Living with Wildlife: Raccoons
MANAGING RACCOON PROBLEMS
Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are common throughout California. They are medium sized animals 12-35+ pounds and 20-40 inches long, including a bushy tail with 4 to 7 black rings. The fur has a salt and pepper appearance with the black mask marking on a whitish face characteristic of the species. The tracks of raccoons are very distinctive. The hind foot is long, narrow, and rests flat on the ground like those of a bear. The front paw is hand-like, with toes that are long and well separated.
Raccoons breed mainly in February and March, but mating may occur from December through June. The gestation period is about 63 days. Most litters are born in April or May, but some late-breeding females may not give birth until June, July or August. Raccoons produce one litter per year. The average litter size is 3 to 5 young. The offspring are weaned between 2 and 4 months and usually stay with the female until the following spring. Yearling females do not always breed, but adult females normally breed every year, especially if food is plentiful.
The diet of the raccoon is extremely diverse. They will eat fruit, berries, grain, eggs, poultry, vegetables, nuts mollusks, fish, insects, rodents, carrion, pet food and garbage. Individual animals may learn to use specialized foods such as poultry, fruit crops, small livestock or garbage by watching other raccoons. Contrary to popular myth, raccoons do not always wash their food before eating; although they frequently play with their food in water.
Raccoons are nocturnal or nighttime active animals. Urban raccoon populations are frequently underestimated because people seldom see them traveling during the daytime. They are also territorial, particularly the males. Adult males may occupy areas of 3 to 20 square miles; females have a much smaller territory of 1 to 6 square miles. Raccoons den up in hollow trees, drainpipes, homes and buildings, under decks and storage buildings, brush piles, and abandoned burrows.
In urban areas, raccoons can damage buildings (particularly attics and roofs), gardens, fruit trees, lawns, garbage cans, and trash containers. They are also attracted to pet food left outdoors and will attack pets. Occasionally, one or more raccoons will establish a communal toilet area. In rural areas, raccoons may feed on farm crops or raid poultry houses.
All wildlife species including raccoons can carry diseases and parasites. Raccoons are known carriers of rabies (rare), canine distemper, encephalitis, histoplasmosis, trypanosomiasis, coccidlosis, toxoplasmosis, tularemia, tuberculosis, listerlosis, leptospirosis, roundworms and mange. They can also be infested with fleas, ticks, lice and mites that are known transmitters of disease. Children and pets are particularly at risk.
Raccoons are attracted to urban areas by the easy accessibility of food, water and shelter. Reducing or eliminating the availability of all these factors will encourage raccoons to leave. Tight fitting lids should be kept on garbage cans; pets should be fed during daylight hours and any leftovers removed immediately; water bowls should be emptied or taken in at night; gardens should be frequently harvested and windfall fruit picked up. Food should never intentionally be left out for wild mammals. Raccoons can be excluded from buildings by covering foundation vents with slotted metal vent covers and by using ¼-inch grid screening to cover attic vents and chimneys. They have been known to enter homes through pet doors; be sure these are locked at night. Raccoons sometimes take up residence under a low deck. They may be excluded by using ¼-inch grid screening or solid metal flashing. Trench around the perimeter of the deck a minimum of 12 inches deep, insert screening in trench, and backfill. Attach top of screening to facade of deck with nails or fence post staples. Before completing final seal on the last entry point, it is wise to make sure no animals are trapped inside. On the night before completing repairs, sprinkle flour in the entrance hole and check for tracks the following morning. If no tracks are evident for three consecutive nights, no animals are likely present. You may wish to make a temporary one-way exit using ¼-inch grid screening. Form the screening into a cone or funnel shape that will permit animals to leave but not to reenter. The large end should be sized to encircle the entry hole and be attached over the hole to the facade of the deck or building with nails or fence post staples. The small end should face away from the house and be 4 to 6 inches in diameter. Raccoons may be kept away from roof areas by trimming tree branches 10 feet from roof and by keeping climbing plants trimmed away from roof and eave areas. Exclusion of raccoons from coops and poultry yards is usually the most practical and effective method to prevent losses. At night, poultry should be kept in raccoon-proof sheds or houses. Ideally, poultry should be confined day and night in a sturdy house combined with a predator-proof outdoor run area. This also provides protection from many other types of predators. Keep in mind that raccoons are good climbers. Moreover, they are strong animals capable of seizing and pushing or pulling objects with considerable force. Usually raccoons are not inclined to break through walls or fences that are intact and in reasonably good condition. Entry is usually made through open, weak or loose places. Raccoons causing lawn and turf damage may be encouraged to leave by controlling the grub worms or other subsoil insects that raccoons eat. Remember the safety of your pets when dealing with chemicals on your lawn.
LAWS AND REGULATIONS
It is a violation of California State law for any wildlife to be kept as pets. Only authorized wildlife rehabilitators may keep injured or orphaned wildlife and then only for limited periods of time. California Department of Fish and Game regulations prohibit the relocation of raccoons and other wildlife without written permission from the Department. For further information on the legal status of raccoons and other wildlife, contact your local California Department of Fish and Game Regional Office.