Source(s): Jim Howell, Ph.D., Entomologist, The University of Georgia
Many areas considered to be in the “country” just a few years ago are now more urban. Because of this transition in land use, raccoons and other animals once called wildlife may now be considered backyard pests.
Raccoons are stocky, 2 to 3 feet long and usually 10 to 30 pounds. They are grizzled gray, with a bushy tail marked by alternating gray and black rings. The black “mask” across the face is the trademark feature by which most of us know them.
Though raccoons prefer a wooded habitat that includes water – lakes, rivers, marshes – they are amazingly adaptable, and many have found a relatively easy life in the urban and suburban environments of our cities and towns. In more forested areas, raccoons commonly den in hollowed trees, ground burrows or under brush piles. But in the urban environment, they have moved into our chimneys, attics and wall spaces.
Raccoons are omnivores, eating both plant and animal foods. Plant foods include berries, corn, fruit, nuts and vegetables. They are opportunistic hunters and feed on insects, grubs, crayfish, frogs, fish, bird eggs, nestlings, squirrels, rats and other small animals they can catch. They are most active at night, but sometimes they forage for food during the day.
Raccoons usually breed in February and March and bear one annual litter of three to five kits in April and May, though late matings can result in births as late as August. The home range varies from one to 20 square miles, depending on food or mate availability. They do not hibernate but may “hole up” in severe weather.
Raccoons can be a serious nuisance problem when they decide to enter our homes, using chimneys, attics or wall spaces as a replacement den instead of a hollow tree. For their size they are powerful animals and can rip off boards and shingles in search of a retreat. Raccoons are amazingly dexterous, too. In urban areas, they routinely open garbage cans and dump the contents in search of food. They often dig up sod in search of insects and earthworms, thus damaging our lawns. They may feast on unpicked vegetables as well, thereby destroying our gardens. Raccoons can even injure pets sometimes, such as cats and small dogs. Lastly, raccoons are a major wildlife reservoir for rabies in the United States.
First of all, do not feed wild animals. Depending on your location, this may even be a crime. This activity encourages the animals to stay in the area and often results in their invading our homes. Bring pet foods in at night and store in a garage or other secure place. Place garbage in metal cans with tops that can be secured until pickup. Sprinkle soap flakes on the lawn and water in to help deter raccoons from digging up the lawn. Sprinkle diluted Tobasco over the vegetables in your garden to help deter raccoons from damaging your plants.
If a raccoon has entered through a pet door, close off all other doors to the house. The animal may leave the same way it came in. If you hear noises in your chimney – whines, snarls, whimpers, etc., especially in February and May, it may well be a nest of raccoons. Do not start a fire in the fireplace in hopes of driving them out. The female will leave and the young will be left. The young raccoons can not escape. For chimney, attic or wall space removal, contact a licensed professional. Racccoons are considered game animals in many states and trapping them is illegal, if out of season and without proper permits. After the animal has been safely removed, take immediate steps to seal any possible entry sites.
Center Publication Number: 233