How do you spot a raccoon on your property? Finding nests, tracks, and droppings are usually tell-tale signs of raccoons on your property. The following tips can help you identify and deal with raccoons.
Raccoons: The Basics
To identify a raccoon on your property, you should first know what they look like and how they behave. Here are some basic facts about raccoons.
Raccoons have distinct physical features — their bandit-masked face and bushy striped tails make them east to spot. They have thick, gray fur and a round, stocky build with slightly rounded ears resembling those of a panda.
Raccoons are small to medium in size, growing between 2 to 3 feet in length and weighing between 20 to 30 pounds at maturity.
Their front paws look like miniature human hands with five fingers each, which they use to catch food — you may have seen pictures of raccoons “washing” their hands.
Raccoons are nocturnal mammals. They come out at night to look for food, eat, and do most of their business. While it isn’t common, you may occasionally find a raccoon out and about during the day.
When it comes to diet, raccoons aren’t picky eaters. They’re omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and meat, including small fish, shellfish, birds, snakes, eggs, etc. They also eat fruits and nuts. Raccoons will also forage for food in garbage cans if they can get to them.
Raccoons are known for their habit of “washing” food, but what they’re really doing is examining it. Raccoons depend on their sense of touch and by dousing their food in water it helps them more easily feel whatever it is they’re holding. They also do this outside of water.
Raccoons are opportunistic den animals. They will build their dens in hollowed out trunks of trees, small burrows in the ground or even your garden shed, or attic if they gain access. While they don’t hibernate, during extreme cold they will stay inside their dens to survive, venturing out to forage as temperatures permit.
Raccoons are native to North America — from Canada all the way to Panama. These adaptable little mammals have spread around the world though, and have been reported in Europe and even China and Japan.
The Tell-Tale Signs
Raccoons are opportunistic and they get around. It’s entirely possible you have at least one raccoon in your neighborhood. Here’s how to know for sure.
Fun Fact: Males can range as much as 20 square miles per day and females will roam around an average of 1 to 6 square miles.
Raccoons will build their dens just about anywhere they can get to — and these clever little mischief-makers can get into most places. They are happy to build their dens in hollowed out tree trunks or burrows in the ground, but they will also make use of chimneys, attics, barns, and crawlspaces if they’re available. Other popular den sites include beneath decks, under wood and brush piles, and inside shrubbery.
If you notice droppings around your property and you suspect they may be raccoon leavings, take a look around for potential den sites. Because they’re nocturnal, a raccoon’s presence can go unnoticed for quite some time. But removing potential den sites by closing any points of access into your home or outbuildings, and keeping wood and brush piles cleaned up can help eliminate any unwanted guests.
You might notice raccoon tracks in the mud or snow. Thanks to their five-fingered hands, their tracks are easy to distinguish from most other animals you’re likely to find near your home. Their front paws resemble small human hands and their back paws resemble small, clawed human feet.
Raccoons use communal sites called “latrines” to do their business. Raccoon droppings are tubular in shape, similar to that of dogs, and have a pungent odor. You might find latrines in all the same areas that would be used for dens — under decks, in attics, sheds, or at the base of trees near a hollow.
Raccoons are carriers of a type of roundworm, Baylisascaris procyonis, that can be harmful to people. If you come across a suspected latrine, it needs to be destroyed to prevent infection. If you’re uncomfortable cleaning it up yourself, contact pest control — they may be able to help.
Property Damage and Noise
Raccoons can quickly cause damage, including scratches and chew marks on siding and other areas of your home. They have long nails that leave scratches as they move around and if they think they can create an opening into your home, they might try to chew their way in.
Scratches and bite marks aren’t the only damage raccoons can do. You may also find broken lawn ornaments, damaged gutters, vents, windows shutters and screens. Raccoons might also damage garden plants and eat your vegetables.
You might also hear them moving around and calling to each other at night when they’re more active. If you hear something moving around in your attic, it could be raccoons.
Toppled Garbage Cans
There’s a reason raccoons have earned the nickname “trash panda.” Rapid urbanization has forced raccoons to adapt to living next to people, and part of that has included foraging in trash cans where they can find food scraps thrown out by their human neighbors. One way to prevent access to trash is by keeping your cans securely covered and strapped to an exterior wall so they can’t be easily toppled.
Raccoon Repelling Tips
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can take steps to keep raccoons from making their home on your property and prevent problems before they arise by following these tips:
- Build a fence. A sturdy fence with electrical wire along the bottom can help keep raccoons out at night. Install an electrical wire you can turn off and on and install it on the outside of your fence.
- Don’t leave food out. If you feed your pets outside, make sure you pick up any leftovers each night. Additionally, make sure your garbage cans are secure — keep lids firmly on and strap bins to exterior walls. You could also keep garbage bins inside a garage.
- Limit access to your house. Keep pet doors shut at night and screen your windows. Chimneys should also be secured with screens designed to keep out animals without blocking ventilation. Inspect crawlspaces and other vulnerable areas for damage regularly and make repairs as needed.
- Keep trees and shrubbery trimmed. Maintaining greenery around your home will keep animals from building nests and dens inside while also keeping your property looking nice. Also make sure to keep branches from extending over the top of your roof. Not only does this prevent easy access for raccoons, but it eliminates the danger of a dropped branch destroying your roof.
Raccoons may seem harmless, but they can quickly cause a lot of problems if they get out of control. But knowing what to look for and being able to identify and prevent possible problems with your bandit-masked neighbors can help you avoid trouble.
If you need help with removing raccoons, contact your local animal control or pest control.