12 Animals Causing Small Holes in Your Lawn Overnight

When holes mysteriously start appearing in your lawn for no apparent reason, chances are a nocturnal animal is making them. There’s a plethora of reasons why they do it, mostly relating to food and shelter.

What’s crucial, though, is to identify the culprits, patch up the holes and learn how to prevent animals from making small holes in your lawn overnight.

What Animal Digs Small Holes in Lawns Overnight?

There are probably hundreds of species known to dig into the ground for whatever reason, but I’ve narrowed it down to 12 species that are most often seen doing this in yards and gardens.

Keep in mind that the accuracy of identification depends greatly on your location and climate.

armadillo

1. Armadillos

Scientific name (order): Cingulata

Armadillos are found all over South and North America. They’re rarely found more northern than Nebraska and Indiana, while they venture as far south as Argentina.

These animals can depend on species, and weigh anything from 3 ounces up to 120 pounds. They’re easily recognized by the shell, made of keratin, covering their entire bodies.

They mostly feed on insects and invertebrates, and the best way to find insects is to dig. Armadillos have evolved great claws to dig for food, but also to dig dens.

The size of the burrow, which means the size of the hole, depends on the size of the armadillo. The nine-banded armadillo, for example, digs burrows no wider than 8 inches, but they can be up to 25 feet long!

Armadillos prefer moist soil for burrows, not only because it’s easier to dig, but because a wet environment is often rich with insects.

birds

2. Birds

Scientific name (class): Aves

A handful of bird species are known to create small holes in lawns overnight instead of nesting in trees. Not mentioning flamingos and other large birds (as it’s extremely unlikely you’ll have flamingos in your backyard), possible species include killdeer, quail, grouse, and partridge.

Some species, such as killdeer, have a preference for gravel and tend not to dig a nest in soil. But, if you use gravel as a border between your lawn and pavement, a killdeer couple could see it as a great nesting spot.

A good thing about birds is that they’re the easiest to identify out of all animals on the list as they rarely leave the nest. On top of that, their primary instinct is to run away from trouble (unless they have baby birds), so it’s easy to scare them away.

Bird nests are usually small, shallow holes that they often fill with insulation, such as straw and leaves. Once birds realize that their nesting spot isn’t safe, they’ll vacate immediately and build a new nest far away.

Chipmunks

3. Chipmunks

Scientific name (tribe): Marmotini

Although they might be the best climbers in nature, chipmunks are burrowers – they build extensive underground systems with multiple chambers and entrances. Their burrows can be longer than 11 feet but are often difficult to spot.

They cover the burrows with leaves, rocks, and other debris easily found in the yard, making it all look natural. Aside from the very small hole, the burrow is completely undetectable.

The holes are usually very small – chipmunks are very flexible animals and they can fit through holes smaller than themselves. Since their nests have multiple entries and exit points, you could see a cluster of holes in a small patch of grass!

earthworm

4. Earthworms

Scientific name (suborder): Lumbricina

Earthworms are some of the most beneficial animals you could have in your yard and I strongly recommend not removing them. Their entry holes are almost invisible as they’re tiny and are usually immediately covered with soil.

If you find small holes around your lawn, chances are that earthworms aren’t causing them. Even if earthworms are the culprits behind them, those holes will be covered up naturally very quickly, so there’s nothing to worry about!

gopher

5. Gophers

Scientific name (family): Geomyidae

These burrowing rodents are found in Northern and Central America, and as their description suggests, they love burrowing below the ground. They create intricate tunnel systems with chambers for different purposes.

They store their food in those chambers, while they also use them for protection from predators – in this case, you. 

Gopher holes are a bit easier to identify because there’s often a mound around it, while they prefer light soil that’s easy to dig up.

Since they’re common carriers of disease and they’re more aggressive than you’d think, it’s best to get rid of them as soon as possible. Although they’re tiny animals, gophers have very sharp teeth that they’re not afraid to use!

