Living throughout most of the United States and southern Canada, these furry bandits typically inhabit wooded areas adjacent to a water source. Because they can find good food where people live, however, they’ve increasingly made their home in urban and suburban neighborhoods.
Most active during the early evening and at night, the raccoon (Procyon lotor) travels widely over its home territory in search of food. By day, raccoons den in hollow trees, rock crevices, other animal nests, or burrows, and, in mild weather, they often find protected resting spots on the ground. Where raccoons have adjusted to living in areas populated by people, they frequently den in attics, chimneys, and culverts.
Raccoons are omnivores, eating both plant and animal matter. During spring and early summer, they feast on insects, aquatic animals, mice and other small mammals, birds and turtles. In late summer, fall, and winter, raccoons tend to consume more plant material such as seeds, grains, and wild fruits. They aren’t very picky, either. Raccoons living in suburban and urban areas often raid garbage cans and backyard gardens at night.
Contrary to common opinion, raccoons don’t wash their food in order to clean it. Instead, they dabble their food in water because they’re accustomed to foraging for aquatic animals and because it "feels good" on their highly sensitive hands.
In northern regions, mating season peaks in January through late March. Because the male exhibits aggressive behavior toward the young, the female tolerates his presence only during mating and rears her young alone. Prior to giving birth in April or May, the female will establish a nest, often in a hollow tree, chimney, or similar cavity.
A litter commonly consists of two to five young. Immobile for the first eight weeks, the young are unable to leave the nest with their mother as she forages for food at night. When the young reach seven to nine weeks old, the mother moves her litter to an alternative nest site.
At this point, offspring are now old enough to accompany their mother on her nightly travels, gradually learning how to find their own food. Weaned at 16 weeks, they usually remain with the mother through the winter. They disband in the spring to seek their own territories.
Situations & Solutions
Raccoons can occasionally create significant issues for homeowners. Trash cans provide a plentiful supply of food, and chimneys and attics have replaced hollow trees as popular nesting sites. Exclusion serves as the only long-term solution for preventing raccoons from unwanted areas. Learn More about what to do if you have raccoons in your chimney, attic, trash, or garden.
Raccoons & Public Health
Raccoons can transmit disease to other wildlife, domestic animals, and, occasionally, people. Although there’s no need to panic at the sight of a raccoon walking through your yard, you should avoid contact with raccoons, their feces, and den sites. Learn More