Raccoons (Procyon lotor) also are called “coons.”
Raccoons are distinctively marked, with a prominent black “mask” over the eyes and a heavily furred, ringed tail. The coloring is grizzled salt-and-pepper gray and black above, although some individuals are strongly washed with yellow. Raccoons are stocky mammals about 2 to 3 feet long and typically weigh 12 to 36 pounds.
Voice and Sounds
Raccoons emit several sounds including chirps, coos, chatter, distress calls, purrs, and complaints. Visit the website http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/raccoon.htm to listen to audio samples.
Tracks and Signs
Raccoons usually leave behind plenty of signs of their presence.
Latrines, where raccoons regularly defecate, tend to be in areas open to the sky such as roofs, sandboxes, and fallen trees. These pose a grave hazard to humans, especially children. See the area below to reference CDC information on Raccoon Roundworm. Raccoon Latrine Information from the CDC.
Raccoon Information & General Biology
Populations of raccoons consist of a high proportion of young animals, with ½ to ¾ of fall populations normally composed of animals less than a year in age. Raccoons may live up to 12 years in the wild, but such animals are extremely rare.
Information on Raccoon reproduction is important prior to any nuisance wildlife removal project. Raccoon reproduction peaks in late January to February. Gestation lasts about 63 days. Most litters are born in March through May, but some late-breeding females (typically those who lost their first litter) may not give birth until June, July, or August. Only 1 litter of young is raised per female per year. The average litter size is 3 to 5 young. Young first open their eyes at about 3 weeks and are weaned between 2 and 4 months of age. Removal must take into account the status of the sex of the Raccoons and if female if they have young. The best solution is to remove the young with the mother and prevent them from re-entering the structure. This may require cutting in access. Where there is abandonment removal must be done quickly so the young can be given to a wildlife rehabilitator.
Less than half of the females in a population will breed the year after their birth. Most adult females breed every year. Family groups of raccoons usually remain together for the first year with the young often denning with the adult female during winter. The family gradually separates during the following spring as the young become independent.
Raccoons prefer crevices for their dens. Den sites may include tree cavities, hollow trees, hollow logs, ground burrows, brush piles, muskrat houses, barns, and abandoned buildings, dense clumps of cattail, haystacks, rock crevices, storm sewers, under sheds and porches, chimneys, and attics.
Raccoons are generally solitary, except for females with young. They are nocturnal but may be active during the day, especially in the spring and summer when the female is nursing and raising young. Adult males occupy territories of 3 to 20 square miles, compared to 1 to 6 square miles for females. Adult males tend to be territorial and their ranges overlap very little.
Raccoons do not truly hibernate, but they “hole up” in dens and become inactive during severe winter weather. This period of inactivity may extend for weeks or months in New York. Raccoons may lose up to half of their fall body weight during winter as they use stored body fat.
Raccoons prefer hardwood forests near streams, rivers, swamps or ponds. They also occur around farmsteads and livestock watering areas, far from naturally occurring bodies of permanent water. They are highly adaptable and are also found in suburban and urban areas.
Raccoons are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals. Plant foods include fruits, berries, nuts, acorns, corn, and other types of grain. Animal foods include crayfish, clams, fish, frogs, snails, insects, turtles and their eggs, mice, rabbits, muskrats, and the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds and waterfowl.
Raccoon information on damage. Raccoons may cause damage or nuisance problems in a variety of ways. Raccoons are superb climbers and frequently will enter buildings by climbing trees or downspouts, or by shimmying up the side of a building. Look for smudge or scratch marks on trees or at the corners of buildings (Figure 4a). Latrines on roofs and in attics are classic signs of raccoon presence.
Damage to Structures
Raccoons cause damage or nuisance problems around houses and outbuildings when they seek to gain entrance to attics or chimneys, or when they raid garbage in search of food. In many urban and suburban areas, raccoons learn that uncapped chimneys make adequate substitutes for more traditional hollow trees for denning sites, particularly in spring. In extreme cases, raccoons may tear off shingles or fascia boards to gain access to an attic or wall space. Raccoons only need a 4-inch gap to enter a space (Figure 4b).
Damage to Livestock and Pets
Raccoons occasionally kill poultry and leave distinctive signs. The heads of adult birds usually are bitten off and left some distance from the body. The crop and breast may be torn and chewed, the entrails sometimes eaten and bits of flesh left near water. Young poultry in pens or cages may be killed or injured by raccoons reaching through the wire and attempting to pull the birds back through the mesh. Legs or feet of the young birds may be missing. Eggs may be removed completely from nests or eaten on the spot with only the shell remaining. The lines of fracture normally will be along the long axis of the egg and the nest materials often are disturbed. Raccoons can destroy bird nests in artificial nesting structures such as bluebird and wood duck nest boxes.
Damage to Landscapes
Raccoons can cause considerable damage to garden or truck crops, particularly sweet corn. Damage to sweet corn by raccoons is characterized by many partially eaten ears with the husks pulled back. Stalks also may be broken as raccoons climb to get access to the ears. Raccoons damage watermelons by digging a small hole in the melon and raking out the contents with a front paw.
Raccoons also roll up freshly laid sod in search of earthworms and grubs. They may return repeatedly and roll up extensive areas of sod on successive nights. This behavior is common particularly in mid- to late summer as young raccoons are learning to forage and during periods of dry weather when other food sources are less available.
Health and Safety Concerns
Raccoons are associated with rabies and raccoon roundworm. The incidence of reported cases of rabies in raccoons and other wildlife has increased dramatically over the past 30 years. This increase can be attributed to more testing, greater awareness, and higher numbers of raccoons. Raccoons recently have been identified as a major host of rabies in the US, primarily due to increased prevalence in the eastern US.
Raccoon roundworm (Baylisasacris procyonis) can cause blindness, brain damage, and death. Raccoons are not the only carrier of this disease, but they are the definitive host. Avoid disturbing feces and items contaminated with feces. Consult the CDC here on Wildlife Diseases such as Raccoon Roundworm, to learn more about this infection and how to prevent it in humans.
Overview of Damage Prevention and Control Methods
- Remove obvious sources of food or shelter around the premises
- Close outbuilding and exterior laundry room doors.
- Usually the best method for coping with raccoon damage
- Effective for a short time
Raccoon Direct capture
- Chimney removal methods
- One-way doors