Both males and females are territorial, solitary animals, and although their first instinct is to flee, they will fight if they don’t have time to flee. If you have a dog or a cat, they’ll most likely catch a gopher out of their burrow at least once and that can lead to scrap.

lawn grub

6. Insects

Scientific name (class): Insecta

With over 6 million species of insects in the world, it’s hard to put a finger on exactly which species could be digging small holes in your lawn overnight. Many species nest below the ground, though, and some of them are actually beneficial.

Ground bees, for example, are an important group of pollinating insects that only nest below the ground. The holes they make are usually tiny, however.

The reason insects like nesting in yards so much are because of all the flowering plants. Pollinators want to pollinate them and feed on the nectar, while pest insects feed on the foliage.

Either way, you have to identify them to know whether you have to eradicate them first. The best way to do this is by observing the hole. Most insects are diurnal and you can catch them coming and going throughout the day.

Holes in Your Lawn Overnight

7. Moles

Scientific name (family): Talpidae

Moles are probably the most famous digging animals, and by far the most hated by people who take meticulous care of their lawns! Their holes are very easy to recognize as they’re surrounded by large mounds.

A single mole can develop dozens of exit holes in a small yard, which is why they’re considered so menacingly to lawns. In case you see their holes and mounds in the garden and you don’t mind the look – I’d suggest leaving them be.

They’re actually beneficial for the overall health of an ecosystem and soil aeration, while they also feed on pests such as slugs. 

However, there is no denying that they are completely detrimental to the beauty of your lawn. In fact, when they raise molehills, they’re effectively killing small parts of the lawn.

In addition, if you have an underwater drainage system, know that damage to such systems is one of the reasons moles are considered a pest.

rats

8. Rats

Scientific name (genus): Rattus

Although burrowing below the ground is their top choice, rats will build underground nests if they can’t find a suitable nest above the ground. For example, a rat would much rather build their nest below the deck or in the garage.

Since they’re good diggers, their nests can be as deep as 18 inches and longer than 3 feet. There are usually several entry points, so you might find a few holes in a small radius. 

The holes are rarely wider than 4 inches and they’re seemingly very smooth because the rats smoothen them with use.

You can identify them by their droppings too – look out for very small, capsule-shapes that are never longer than an inch. Color varies according to diet, so there’s no specific color.

If that’s not off-putting enough, they have very little control over their bladder, so the smell coming out of the nest is very strong and easily detected.

Rats cower into their nests whenever a threat arises, so you can see them coming in and out during the day. Because of all the diseases they carry and the mess they make (feeding on anything edible in your yard), it’s best to get rid of them as soon as possible.

skunk

9. Skunks

Scientific name (family): Mephitidae

It’s highly unlikely that a skunk will dig a burrow in your yard. They’re very territorial and they will look for a place for their burrow in a spot that isn’t frequented by animals. Skunks actively fight anyone approaching their burrow.

The holes they make when they burrow can’t be missed! They’re large, even for their size, and they’re frequented by skunks. If a skunk has made your yard it’s home (which is, once again, highly unlikely), you’ll definitely see them in the yard.

In that case, do not attempt to solve this problem on your own – skunks are much more dangerous than people think. Call Animal Services and keep your distance.

Not only do they spray you with their famous foul spray, but they also have very sharp teeth and they sometimes carry rabies.

Snake Holes in Yard

10. Snake Holes in Yard

Scientific name (suborder): Serpentes

A lot of people often overlook the fact that snakes are, at times, diggers. Although most snakes will invade another animal’s burrow and either scare it out or kill it, some snakes dig snake holes.

This is especially common in the fall, as snakes prepare for the colder period, during which they have to stay below the ground. Since they can’t control their own temperature, snakes have to stay in a warm environment to keep warm.

During the winter, they stay in a conscious, but inactive state. It’s possible for several snakes to inhabit a single hole, although this is rare.

These burrows are usually dug out in loose soil – which makes perfect sense since snakes don’t have hands or feet, so they can’t scoop out soil very well. If the ground in your yard is particularly hard, then it’s unlikely that a snake will dig a hole in it.

