RacoonEveryone readily recognizes this furry, nocturnal mammal with a black “mask” around its eyes and black rings down its tail.  At two to three feet in length and weighing anywhere from 10 to 30 pounds, the raccoon (Procyon lotor) is one stocky little mammal.  While severe winter weather may confine a raccoon to its den temporarily, these sneaky scavengers are active and up to no good year-round.

Raccoon’s natural habitats are ideally wooded areas near water, where they den in brush piles, ground burrows, hollow trees, and rock crevices.  However, these clever survivalists can expertly adapt to both suburban and urban environments, creating their dens in any accessible outbuildings, in backyards, and even beneath the decks of residences.   If they are able to gain more affluent accommodations in attics, in the crawl space beneath houses, and up chimneys, they will readily do so.  And as they are nocturnal, raccoons can often run amok undetected for quite some time before they are discovered—often along with the significant damage they have caused during their stay.

As omnivores, raccoons eat both animals and plants.  The plants raccoons eat include acorns, all kinds of fruits, berries, corn, nuts, and a variety of other grains.  Raccoons prey on animals including clams, crayfish, eggs and offspring of birds on the ground, fish, frogs, insects, muskrats, snails, rabbits, and turtles.  When living in an urban setting, a raccoon is content to feed on fruits, nuts, and vegetables from the backyard, and of course, scavenge from compost piles and garbage cans.  Pet food which is left outside overnight, whether accidentally or intentionally is also appreciated and devoured.

Potential for Damage to your New Jersey Property

While a raccoon can do a number on the garden, the real worry is the potential damage a raccoon can do to a house.  Female raccoons searching for nesting sites can destroy fascia boards, rooftop ventilators, and shingles while trying to enter the attic.  Those that manage to gain attic access can displace and rip up insulation on walls, air conditioning and heating ducts.  If you notice a discoloration on the ceiling accompanied by an unpleasant odor, chances are you may have discovered the location of a raccoon restroom in the attic.  Ectoparasites (mites, fleas, lice, etc.) can infest the attic and make their homes in other indoor locations.  The door covering any crawl space access can sometimes sustain damage as raccoons attempt to establish a den beneath the residence.

In addition to their tendency to redecorate your home, raccoons are notorious as carriers of internal parasites and a number of diseases.  One cause for concern in recent years has been the increased incidences of the raccoon roundworm, an infection which occurs when people accidentally ingest or inhale roundworm eggs from raccoon feces. This infection can cause serious health problems, especially for young children.  And of course the list would not be complete without mentioning that raccoons are frequently carriers of rabies.

Urban Raccoon Management

Raccoon problems can be approached in a variety of ways, and in some communities, the raccoon problems are so severe that the entire community must come together to create a solution.  It is often necessary for the city or municipality be involved in creating solutions to raccoon problems, since the areas under their control or management are often the raccoon’s primary urban habitats.  Raccoons will take advantage of city parks, golf courses, highway and street plantings, and other green urban areas to create dens and travel routes. Road and street culverts as well as storm drains are commonly used as raccoon dens.  A ban on feeding raccoons, invoked and put in place by city government is often a vital part of any solution.  City governments can take a leadership role in educating the public how to approach an area-wide urban raccoon problem while discouraging individuals from the well-meaning but counter-productive practice of live-trapping and relocating the raccoons.

Modification of Habitat

Raccoons approach and linger at gardens and homes because these places offer potential locations for dens and supplies of food.  Reducing food availability can be achieved by placing all trash in metal garbage cans and securing each with a lid.  While raccoons will attempt to tip over the garbage cans, this can be prevented by placing the cans in a rack or by tying them to a secure post.  Pet food should never be left outdoors after nightfall.  Fruits and nuts which propagate in the yard should be gathered frequently.  Never feed raccoons intentionally and strongly discourage your neighbors from providing food for raccoons as well.

You can discourage raccoons from making themselves at home by removing woodpiles and other materials raccoons may be inclined to den under or inside, and reducing cover by thinning out any overgrown shrubbery.  Roof access can be severely limited by cutting overhanging tree branches to provide a significant gap (at least 5 feet) between the tree and the roof.  Any arbor or trellis attached to the home should also be removed, as these can also facilitate roof access for the raccoons.

raccoon 9 monthsAccess Denied

Denying raccoon’s access to established dens is the key to eliminating those dens.  This is often easier said than done, and can also be dangerous.  When cornered these powerful mammals can become extremely vicious.  Their dexterous front paws function like human hands, and are capable of unhooking simple latches.  Raccoons are quite capable of digging under or climbing over ordinary fences to access gardens and yards.   Additionally, raccoons are adept at locating weaknesses in fences for easy access; including ripping off loose boards on wooden fences or enlarging holes in wire ones.

Access to chimneys can be prevented by covering them with a fire-code-safe spark arrester. When tightly secured, spark arresters prevent raccoons as well as birds, rats, and tree squirrels from entering the chimney.  Structures such as decks, garden and tool sheds, and porches which have open spaces beneath them should have access to those spaces tightly and properly screened with galvanized hardware mesh.  If installed properly, galvanized hardware mesh will prevent opossums, raccoons, rats, skunks, and squirrels from claiming these open spaces for their living quarters.

Leave Trapping to Experts

It is advisable to hire an expert in wildlife control to trap and remove raccoons from your property if this approach becomes necessary.  A wildlife control expert will bring the proper equipment and experience needed to accomplish the task.  One reason this experience is very important is the expert can determine if a trapped female raccoon is nursing its young.  Whether or not raccoons are a nuisance, you do not want to force a female raccoon to abandon young behind to starve. The wildlife control expert will know where and how to have the raccoons euthanized, as it is against the law to release them elsewhere.

In Summary

Raccoons are nocturnal mammals who are fairly strong and intelligent and occasionally vicious.  While their normal habitat is in the woods, they will investigate and make their home around human dwellings—even traveling to urban areas—in search of food and shelter.  When raccoons locate this food and shelter, they can cause damage to property, and can be a danger to pets and humans.  Steps should be taken to remove raccoons from residential areas, and these raccoons should never be intentionally fed. 

There are a variety of way to manage unwanted raccoon populations, including limiting access to food and excluding access to existing dens.  Removal of branches which overhang roofs and trimming ground cover can reduce animal’s ability to gain entry into homes and buildings.  If it is decided that raccoons need to be trapped and removed from the property, a wildlife control expert should be hired to plan and carry out this action.  A wildlife control expert can trap and remove raccoons humanely, and while following all applicable laws.

Contact Alliance Pest Services for all of your wildlife removal problems and solutions.  Alliance Wildlife Solutions offers a wide variety of treatment plans and options for wildlife problems.