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What's been pulling up our lawn... and why?

Sent in by James Polasik, Lothians

The intended target is leatherjackets - a larvae of the cranefly (daddy-long-legs) – that are particularly abundant in lawns and meadows at this time of the year. The leatherjackets eat away at the roots of the grass and can cause considerable damage to lawns during a mild winter.

The leatherjackets pupate in the autumn and will emerge next year as the craneflies that tend to infest bedrooms at this time of the year if a window is left open on a warm evening. During the later stages of pupation, the leatherjackets move towards the surface of the soil where it is easier for birds to reach.

Several species of birds will exploit this food supply and a typical starling signature is beak-sized holes drilled all over the lawn.

Rooks use a similar strategy but they would be relatively rare in the average garden yet they have relatives that are not so wary. Jackdaws, carrion crows and magpies will all exploit this source of food and they are not so sophisticated in the way they feed.

However, from your description, the positioning of the damage would be typical of a blackbird and they can often be seen doing something similar in a layer of leaves. The irony is that the birds are being destructive whilst ridding the garden of a serious pest. 

As a slight aside, it is leatherjackets that tempt badgers to roll away the turf on lawns and, particularly, on golf courses.

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