Some snakes, such as watersnakes (harmless, non-venomous species), prefer digging near water as the soil there is usually easy to dig.

One thing deserves to be pointed out here, and people afraid of snakes won’t like hearing this, but if there is a snake in your yard, it most likely doesn’t live in a hole in the soil. Digging a hole requires a lot of work, and a snake would be happier to live under a log, in a box in the garage, or even below your deck.

In case you identified a snake in your home, call Animal Control – some snakes are venomous, and getting bit is the last thing you want.

Squirrels

11. Squirrels

Scientific name (family): Sciuridae

Squirrels are a nesting family of rodents, traditionally separated into three groups: tree squirrels, ground squirrels, and flying squirrels. Out of those three groups, ground squirrels are the ones we have to worry about.

Tree squirrels and flying squirrels build nests on trees (but also in attics, telephone poles, and other places, which is why they’re actually dangerous pests).

Ground squirrels build complex burrows with several tunnels and entry points. It’s possible to find burrows with dozens of entry points over a small area (something particularly annoying for homeowners). 

The hole is usually 4 inches across, often on the sloped ground with greater visibility and a lower chance of flooding.

We already mentioned chipmunks – they are actually a subspecies of squirrels, but their habits are often different. To tell one from another, always remember that squirrels have longer, bushy tails, while chipmunks have small, often indiscernible tails.

vole

12. Voles

Scientific name (subfamily): Arvicolinae

Similar to mice and hamsters, voles are often referred to as ‘field mice’ because of their occurrence in farm fields. These tiny rodents can be as large as 9 inches and they’re a great pest for several reasons.

Not only do they eat almost anything – from plant life to dead animals – but they breed incredibly quickly, with up to 10 litters a year.

Since they’re active throughout both day and night, you’ll easily spot a vole in your garden if there is one. They build tunnels and complex burrows that often contain several adults and their young.

Voles appear to be intelligent enough not to build a burrow entrance in plain sight, so the entrance is often under a log, wooden boards, or some other form of debris.

How to Fix Holes In the Lawn

There are several methods of fixing lawn holes, but it’s important to get the animal out first. A simple trick you can do is pour a lot of water down the hole – the animal will think there’s a flood and evacuate the hole.

1. Refill the Holes

Use topsoil to refill the holes and make the ground flat once again. You don’t have to fill the entire burrow made by the intruder (it’s actually impossible to do that), just the top layer.

In case the holes were created by a mole, you can use the same soil found in the mounds.

Experts recommend you fill very deep holes (holes made by moles and squirrels, for example) with small rocks up to the top level. Only after that should you add soil.

This is necessary with big holes because they’re too large to naturally refill with soil.

2. Sow New Grass

Since new grass won’t grow on its own, it’s now time to spread new seeds according to instructions. Don’t forget to water the soil plentifully after seeding.

Once the seeds have germinated and taken root, it’s fine to mow the lawn. There’s no practical reason for doing this, but it will make the existing holes less apparent!

3. Prevent Animals from Digging Holes Again

This will all be for nothing if the same critters come back next year and make a new cluster of holes in your garden. To prevent this, you have to make your yard and garden unappealing to animals.

The easiest way to do this is to let your dog out in the yard (unless it’s a really harmless breed). In addition, make sure you get rid of all animal food and potential animal shelter, this will deter the likelihood of return visitors.

FAQ What’s Digging Holes in Yard at Night?

Small Holes In Lawn Overnight Final Thoughts

Small holes that appear in a lawn overnight are always the fault of an animal, but the question of which animal remains to be answered. They’re always a means of sheltering themselves and the reason animals have chosen your yard instead of someone else’s is because of food.

Animals don’t nest in areas with no available food and your garden is attractive to them for this specific reason. 

Making it unattractive by flooding their burrow and keeping your garden tidy, while letting the dog chase them out is never a bad idea either.