Identifying Wildlife Damage to Corn - UNL CropWatch, Sept. 7, 2012

Identifying Wildlife Damage to Corn - UNL CropWatch, Sept. 7, 2012

Deer damage to corn   Raccoon damage to corn
Figure 1. Corn stalks clipped off by deer.
(Photo by Stephen Vantassel)
  Figure 2. Raccoons will pull down stalks in various directions to access ears. (Photo by Stephen Vantassel)

September 7, 2012

Wildlife damage to corn can be a problem any year, but may be a particular problem this year since other feed sources have been reduced due to the drought. Effective wildlife control requires accurate identification of the culprit. Failure to identify the “guilty” animal only results in wasted time and resources.

A beaver trail

Figure 3. Watch for trails where a beaver will carry clipped stalks from field to water. (Photo by Stephen Vantassel)

 Squirrel damage to corn

Figure 4. Thirteen-lined ground squirrels will dig up seeds early in the season or eat the heart of a kernel in late season. (Photo by John Pickle)

Fortunately, identifying wildlife damage to corn is relatively easy with the following tips. For information on controlling these species, consult the resources at the end of this article.

Deer: Damage can occur throughout the growing phase. Look for tracks and trampled plants. Foraged plants will have a rough appearance (Figure 1). Plants adjacent to woods will be hit harder. Husks will be clipped at the ends, resulting in a telescoping appearance. Deer will also scrape kernels off the husk using their lower incisors.

Beaver: Stalks will be cut at a 45° angle and removed. Look for a drag trail leading to water (Figure 3).

Raccoon: Damage occurs primarily during the milk stage. Stalks will be pulled down in various directions. Husks can be peeled and appear muddy from the handling by raccoons. Feeding can occur from the middle of the field and work toward the woods (Figure 2).

Squirrels and small mammals (e.g. thirteen-lined ground squirrels): Damage occurs at the early and late stages of corn growth. Seeds are dug up prior to emergence and into early emergence (Figure 4). Only the seed is fed upon. Hearts of the kernel are the most favored. Plants close to the woods are the most vulnerable.

Birds: Damage usually occurs at the early growth and reproductive phases of corn growth. Birds often dig around the entire seedling before pulling (as opposed to squirrels that dig at one side). Birds peck husks, giving them an exploded “firecracker” appearance. Kernels will have a cup-like hole due to bird pecking.

Turkeys: Damage is usually limited to feeding on waste corn. They can feed on husks opened by other animals. Turkeys do not down stalks.


Once you've identified the type(s) of wildlife dining in your corn, check these resources for management recommendations:

Stephen Vantassel
Project Coordinator for Wildlife Damage Management


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A field of corn.