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What's Eating my Sweetcorn?

Birds, deer, raccoons, squirrels, even black bears will help themselves to your sweet corn patch, usually right before you’re ready to harvest. But how do you know what critter is eating it?

Becky McPeake is an Extension wildlife expert at the University of Arkansas. She says the first thing to do is look for animal tracks on the ground. Obviously birds aren’t going to leave tracks, but there are telltale signs that they’ve flown in for a meal.

"Compared to these other species the corn stalks are not knocked over. You’ll find that the corn cobs have kind of what we call a ‘firecracker look’, it looks like the birds have pecked some of those missing kernels, damaged some of those missing kernels," says McPeake. "And of course the husks themselves are shredded open so that the birds can get access to those corn cobs."

Deer will bite off the tip of the cob. They can also take the entire corncob in their mouth and run off into the woods with it.

Raccoons will knock over the stalks in a variety of different directions, and the husks will be stripped off the cob. Squirrels are messy and you’ll find scattered pieces of corn all over the ground.

All of the four-legged varmints – except for bears – will typically eat corn on the perimeter of the patch. Bears go for the middle of the field and knock down stalks at the base. Most of the corn will stay uneaten on the cobs.

Electric fences, noises, and scarecrows are tactics to keep the animals out, but McPeake says there’s another option you might not have thought about – duct tape.

"If you just have a really small patch, you might consider going to each ear of corn and using some duct tape, and kind of wrap it around the corn husk and around your stalk so that it makes it difficult for the raccoon or for the deer to strip that husk off of your stalk," says McPeake.

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