The raccoon is a small nocturnal mammal, typically 20–30 inches long and weighing 15–30 pounds, though in urban areas where they thrive on our refuse, raccoons can weigh up to 60 pounds. Their fur is grayish brown with a bushy banded tail and black masked face. Raccoons appear to flourish in places where humans have developed the land. They are highly adaptable, extremely intelligent animals that live well in cities, suburbs, and rural environments.
Raccoons are omnivorous and will eat almost anything from fish, insects, eggs, and young mammals to fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Most active at night, raccoons sometimes also forage for food by day. They will make their nests almost anywhere — in tree cavities, brush piles, abandoned burrows, chimneys, attics, crawl spaces, storm sewers, haystacks, and barn lofts — and usually have more than one den site available for use at any one time.
Raccoons are as intelligent as dogs and cats, and their front limbs provide them with great manual dexterity. They have routines for food and shelter and remember places that are good for each.
POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS
Raccoons can cause damage such as dumping trash cans, disturbing gardens and ponds, and injuring cats or small dogs, or they may simply be a nuisance for homeowners by entering attics and chimneys.
If raccoons have taken up residence in or around your home, the first step is to encourage them to move out. This is easily accomplished by using mild harassment techniques and following up with exclusionary methods.
Please note that it is especially important that the animals leave before you seal their entrances in the spring and summer months when young are typically present. Listen closely for raccoon young, called kits. Kits often sound like whining puppies. If kits are present in your home, please tolerate the raccoon family for a few weeks to ensure that the kits are not abandoned to die in your home.
Inspect the area to determine how the raccoons are getting in. Then, close off all but one entryway. Here are some ways to encourage the animals to move on:
- Place a flashlight (switched on) in or as close to the den site as possible. The light will annoy raccoons. Be sure to turn it off at regular intervals so that the mother will feel safe re-entering the area to retrieve her young.
- Play a radio near the den site day and night to further annoy them. Again, be sure to turn it off at regular intervals so that the mother will feel safe re-entering the area to retrieve her young.
- If possible, trim back any tree branches or limbs that are close to the house. If it is impractical to eliminate all branches, tree trunks can be wrapped with two-foot wide sheet metal beginning two feet above the ground. This prevents raccoons from climbing the trees.
Closely monitor the raccoons to determine when they have moved, and after the family is gone, tightly secure the area to prevent re-entry. If there are no young present, install a one-way door over the entrance, allowing the raccoons to leave but preventing its re-entry. Once the raccoons are gone, be sure to permanently seal the entryway with heavy gauge wire mesh to prevent other wildlife from moving in. Make sure that you do not exclude the mother while young are still in your house — she will find another way in to get her babies, even if it means ripping the shingles off of the roof.
Make sure your chimney is securely capped. Raccoons have little hands that can easily dislodge loose screens or covers. They are agile climbers, and females like to use the flue or smoke shelf as a den.
Invasive techniques, such as using smoke or fire to drive animals out, should never be used as the mother will most likely abandon the site, resulting in the death of the kits that are physically unable to climb. Trapping adult raccoons often leads to separation and probable death of the young, and also makes the habitat available for more animals to move in.
If a raccoon enters your house, close the doors between the animal and the rest of the house, isolating the raccoon in that one area. Then, open doors and windows leading to the outside in the area where the raccoon is located. Give the animal a way out and she will leave on her own. Leave the capture and handling of wildlife to the experts. Don’t forget to secure pet doors, especially at night, to prevent raccoons from using them to enter your home.
Vegetable and fruit gardens can be susceptible to raccoon damage, often as foods are ripening. Attaching a motion sensor to your garden hose and using mylar balloons, mylar strips, and pinwheels will deter raccoons from getting into your garden. Spreading cayenne pepper over an area can also often be an effective repellent against raccoons. For persistent raccoons, single-strand electric fencing can be an effective exclusionary method.
PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS
Raccoons are one of the primary carriers of the rabies virus in the United States and are classified as one of four rabies vector species. The other three rabies vector species are foxes, skunks, and bats. Raccoon rabies occurs primarily in the eastern United States. Do not leave pet food outside where raccoons can get it and potentially spread disease to your pets through contaminated bowls.
Another serious public health concern is Baylisascaris procyonis, a roundworm parasite that can infect raccoons. Humans can become infected if they accidentally ingest or inhale roundworm eggs that are passed through raccoon feces. Care should be taken and protective masks and clothing should be worn when cleaning areas that were inhabited by raccoons. Raccoons are also hosts for Giardiasis.