Raccoons (Procyon lotor)
12–36 pounds. Body is 26–38″ long including 10″ tail.
- Visual sightings of the animal.
- Sounds: Cries include a whistle-like tremolo, hisses, soft grunts, barks, growls, and a churr-churr noise while feeding. Cry when attacked is a piercing cascade of snarling screams. The young are quite noisy, their chitters are easily heard in the house, and often mistaken for birds. Raccoons can make a lot of noise when they lumber around in your attic.
Tracks: Flatfooted, like people, so track is big for the animal’s size. The length and width of the front paw is about equal, about 2″ long. The hind paw is much longer than it is wide, about 3 1/4–4 1/4″ long; described as “a miniature human footprint with abnormally long toes.”
- Scat: likely found at the base of trees, on logs, big rocks, woodpiles, or other prominences (such as roofs). The scat often shows what they’ve been eating and can give clues about what is attracting the raccoons to the site.
- Building damage: black smudges on walls or downspouts; bent gutters; holes in the siding or boards torn off; damaged soffits or louvers; damaged insulation; odors.
- Crop damage: partially eaten corn ears with the husks pulled back, or broken stalks; hole in the rind of watermelons, through which the contents have been pulled out.
Opportunist. Eats fruits, berries, and mast (acorns, and nuts and seeds from trees); insects; worms; frogs; fish; turtles; mice; crayfish, clams, and snails; eggs and young of birds and reptiles; garden, orchard, and field crops; birdseed; pet food; garbage; and carrion.
Social style: Generally solitary, except female with young.
Daily activity: Nocturnal, but may be active during the day, especially in the spring and summer when the female is nursing her young and needs more food.
Hibernator? Sleeps for days at a time during the coldest weather (below 25°F). Adult females (with their young) often den together, especially in a preferred den. Raccoons may lose half of their body weight during the winter, as they live off stored fat.
Distribution in NY and the Northeast: Everywhere. Can reach densities of 30–40 raccoons/sq. mile in rural areas, 100+ raccoons/sq. mile in urban areas.
Habitat: Prefers hardwood forests near streams, rivers, swamps, or ponds. Highly adaptable. Dens in tree cavities and hollow logs, rock crevices, burrows, brush piles, haystacks, beaver lodges, chimneys, attics, crawl spaces, barns, buildings, culverts, storm sewers, and abandoned autos. Usually has a central den (and a few spares) within its range. Females may den together in groups of up to a dozen. Males den by themselves.
Territory and home range: Not territorial, but may fight to establish dominance in common feeding grounds (such as a dumpster). The adult’s home range is about a mile in diameter.
Pair bonding style: Polygamous. Female raises the young alone. If an adult male comes across the young, he may kill them.
Breeding dates: Peaks in late January to February. Gestation takes about 63 days.
Birthing period: March through May. Late-breeding females may give birth in June, July, or August.
Litter size: 3–5, average 4. May see as few as one kit or as many as eight.
Weaning dates: Between 2–4 months of age.
Amount of time young remain with parents beyond weaning date: Young males leave in the fall, but young females may remain with their mother through their first winter, dispersing the next spring.
Time of year: Any time of year. Calls from customers often peak from mid-March through mid-May, when the females are looking for den sites in which to raise their young. From mid-May through July, customers may call about “sick” or “rabid” raccoons that are active during the day (see explanation below). From the late summer through the fall, raccoons may dig through lawns and turf in search of grubs.
What are they doing?
- They den in attics, chimneys, sheds, and barns, annoying people with their noise and odors.
- Their nest materials might block a vent, causing a fire hazard. They also chew on wires.
- Raccoons can damage buildings, either purposefully, to gain entry or create a nesting area, or accidentally, because they’re heavy enough to bend gutters as they move through them. Raccoons enter buildings through the roof (using rain gutters, brick chimneys, and overhanging branches to reach the roof); push their way through louvers or soffits; or climb directly up the siding. They may tear shingles, vents, or roofing material to gain entry.
- Raccoons also cause damage as they feed, pillaging gardens and agricultural crops, knocking over and chewing through garbage cans, getting stuck in dumpsters, pulling down and chewing holes in bird feeders, and pulling up turf and lawns for worms and grubs.
- Their scat fouls yards and children’s play areas and may present a health hazard (parasites found in scat).
- Disease risks: rabies (they are a rabies vector species in New York), raccoon roundworm. Raccoons are currently the main carrier of rabies in New York.
