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Pest of the Month: Raccoons

Pest of the Month: Raccoons

Wild animals are part of what makes nature so magical, and watching them can be highly enjoyable. While it’s important to coexist with animals in relative peace, they can cause countless problems when they take up residence in our homes or gardens. In this series, our Wildlife Management Specialist, Shawn Weeks, will educate us about some common household pests, and share some strategies for keeping them under control without dangerous chemicals or poisons.

This month we’ll look at Procyon lotor, better known as the North American raccoon.

Habitat and History:
Raccoons can be found throughout the United States, Mexico, and Central America, as well as southern Canada. A medium sized mammal, raccoons typically weigh between 10 and 30 pounds, with the males usually being larger than females. They are easily identified by the black rings around their eyes and tails. They have long pointed noses and short pointed ears, and their fur is colored grayish brown.

Raccoons thrive in woodland areas with streams and wetlands. They also do well on farmlands. They are very adaptable and can thrive within and around human populations. They are considered true New World animals, closely related to dogs and bears. Raccoons have well-developed senses of touch, sight, and hearing, and are excellent climbers. They are extremely strong for their relatively small size.

Though primarily nocturnal, they may be seen during the day, depending on factors such as competition for food and population.

Raccoons are omnivores. Their diet consists mostly of fruits, mast (such as acorns), crayfish, insects, rodents, fish, young rabbits, turtles, carrion, garbage, birds, and eggs. They love crops such as corn and grapes. Raccoons are opportunists. There isn’t much that they won’t eat.

Raccoons breed in late winter or early spring, depending on how far north or south they are. They have one litter a year with an average of four cubs. The gestation period for raccoons is 63 days. The cubs are born blind and helpless, and have a light fur. After anywhere from one to two months, the cubs are weaned and will travel short distances with their mother to search for food. After three to four months, they will start to forage on their own and begin to disperse. They may stay with their mother through the first winter.

Problems, Solutions and Health Concerns:
Raccoons have an excellent ability to adapt, and to co-exist with humans. These two factors make them a possible nuisance and health concern.

Raccoons can, and will, eat pet food and livestock feed. If you have pets or livestock, keep your feed and grain in sealed containers, and never leave them outside. You should also keep stalls, chicken pens, and rabbit hutches cleaned, secure and functional at all times. Of course this is also a must for the health of your livestock and pets. Keep bird feeders away from trees or structures that raccoons can climb.

Keep your trees trimmed and away from your house and/or barn. Raccoons can easily climb trees to access your roof and soffits. Keep you roof free of debris, and regularly check your eves, soffits and, overhangs for rot or water damage. Preventing water damage of eves by keeping your gutters cleaned. If rainwater can’t flow, it will back up and damage the area. If these areas rot and decay, it will leave them vulnerable. Raccoons will exploit weak areas and take up residence, especially in your soffits.

You must also keep your chimney cleaned and have a chimney cap installed. Raccoons can climb in and out of your chimney with ease, and may even build a home in there. Female raccoons have been known to have their young inside chimneys. If a female has had her litter in your chimney, do not put a cap on until the female and all her young are out.

Remember, also, to keep the lids on your garbage cans secure. It’s a good idea to keep the cans in a wooden bin, or in the garage. This will keep the odors down, and won’t be an attractant for raccoons.

Electric fencing can help keep raccoons out of your garden. When installing an electric fence, make sure the wires are installed close together and close to the ground. Electric fencing is not 100% effective, but it can help.

Rabies is a major health concern when dealing with raccoons. Some symptoms of rabies include unprovoked aggression, lack of coordination, fearlessness toward humans, excess salivation, and disorientation. Because raccoons are nocturnal, daytime activity may also indicate rabidity. If you come in contact with a sick animal, never approach it. Call the authorities.

Raccoons are a smart, strong, agile, and persistent mammal, and you should never provoke or try to engage one. If you follow the above recommendations for keeping your property clean, uncluttered, and well maintained, chances are you won’t have many run-ins with one. If you are having a problem with raccoons that these strategies don’t solve, contact your state wildlife agency, or email me at info@weeksoutdoors.com for advice.

