Raccoon, Procyon lotor

DIET: Rodents, frogs, fish, crayfish, insects, fruit, eggs, scavenged items.

PREDATORS: Mountain lions, bobcats, domestic dogs, coyotes, large raptors.

HABITAT/RANGE: Wooded areas, as well as human-occupied areas like cities, neighborhoods, and campgrounds.  Their range covers much of North America and parts of Europe and Asia.

CONSERVATION STATUS: Least concern.

WHERE TO OBSERVE IN SB:

  • Neighborhoods

  • El Capitan State Beach

Raccoons are familiar creatures in many cities, neighborhoods, and campgrounds.  Their black mask makes them easily identifiable, and they are known to be bold and very intelligent.  They are often seen climbing in trees and overgrown hedges.

Appearance

Raccoons have a distinctive black mask and ringed tail.  They are larger than housecats but smaller than the average dog.  Their bodies are usually a grey-brown color with black markings.  Their eyes appear to glow yellow at night.

Ecological Roles

Like skunks and opossums, raccoons are omnivores.  They are not the greatest hunters but they will prey on animals that are easy to catch- such as young rats, mice, and gophers, or aquatic animals such as frogs, fish, and crayfish. Sometimes raccoons eat fruit, which they may find in gardens and on fruit trees in people's yards. Other foods they eat include insects and eggs.  They are opportunistic, eating whatever is available.

Raccoons are preyed on by larger wild mammals, such as mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes.  Domestic dogs also can kill and eat a raccoon.  Young raccoons sometimes fall prey to large owls and eagles.

Behavior

Raccoons are nocturnal, and during the day they sleep in their dens.  Places they can use as dens include overgrown hedges, holes in trees, and crawlspaces, to name a few.  They may change dens every few days, not always staying in one place for a long time.

 

Raccoons mate in March or April, and give birth about 65 days later.  The mother stays with the kits in one den until they are old enough to move from den to den. 

In areas with a cold winter, raccoons stay in their dens if it's too cold to forage, but they will not truly hibernate. 

Raccoons like to be near a water source where they can hunt- backyard fishponds are one such water source.  Contrary to popular myth, raccoons do not "wash" their hands or their food to keep clean.  Instead, they are feeling their food before they eat it.  The water makes their nerves more sensitive so they can get precise information about the shape and texture of their food.

Rascal Raccoons

The raccoon is a very common animal in urban and residential settings, partly because of the abundance of food, and this has led to various kinds of human-raccoon conflict that gives raccoons a bad rap.  However, many of these issues can be prevented before they happen, so that raccoons and their human neighbors can coexist.

  • As opportunistic omnivores, raccoons are known for knocking over trashcans in search of food.  To prevent this, secure your outdoor trashcan and avoid putting out anything that could attract raccoons (e.g. bones from meat) until trash day.  Not only will you avoid an inconvenient mess, but you will also help keep raccoons wild and prevent them from eating unhealthy food.

  • In some cases, raccoons have gotten in fights with cats while competing for the food in a cat's outdoor bowl.  A steady diet of cat food also causes raccoons to acclimate to people more than is good for the raccoon or the neighborhood. Feed your pet inside to avoid this situation.

  • Raccoons are one of the most common predators of backyard chickens, along with opossums.  However, your chickens can be kept safe with a coop that is secured on all sides and locked at night.  See the Wildlife-Proof Chicken Coop page for more info.

  • To keep raccoons from using unwanted places as dens, such as crawlspaces or attics, inspect these areas for possible access points and close them off.

How to Observe Raccoons

Raccoons typically come out late at night and avoid human activity, except in areas where they are frequently fed by people (such as campgrounds).  If you wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of a large animal on your fence, it is likely a raccoon.  If you are lucky enough to see a raccoon, stay a reasonable distance away from it and watch quietly.  Motion-detecting wildlife cameras are useful for allowing you to monitor raccoons in your yard even if you don't see them in person.

Image credits: Raccoon- homar, Pixabay, Creative Commons CC0.