust, healthy turfgrass has an easier time recovering from and resisting grub damage due to the depth of its expansive root system.

Check Soil pH

Turfgrass does best in slightly acidic soils, around pH 6.5. Get a soil test to ensure your pH is not too low or high. Proper pH makes grass more robust.

Organic grub control works best when you start at the first signs of damage in spring, before grubs have multiplied exponentially. The key is early preventative treatment.

What is the Best Chemical Treatment for Grubs?

chemical treatments will provide the most effective knockdown of heavy grub infestations. Look for products containing these activre Ingredients:


This is found in Scotts GrubEx, Bayer 24 Hour Grub Control, and other products. It is absorbed into grass roots, where it is ingested by grubs with fatal results. Apply as a preventative in early spring.


Sold under brand names like Dylox and Bayer Advanced 24 Hour Grub Killer Plus, this insecticide gives quick kill of active grubs when applied curatively on damaged areas in summer and fall. Avoid using it as a lawn-wide preventative.


Products like Scott’s GrubEx Halofenozide and Bayer’s 24 Hour Grub Control Plus contain this active ingredient that disrupts the molting process of grubs, killing them within 24 hours of application. It can be used preventatively or curatively.


This advanced active ingredient is found in Acelepryn insecticide. It provides excellent preventative grub control with less environmental impact than older chemistries. It also kills insect larvae within 24 hours via ingestion or contact.

Always carefully follow label application rates and timing instructions according to your specific grub problem and product. Control is most effective when applied preventatively before damage starts occurring. For curative control, treat damaged areas in early summer and fall once grubs are actively feeding. Avoid chemical grub treatments during peak summer heat.

How Can I Prevent Grubs From Returning?

A combination of preventative measures along with monitoring and prompt treatment can help keep grubs from wreaking havoc on your lawn year after year:

  • Apply a preventative grub control like Scotts GrubEx annually in early spring. Use organics like milky spore or nematodes in the fall.
  • Keep turfgrass thick and healthy through proper mowing, fertilizing, aerating, and watering practices to limit bare spots.
  • Remove weeds and leaf litter where beetles lay eggs. Keep lawn areas fully sunny.
  • Scout for early grub damage in spring, summer, and fall. Treat at first signs of dieback.
  • Encourage natural predators like birds, moles, raccoons, and beneficial insects that will help control grubs.
  • Rotate synthetic chemical treatments each year to avoid grub resistance.
  • Time any necessary pesticide applications carefully based on the grub’s life cycle and damage patterns.
  • Maintain proper soil pH, fertility, and microbial activity to support vigorous grass growth.
  • Overseed damaged areas in fall to thicken turfgrass and eliminate bare spots that invite beetles.

Diligent monitoring and preventative care are key to keeping your lawn grub-free. Be proactive and don’t allow heavy infestations to take hold.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if I have grubs?

Signs of a grub problem include irregular dead patches in the lawn, spongy areas where the turf feels loose, critters like birds and raccoons digging in the grass, rapid wilting of grass, and visible grubs when peeling back damaged pieces of turf.

When is the best time to treat for grubs?

Apply preventative grub control products containing imidacloprid or halofenozide in early spring before damage starts. Use curative treatments containing trichlorfon or chlorantraniliprole at the first signs of lawn damage in summer or early fall.

How long does it take grubs to kill grass?

Grubs can kill grass in as little as a week or two when fully mature later in summer, as they feed heavily on the roots under the turf. Catching infestations early is key before exponential damage occurs.

Do grub treatments work after damage starts?

Yes, products containing trichlorfon or chlorantraniliprole will kill active grubs within 24 hours after application if applied when grubs are still present and feeding. This minimizes further damage.

Are grubs worse at night?

Grubs feed more heavily at night and damage can appear overnight. Their increased nocturnal feeding is why controlling them quickly is vital once an active infestation is found.

Can I treat for grubs and then seed my lawn?

Yes, after applying a curative grub treatment to kill active grubs, it’s recommended to wait one week, rake out dead debris, aerate the soil, and then seed bare patches to thicken up lawn coverage again.

How long does it take for grub damage to repair?

With prompt grub treatment followed by overseeding thin areas, you can expect substantial filling in of damaged spots within 4-6 weeks. Full recovery may take 2-3 months for extensive dieback.


Protecting your lawn from devastating grub damage requires diligent monitoring paired with properly timed preventative and curative treatments. Know the signs of a grub problem, like animals digging in the turf, dying grass patches, and visible grubs when peeling up affected areas of lawn. Apply a chemical like imidacloprid in early spring before eggs hatch, use natural remedies like nematodes in fall, and be ready to treat again at the first signs of lawn damage in summer. Rotating chemical modes of action annually and overseeding in fall are also smart prevention strategies. Addressing a grub problem promptly can help rescue your lawn before the damage becomes too widespread. With a combination of early organic treatments and selective chemical control when absolutely necessary, you can keep your grass green and lush all season long.

