Project Wildlife Animals: Raccoons
What to do if you find:

We recommend that you do not attempt to rescue an injured or sick raccoon yourself.  Special precautions need to be taken when dealing with this type of wild animal.  They can carry rabies and baylisascaris worms, both of which are contagious to you, and distemper which can be transmitted to your pets. The best thing to do is to keep an eye on the animal until an experienced project wildlife volunteer, or animal control arrives at the scene. 

If the animal is in immediate danger, proceed very cautiously. First put on heavy leather gloves to protect yourself in case the animal bites. Even a very small baby can and will bite. Please cage it in a kennel or pet carrier (or any ventilated secure container), and place it in a warm, dark place while seeking help.

Food & Water

Do not feed a raccoon. Feeding too quickly or inappropriately can cause illness and death.

About Raccoons

Raccoons (Procyon lotor) belong to the Procyonidae (those who came before dogs family. This highly intelligent mammal has a rounded head with short nose, small ears, and a sturdy body with minimum-length, thick, grayish brown fur. Raccoons are easily identified by (1) a distinctive pattern of alternating black and yellowish white rings around a large, bushy tail and (2) a unique narrow black face mask with two white patches above the eyes. They average 2 to 3 feet long (including the tail) and 12 inches high, weigh 8 to 22 pounds (heaviest in autumn), and live for 10 to 13 years. Females produce one litter a year, numbering from one to six kits and averaging four or five.

Over most of the U.S. and southern Canada, except in the western mountain ranges, raccoons are found in many different habitats, especially near streams, ponds, and marshes in mature wooded areas. Their range is expanding further north into Canada, because of habitat lost to agriculture and the apparent warming of northern weather. As humans have moved into raccoon habitat, this mammal has proven more adaptable than most. For nesting sites it prefers warm, dry, dark, easily protected areas. In the wild, it dens in tree hollows, hollow logs, or sometimes rocky caverns. In urban areas, raccoons may nest in drainpipes, basements, crawl spaces and house attics. Raccoon populations now are actually densest in suburban and urban areas.

Raccoons will eat whatever their environment provides. In the rural environment, they eat insects, nuts, worms, frogs, shellfish, fish, mammals, birds, eggs, grubs, snakes, and fruits. In agricultural areas, they may feed on corn crops, poultry and garden and orchard vegetables and fruits. In urban settings, an easily opened garbage can is hard for them to resist. They are nocturnal but are occasionally active in daytime.

They are fairly sociable and often den with other raccoons. In colder regions, raccoons may sleep for a good portion of the winter; in the summer, they find shady, cool places to rest. They are territorial with limited private ranges, approximately 1 mile in diameter. Often their territories overlap with those of other raccoons but boundary clashes are rare. When confronting each other, they often grunt threateningly but seldom fight.

The species scientific name, lotor, means the washer, because raccoons have been observed dunking their food in water before eating it. This behavior in captivity is thought to mimic behavior in the wild, where raccoons hunt in or near water and hold their catch submerged before eating it. In the wild, they do not wash all food before eating.

Raccoons have keen senses of smell and hearing. They are strong and agile, hence good tree and fence climbers. Each foot has five long and slender digits, which operate with remarkable dexterity. In the wild, they use their front feet for finding food in water, opening shellfish, and conveying food to the mouth. In adapting to human habitat, they often apply this dexterity to opening garbage cans and pet food storage containers.

Zoologists attribute the raccoons adaptability to transmission of culture, a mammalian trait this creature has developed to a high level. The young quickly pick up new skills from adults and then can make their own adjustments or adaptations to new circumstances.

The raccoons primary enemies are humans, dog packs, traps, and automobiles. Many would-be larger predators know better than to take on an adult raccoon, a tough fighter with razor-sharp teeth. If threatened, the raccoon will often try a counter threat, fluffing out its fur so that it appears larger and uttering a throaty growl or cry. Raccoons may appear bold but usually are not aggressive except during mating season or when defending their young. However, their strength, teeth, and claws equip them to defend themselves effectively.

Raccoons are so common that you need not look far for them, and as their natural habitat shrinks, they are increasingly found in urban areas. They are night creatures and will be shy in areas where they are hunted. Where people do not pursue them with rifles and dogs, they are curious animals. Their tracks are easily identifiable, looking much like a human hand print.

Co-existing with Raccoons:
  • Raccoons are curious animals and are commonly found around human habitats. To keep them out of your home:
  • Secure trash can lids so that raccoons cannot get into them; keep trash cans in a shed or garage.
  • Eliminate access to food in your yard—place pet food inside, secure pet doors at night, pick up fallen fruit around the garden, restrict the use of birdseed.
  • If a raccoon is digging in the yard, sprinkle cayenne pepper to discourage grub-hunting.
  • Trim branches that provide access to the house.
  • Bright lights, loud sounds, and ammonia-soaked rags may act as deterrents.
  • If you suspect that a raccoon is in your attic, under your porch, etc., you may need to contact a professional wildlife extractor. Raccoons may have their babies inside your home and you will need special equipment and skills to ensure all babies are safely removed before closing up an entrance or removing the mother from the property.
Nuisance Raccoons:

If raccoons are causing havoc to your home by building their dens in your attic or under a building, we can help! Using the animal’s natural behaviors to our advantage, we can humanely evict the mother with her young in tow and install barriers to keep them from coming back. Visit our Wildlife Extraction Page to learn more.


 



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