Controlling Raccoons

raccoon-250.jpgRaccoons are normally at the very top of anyone’s list of troublemaking critters around the home and garden. If raccoons are not attacking your garden, then they are often finding their way into trashcans or bird feeders, or even attacking humans and their pets.

As many people can attest from their own experience, raccoons are very intelligent and extremely curious. Raccoons are active at night and are very repetitive and territorial in nature. Although they do not hibernate, they are most active from May to September. Raccoons do not hibernate during the winter, but are much less active during colder weather, often sleeping for many days or weeks at a time in cold winter months.

Raccoons on average are about 12 inches tall and weigh about 15 to 20 lbs, but can reach a weight of as much as 45 lbs. In the wild, the average lifespan of a raccoon is about 10 to 13 years.

A clear indicator that raccoons are in the area is the sounds that they make to communicate between each other. Raccoons make a variety of sounds including whines, squeals, screams, purrs and whimpers. Raccoons can also be easily identified by their tracks, which have five toes on each foot and longer toes on the hind feet. The front paw almost resembles a human hand. If footprints are not easily identifiable, you might want to sprinkle a hard surface in the area with flour and the footprints will then be easier to see and you will be able to track where they are coming from.

Female raccoons normally give birth in April or May to 1 to 5 babies (called "kits” or "cubs”). The kits stay with the mother during their first summer and then in the fall go find their own winter home.

The ideal home or den for a raccoon is a large cavity in a tree. However, raccoons will also use man-made structures such as attics, chimneys and overhangs at the sides or outside of buildings.

Raccoons will dine on virtually anything, but they primarily eat insects, worms, frogs, nuts, shellfish, eggs and fruit. Raccoons have immense dexterity that allows them to open eggs, doors, bottles and latches.

Around the home and garden, raccoons can cause a significant amount of damage. Tell-tale signs that a raccoon or a family of raccoons is active in the area are overturned trash cans, gardens (especially vegetable plots) that have been raided, hollowed out watermelons that have small holes dug in them and their contents scraped out and freshly laid sod or lawns that have been torn up in the search for grubs.

Raccoons can also do significant damage to a house in their quest to find a nest. This damage can include tearing off shingles and chewing through soffits and fascia board. Often a raccoon will enter a house or garage through the attic or a chimney and even uncapped chimneys can become an attractive home. This can become a serious problem if it causes back draft of smoke into the home.

There are many different ways to control the damage done by raccoons and to repel them away from the home and garden. Control methods include ultrasonic sounds, automated sprayers, physical barriers and smell-based repellents.

When working to control raccoons it is important to try to determine why they are in the area. Are they nesting in the area? Foraging for food? Or passing through the area on their way to another destination? Since raccoons are very territorial and repetitive in their behaviour, the goal of many control methods is simply to change their regular patterns so that they avoid your yard and garden.

Q: Can I use a physical barrier to keep raccoons from causing damage in my yard?

A: Normally raccoons are in an area for a very specific reason: to forage for food (often in garbage cans) or to nest. If raccoons are raiding your garbage cans, your best approach is to simply use strong waste bins that can be securely closed and not opened, even if the can is over turned. The best latches or closers are ones that require a human to use their thumb and hand to open. Since raccoons do not have thumbs they normally cannot open latches that require a two-step action, such as pulling and then releasing.

Raccoons often do damage to a house or garage when they are looking to find a new nesting area or are fighting to get back to their babies. Sometimes it is caused by a raccoon foraging for food and thinking that there is a food source within a building, but usually they do not go to the trouble of tearing off shingles or eaves troughs just for food. More often the damage done to a building is a result of a raccoon ripping shingles or fascia off while attempting to get back into a nest that was closed off. This is especially true if a mother raccoon is prevented from entering an area where her babies are located. It is therefore very important to ensure that juvenile raccoons are not inadvertently left in a den when it is closed up.

Q: Will lights work to keep raccoons away from my backyard?

A: In most cases lights will have no impact or very little impact on a raccoon, because most urban raccoons have become very acclimatized to city lights.

There are, however, special lights that can work. "Predator lights” such as the Nite Guard will work to discourage and scare raccoons out of an area. The NiteGuard emits a special red light that appears, in the dark, to be the reflection of a predator’s eye. This tricks the raccoon into thinking there is a larger predator in the area and the natural response of the raccoon is to avoid any areas where they believe a larger predator is active.

Q: Is there a water sprayer that can be used to keep raccoons away?

A: Yes, a motion-activated water repeller is an excellent way to protect vegetable gardens and shrubs from grazing visitors. The ScareCrow Outdoor Animal Deterrent is easy to use and convenient. It is a motion-activated sprinkler which instantly releases a short but startling burst of water when it detects an animal in the area. The burst of water instantly scares the raccoon or other animal away. The motion sensor range extends about 35 feet out from the ScareCrow spray unit. In addition to scaring raccoons away, the ScareCrow sprayer can be used to discourage domestic dogs and cats, deer and predatory birds attacking fishponds.

Q: What can I do to stop a raccoon from breaking my birdfeeder?

A: If a raccoon is constantly overturning or damaging a birdfeeder you may want to try hanging it from a tree using a long chain or wire that hangs down about 2 to 3 feet. Normally when a raccoon goes after a feeder they knock it to the ground and bang or roll it until it opens – normally breaking or damaging it in the process. Hanging a feeder on a narrow chain or wire makes it difficult for the raccoon to get at the feeder. Be sure to use a chain or wire that has a snap lock on it so that the raccoon cannot remove the feeder from the chain. Raccoons cannot open a snap lock that requires a human to use their thumb to open. It is also possible to protect your feeder using a raccoon baffle on your pole.

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