De-bunking myths about raccoons:
- A raccoon that’s active during the day is not necessarily rabid. It may be a healthy female that’s feeding more often than usual, because of the demands of her young.
- In raccoons, the symptoms of canine distemper can be easily mistaken for rabies. This leads some people to overestimate the number of rabid raccoons.
Protected. Game species with set season. Rabies vector species, so you may need to consult with the county health department and follow their guidelines for disposing of the animal.
From ECL 11-0523: “6. Raccoons, coyotes or fox injuring private property may be taken by the owner, occupant or lessee thereof, or an employee or family member of such owner, occupant or lessee, at any time in any manner.”
Remove artificial food sources (garbage, compost, bird seed, pet food):
- If anyone is feeding the raccoons, persuade them to stop.
- Put trash out in the morning, instead of the evening, if possible, or keep trash in a protected area.
- Raccoon-proof garbage cans or dumpsters with a tight-fitting lid (coons seem to have more trouble opening the type of can that has a 4″-high lid that twists on). Secure garbage can with heavy-duty straps or bungee cords, or attach it to a post, or keep it out of reach in the garage (close garage doors at night), or place the can in a covered and secured bin.
- Feed birds during the fall and winter and gradually stop by May. If the customer really wants to feed birds during the warmer months, install a predator guard on the bird feeder pole. Use sturdy poles. Keep the area underneath the feeder clean.
- Enclose compost piles in a framed box using hardware cloth or welded wire; in a sturdy container, such as a 55-gallon drum; or in a commercial composter.
- Feed pets indoors. Any food left outdoors should be removed at night. Pet food bowls should also be brought indoors because they retain attractive odors.
Protect children at play:
- Cover children’s sandboxes.
- Teach kids to wash their hands thoroughly after outdoor activity.
- Wash toys that were used outdoors with a mild bleach solution (10% chlorine beach, which is one part bleach to nine parts water).
- Keep kids away from typical raccoon latrine areas (base of trees and wood piles).
- As best you can, keep kids from putting things in their mouths. Young children may put raccoon scat, wood chips, soil, or other potentially contaminated objects (including their own dirty hands) into their mouths.
- If there’s a known latrine site on the property, you may wish to alter the site conditions to make it less attractive, so the raccoons will stop using it. Remove piles of logs or debris.
Protect vulnerable crops:
- Establish a barrier around gardens and fields with a 2-wire electric fence (if allowed by local ordinances) with the wires placed at 5 and 10 inches above the ground. Fences can be turned off during the day. Best to install fences at least two weeks before crops reach an alluring stage, so the coons haven’t developed the habit of feeding in the garden or field.
- Wrap filament tape around ripening ears of corn (tape should have glass-yarn filaments in it so the coons can’t tear through it). Remove the tape before eating.
- One scare device, the Critter Gitter®, combines a siren and flashing lights. It’s triggered by a motion detector. The device switches patterns, so it should be effective longer than a scare device that doesn’t vary.
Prevent entry into building:
First step: if there are no definitive signs of coon activity, determine if coons are still inside by plugging the entry hole with newspaper. If the paper is still there when you return two days later, you can begin exclusion. (In the winter, they may be napping, so it may be more difficult to determine whether they’re inside or not. Inspect the site as thoroughly as possible.)
If this is a preventive action, or there are no young present, can:
- Replace plastic vents and louvers with metal designs that are securely attached to the building. This is most important for gable louvers, soffit ventilation openings, and roof vents.
- Half-inch hardware cloth (or, even better, welded wire mesh) or galvanized sheet metal may be used to screen holes, decks, or other vulnerable areas. To protect the area underneath a deck or porch, create a “L”-shaped “rat wall.” Attach the hardware cloth to the bottom of the deck. Then bury the bottom 6–12″ deep, with a 12″ shelf that sticks out, to prevent animals from digging underneath the barrier.
- Cover chimney flues with commercial caps. Coons can remove some covers, so choose a design that bolts securely to the flue. Raccoons can usually remove the type of chimney cap that simply slips inside the tile liner of the chimney.
- Trim overhanging tree branches 6–8 ft. away from the house to make it harder for them to reach the roof (if you also want to foil squirrels, trim to 10 ft. away from the building).
- Attach a 2-ft. wide band of metal flashing around trees at chest height, to prevent raccoons from climbing the trees.
If young are present, remove the entire family before blocking the entrance to their den:
- If the coons are older and mobile, install a one-way door over the entry hole. The mother and young will leave on their own, but won’t be able to re-enter. The mother may bring her young to one of her other dens.