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  • Judy says:

    I live in Los Angeles suburb, pretty densely populate. I just learned today from my tree trimmer that raccoon/s are using my roof as a toilet. Handyman on the roof a couple of months ago found “a lot of poop” on my roof and did not have a theory of why. He kept emphasizing that it was A LOT. So, today, the tree trimmer said it might be raccoons and then i remembered two or three weeks ago, i saw a raccoon in my front yard. I have lived in this house off and on since 1960 and have never seen a single raccoon before. There are two cypress trees next to the house, up against it, in the front. The tree trimmer said they may be living in the trees. I asked him to cut the trees down and he will in a couple of weeks, but he said it might not solve the problems because there are other cypress trees nearby and he said they were close enough for the raccoons to jump to the roof. I’ve been trying to learn about what to do about this today on the web and am feeling hopeless. I don’t know how to do anything to stop them from being on the roof. I’m not going to be going onto the roof. and even if i could, or if i hired someone, what could they do? How can the coons be stopped from going on my roof? It sounds like they are very capable of getting over, around and through any barrier. But i don’t want my roof being used as a sewer. Do they have to be killed in order to stop them? Is it a war?

  • Peter says:

    You folks are overly optimistic. The only one I get is Kevin who understands the only thing that stops a raccoon problem is killing it. I tried live traps with some success but after a while they got smart to that. After that the damage and the aggravation escalated over 15 months that now its hell no I am done. Now I have Duke coon traps and a Camo airgun. Very effective.

  • fred mortimer says:

    I have two or more racoons in the Cypress tree in my back yard. They have lived there for years, but now are more brazen. They get on the roof and come right to the edge and look at me at night when I am outside. Now they are bathing in my pool and I am afraid of sickness for my granddaughter and all. At night when I walk down my driveway they are stalking food and will run right past me with no regard and stop and look at me. It is a little intimidating to say the least as I have heard of racoons attacking people. The animal control in my area said they don’t do anything about it. I am open to suggestions to make them move. Cutting down the tree would be fine, but it cost too much over $1500 dollars. They also deficate on my patio and all over. Please help me with some tips to make them move.

  • Louise says:

    Raccoons are destroying a new bird feeder we’ve hung and we’d appreciate some info/advice. It’s currently hanging on a chain covered with PVC so they can’t pull it up into the tree – hanging about 31/2 feet from a mildly bowed tree trunk and about 41/2 feet off the ground. How far out from a tree trunk or perch can a raccoon jump? And how high can a one jump off the ground? Any advice? (Need to be able to reach it to refill it.) Thanks.

  • Barbara Saunders says:

    Problem: raccoons eating bird seed from bird feeder
    Solution: put peony rings all around area beneath feeder within 4 – 5 foot circle. The raccoon may be able to climb the pole or tree to gain access to the bird seed in the feeder, but it hurts to get back down. He will bruise that full tummy of his as he drops to the ground. To make this device more visually appealing, plant peonies inside each ring. Works like a charm.

  • Big d says:


  • Heather says:

    John – I did get your email and sent you one today to let you know about my successful eviction efforts. Well, it was really “our” success because my border collie, Bandit, acted as my lookout.
    A combination of a loud radio in the laundry room and being aware of their habits culminated with me being able to close up their access to the area beneath my house. They’re very interesting animals but there’s a limit to my tolerance. I’m sure they’ll find new digs before winter.
    I never would have thought to use a radio. Thanks everybody for the great ideas.

  • Heather says:

    Racoons have moved underneath my house which has a large cavernous area consisting of dirt and pot rock. (see pot rock – Utah)
    I think the babies are old enough to start going outside with the mother and I don’t know if the male is around any more. I have a way to close the entrance they’ve been using but am obviously concerned about closing it up while one or more are underneath the house.
    I’ve been considering putting a radio in my closet and tuning it to talk radio. This is the area in which I can hear them rustling around. I’m also thinking about waiting up at night to see when they leave. Problem is I don’t know how many of them there are.
    I can’t afford a trap. I live along an irrigation ditch which goes for miles throughout the valley. They can find some other place to live easily enough. I’d like to motivate them to move on. Any ideas? Thanks.

  • John X Lavin(Small Changes) says:

    I already E-mailed you asking for a contact in W.Newton MA area about raccoon family on clients roof.Just making sure you got it. John X Lavin

  • Valerie says:

    I think I have a racoon in my vinyl soffit. Should I just open the soffit and let them out. I don’t know if there are babies. Can I just hose them out? What should I do?

