Raccoons – These “masked” and ring-tailed animals are perhaps the most widely recognized species of urban wildlife. They can be found in almost every habitat throughout the forty-eight contiguous States and in parts of southern Canada. Raccoons are roughly 2 to 3 feet from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail, and generally weigh between 6-15 pounds. Raccoons who live in cooler climates will often weigh more and raccoons that have been overfed by humans have been known to weigh as much as 60 pounds! These animals are at least as intelligent as cats and dogs and posses greater manual dexterity.
Generally, raccoons prefer mature woodland areas, but there are raccoons that thrive along seashores or in prairie grasslands and they are often seen in highly populous areas. Cities and suburbs provide both natural foods and scraps from humans; shelter is easily found in a variety of places. Cities are even easy for a raccoon to travel across – they use storm sewers when they are not too flooded.
The raccoon’s diet is highly varied. There are more things they will eat than that they won’t. Common components of the raccoon’s diet include: fruits, vegetables, and high energy-mast foods such as acorns. Raccoons will eat small animals and birds on an opportunistic basis, but they are generally not regarded as effective or efficient hunters. Their appetite for foods such as grapes and sweet corn is a frequent source of conflict with home gardeners. Raccoons are usually active at night. By day they retire to denning or resting sites. Dens are made above ground in tree cavities, chimneys, attics, storm sewers, or crawl spaces under buildings.
If you are having a conflict with a raccoon the first course of action is to decide what level of damage is occurring, how long it may be likely to persist and whether the damage requires an immediate response or can be dealt with on a non-emergency basis. A careful and calm approach to encouraging a raccoon to move on is far preferable to the excited and demanding response that often comes when a raccoon is discovered. Never attempt to move a raccoon by hand. It is preferable to wait until they move on their own after dark, but if you must remove them either gently nudge them with a broom or use a humane trap and then set them free at another location. You should never attempt to move a raccoon family if there are small babies. One or two are bound to be left behind with no means for taking care of themselves.
The only long-term means of coping with raccoons is to exclude them from areas where they may be unwanted such as chimneys, attics, yards, and gardens. Raccoons are highly intelligent and have routines that are dictated by their needs; if they cannot get a meal in one place they will move on, and they will remember where they can and cannot satisfy their hunger. If you do not remove the source of attraction – access to food or shelter – one raccoon after another is bound to come along and take the place of the last one. As with all of our wild neighbors, raccoons do not mean us harm or malice. They are simply filling their place in Nature’s plan and trying to exist in a natural world that is increasingly shrinking as towns and cities continue to spread and grow. Jennice Dobroszczyk, a well-known nature-lover in TM’s hometown of El Segundo has some words of wisdom that we should all take to heart, “[Raccoons] are to be cherished and left alone. Viewed unobtrusively by the moonlight….Let’s all save a place for wildlife. Follow the Golden Rule.” If we want generations to come to be able to know and appreciate nature it is up to all of us to do our part to protect what we already have. This is as true in the case of animals as it is for everything else found in nature.