- Trap and release strategies to reduce the risk of orphaning wildlife: The best way to prevent orphaning is to convince your customers to wait until the young are mobile before removing, repelling, or excluding the family from the site. If that’s unacceptable, you can try to capture and remove both the female and all of her young and hope that she will retrieve them and continue to care for them. Some NWCOs are trying to refine removal techniques to increase the chances that the female will retrieve her young. Here are their suggestions.
- Remove the female at dusk or in the evening, preferably using a direct capture technique such as a catchpole. Release them on-site, at dusk or in the evening.
- Place the female and young in a release box. Many NWCOs use a simple cardboard box, others use a wooden nest box, such as a wood duck box, and some prefer plastic boxes. Use a larger box with at least a 7″ hole for raccoons. (One NWCO recommends a 2 × 2 × 1 ft. box.)
- Make sure the animal cannot immediately get out of the box by covering the hole. Then move them to a quiet place outdoors. Unless they’re likely to be disturbed, keep the box at ground level. Remove the cover so the female can get out of the box. Another option is to build a box with a sliding door. Leave the door open about an inch, to keep the heat inside but make it easy for the female to slide it fully open so she can retrieve her young.
- Some NWCOs prefer to use heated boxes. Make sure that the box doesn’t get too hot. You may want to provide heat in just one area. Also, assume that if you put something in the box, they will chew on it. Don’t give them access to anything that they shouldn’t eat, such as wires. That means that if you choose to use a household heating pad as the heat source, make sure the animals can’t reach the wires. To avoid that problem, one NWCO builds his boxes with a double floor, placing the heating pad in the space between the floors. Other options for heat sources include microwaveable heating pads and warm soapstones.
- If you can’t catch the female, put the young in the heated box and locate it as close to the entry site as possible.
- Check the next day to see if the young are still there. If so, they’ve probably been abandoned. There hasn’t yet been enough research on this technique, so its effectiveness is unknown. It’s likely to be more effective with older, more experienced females; younger females might abandon their young more readily.
- Ideally, cage trap should be at least 10 × 12 × 32″ for a single-door model, longer for double-door models. Bait them with marshmallows or sardines (sardines will attract cats, so be cautious where you use that bait).
- Place a board (or some other sturdy object) underneath the trap to protect the lawn or roof shingles. The board should be 6–8″ wider than the trap, all the way around. Coons often reach outside traps, grabbing and tearing at anything they can get their paws on as they try to escape.
- New cylindrical foothold trap designs specifically for use with raccoons (Little Grizz Get-rz®, EGG trap®, Duffer trap®) reduce both the chance of catching the wrong species and the chance of the captured coon injuring itself.
- Traditional foothold traps, #1 or 1 1/2, baited with marshmallows or sardines (if there’s a risk of capturing cats, use marshmallows).
- Foothold traps are not recommended for use inside a building because the captured coon may damage whatever it can reach.
- Body-gripping trap, #120, #160 or #220, preferably in a restricted opening set that reduces the risk to dogs and cats (vertical cubby, deep-notch box, or a bucket with a restricted opening). These sets also work well if the entry site is on a building, such as a soffit vent or roof vent. See chapter five for details and other tips that reduce the risk of capturing an unintended animal, such as using a one-way trigger.
- Modify the trigger to help ensure a top-to-bottom strike (which is more humane) and to prevent the raccoon from refusing to enter the trap. Raccoons don’t like to have anything brush against their eyes or whiskers, so separate the trigger and center it on the top or bottom of the trap. Proper positioning helps to ensure a cleaner, more humane catch.
- CO2 chamber
- Lethal trap
- Shooting, using a shotgun with #6 shot or larger, or a .22 caliber rifle (target the head, if no rabies testing is required, or the heart/lungs)
- Lethal injection of barbiturate
- Stunning and shooting
- Stunning and CO2 chamber
- Stunning and chest compression, for a smaller raccoon (one that weighs less than 8 pounds)
- Lights, radios, dogs, scarecrows, streamers, and aluminum pans often don’t work.
- Ammonia is dangerous to raccoons and people. Its odor may persuade an adult raccoon to vacate a chimney, but there’s no guarantee that she’ll remove her young—she may simply abandon them. There are better removal methods. NWCOs cannot use ammonia, even if they have a commercial pesticide applicator license, because it’s not registered as a repellent.
- No pesticides are currently registered in NY for raccoon control. The registered repellents that have been tested have proven ineffective.
- Raccoon eviction fluid isn’t registered in NY.