  • Sue Bard says:

    Can raccoons jump up? And if so, how high? I know that they are climbers and I and I know they can jump down,(although they seem to prefer to climb down if possible.) Locking up our sheds and feedpans won’t work because then our barn cats couldn’t eat or come in either. What if I put a hole in the barn wall about 4 feet up one wall where there isn’t any tree branches or “stuff” to climb up on. The cats could get in, but what about the raccoons?

  • Kevin says:

    I’m a coon hunter who is always looking for places to hunt. I hunt with coonhounds (Rebones & Black & Tan) and I’m really good at it. If you have a farm in NY, NJ, CT or PA, with a raccoon problem then contact me. I will help free of charge. All I want is permission to hunt your farm. My dogs are straight and won’t mess with livestock and I will respect your land while I rid it of coons.

  • creamer says:

    Mr Mason, i too live in rural central Texas, and have all my life. we have had the jaguars or we call them mountain lions since i can remember. their numbers are increasing weve noticed. I have heard that a bear had been killed in our area but that was over 100 yrs ago. So now you ve got me curious and i will be on the lookout . I believe you are correct as to why and believe its also because of lack of trapping at least in our part of our great state.

  • Raymond Mason says:

    Hi Shawn. I have a place in central Texas. Small pest such as raccoons and skunks are an item we live with. There are so many pest I deal with them on an individual basis. The coons and skunks are a small problem. Sense large animals such as deer and pigs are so successful for the last fifty years, large prey animals are coming back. Texas did not have a lot of bear until recently but they, and Jaguars are back. We have always had puma, bob cats and a lot of things that will kill your chickens, goats,calves,fawn, etc. but not bear and jaguar. The state of Texas is putting a $10,000. fine on anyone that kills one. If a person does have to kill one there had better be a long verifiable reason. I know I have bent your ear to long. Take care. Raymond Mason

  • mary ellen agee says:

    I need to CORRECT my post about pests in the crawlspace: It was SKUNKS, not coons (duh!), although I have had coons decide my backyard walnut tree was their personal commode. I used talk radio in the house and cheap cologne outside around the tree. Both worked miracles. Sorry, Shawn, thanks for the note!

  • Mary Ellen Agee says:

    So glad to have the opportunity to comment on this subject. I had coons under the guest bedroom. Yike-I slept in there one night and every time I coughed or moved, they’d spray. So I turned on talk radio and placed it on the floor and left it there for about a week. Problem solved. So now that leaves the question: is talk radio that bad, or that good?

  • Howard says:

    Getting rid of problem skunks humanely! How do I do it myself without being left with a smelly after taste?

  • Outdoorsman says:

    Hi Sandra. Please e-mail me at weeksoutdoors@att.net.
    I would like to get more info from you.


  • Outdoorsman says:

    Raccoons are the focus this month. Bears wil be discussed in the coming months. I have to say that if your garage doors are secure and locked, you shouldnt have a problem with the bears. E-mail me direct and we can discuss the bear problem. I might have some ideas and suggestions. thanks for the comments. Shawn. weeksoutdoors@att.net

  • Tammy says:

    good advice except about garbage,,,,don’t put garbage cans in garage if you have bears, that won’t deter them

  • Sandra says:

    Raccoons are not our problem. We have problems with squirrels chewing up our property anything plastic or aluminum chain link, they even have gone into our vehicals and are chewing up the plastic parts like evap value on top of the gas tank, 700 dollar repair that shouldn’t have happened, plastic covers on our bike trailer, seed sower and so on lawn furniture. How do we get rid of these rodents. we do not feed birds nor put out any food to draw them. Our neighbor had planted pine trees long ago for errosion control and he also has nut trees, he won’t cut them down, we live on the backside of him and the squirrels are ruining our property. What to do, trapping don’t work, our other neighbor tried that marked them and took them off those tree rats made it back home. We live in city limits so shooting won’t do unless it is a BB gun or air pistol. Plus I don’t want to kill them. We are expermenting with critter ridder and it seems to work some but not completely. Is there another option we have not thought of. any suggestions would be great.

  • Tamra says:

    Another great article, thanks!

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