How to Spot a Grub Problem: Birds and Animals Digging in Your Lawn

Spotting birds, raccoons, skunks, or other wildlife digging up sections of your lawn is never a welcome sight. Oftentimes, these animals are searching for grubs living in the soil under the grass. Grubs are the larval form of beetles like Japanese beetles, June bugs, or European chafers. They can cause extensive damage to lawns and gardens as they feed on the tender roots of grass plants and vegetables. Identifying a grub infestation and taking steps to control it is key to protecting your lawn.

How Do I Know If Grubs Are Damaging My Lawn?

Some signs that point to grubs as the culprits behind lawn damage:

  • Irregular brown patches in the turfgrass, rather than uniform dying off
  • Areas of lawn feel spongy and loose underfoot
  • Raccoons or skunks digging up pieces of your lawn
  • Rapid wilting of grass, even with adequate moisture
  • Grubs visible when peeling back sections of dead grass

The most obvious indicator is wildlife digging in multiple areas of your lawn searching for grubs to eat. The digging is very disruptive, with large chunks of grass overturned. Seeing birds like crows or grackles repeatedly scratching at the lawn can also signal grubs. Don’t ignore these warning signs that grubs are ravaging your turf’s root system.

When Are Grubs Most Active in Lawns?

Grubs develop through a lifecycle that impacts optimal timing for treatments:

Spring (March – April): Newly hatched grubs first start feeding on grass roots as they emerge. Preventative treatments are ideal.

Summer (June – August): Mature grubs reach peak feeding levels and do the most damage. Curative treatments may be needed.

Fall (September – November): Grubs feed actively before overwintering. New grubs also appear. Target them with controls now.

What Steps Can I Take to Confirm Grubs?

To conclusively identify grubs as the source of lawn damage:

  • Check for the signs above indicating grubs may be active
  • Grab a spade and cut out a 1 foot square section of damaged, lifted turf
  • Peel back the piece of turf and examine the soil beneath for grubs
  • Look for white curled “C” shaped grubs with brown heads feeding on roots
  • Search for tunnels or areas of disturbed soil where grubs were feeding
  • Make visual ID of species if possible using reference guides

Once you have confirmed grubs through this visual inspection, it’s time to implement treatment measures.

How Should I Get Rid of Grubs Naturally?

Natural grub treatments pose fewer environmental risks and utilize natural predators or parasites:

  • Nematodes: Microscopic worms applied to soil that prey on grubs.
  • Milky Spore: Natural bacteria that kills Japanese beetle grubs when applied.
  • Diatomaceous Earth: Powdered mineral product that damages protective coating and guts of grubs.
  • Neem Oil: Plant-based oil that disrupts molting process when sprayed on grubs.
  • Predatory Insects: Beneficial nematodes and wasps can be purchased and released.
  • Encourage Skunks/Raccoons: These animals actively dig up and eat grubs.
  • Maintain Turf Health: Thick, vigorous grass better withstands grub damage.
  • Proper Soil pH: Get soil tested and correct pH if needed to optimize growth.

When Should I Use Pesticides Against Grubs?

If you have a severe infestation causing extensive lawn damage, pesticide application may offer the most effective control:

  • Imidacloprid – applied early spring to kill newly hatching grubs through lawn absorption
  • Trichlorfon – fast knockdown of active grubs when applied curatively to damaged areas in summer/fall
  • Halofenozide – disrupts grub molting process, causing death within 24 hours
  • Chlorantraniliprole – new advanced chemistry, low environmental impact, applied preventatively or curatively

Always carefully follow pesticide label instructions for your specific product. Time applications based on whether you are treating preventatively or curatively.

How Can I Reduce Grubs in My Lawn Long-Term?

  • Apply grub prevention like Imidacloprid or Halofenozide annually in spring
  • Maintain optimal mowing, fertilizing, watering, and aeration practices to support turf health
  • Eliminate weeds and leaf litter where beetles lay eggs
  • Scout for early signs of lawn damage and treat grubs promptly
  • Rotate chemical control products to avoid grubs developing resistance
  • Overseed damaged areas to fill in bare spots that attract egg-laying females
  • Encourage predatory birds, moles, insects, etc. to inhabit your lawn

Diligent monitoring and a combination of preventative organic and chemical treatments will help minimize grub problems season after season. Addressing issues early before they multiply is key for effective, long-term control with minimal use of insecticides.


Seeing birds or mammals digging in your lawn is a telltale sign of a grub infestation requiring immediate action. Identify areas where turf is being destroyed and use visual inspection to confirm grubs. Implement preventative organic options first like beneficial nematodes. If damage is already extensive, targeted application of chemical insecticides may be warranted to knock