Adorable masked critter? Trash panda? Sinister pest?
What you think of raccoons might depend on how you cross paths with them. People ooh and ah at their cuteness, but they’re also one of the most reviled urban animals, generating lots of angry calls to City officials. Luckily actions we take can make it easier to live with them.
Raccoons have gray fur with a black mask and a black-banded tail. Long toes on their front feet make them look a little like hands.
Raccoons are about three feet long including the tail and weigh from 10 to 30 pounds, with males a little bit bigger than females.
Raccoons live almost everywhere in Philadelphia, from our neighborhoods into our parks and other greenspaces. They are often associated with water and will feel around for aquatic critters such as crayfish to munch on.
Raccoons are omnivores. They’ll eat pretty much any animal they can get their paws on, and they’ll eat a variety of plant matter such as fruit, acorns and nuts, leaves and grass, seed from bird feeders. Needless to say, they’ll also chow down on whatever they find in our garbage cans.
Raccoons come out mostly at night and sleep during the day. A hollow tree can serve as a daytime den, but so can the space under a porch or an old attic or crawlspace.
Racoons breed in the winter and give birth to three to five young in the spring. After a month the babies are big enough to come along on feeding trips with their mother. After about four months they’re ready to head out on their own, though some stick around into the next winter. Raccoons live about ten years in the wild.
In the fall they build up a thick layer of fat to help fuel them through the winter. They don’t fully hibernate, but they do sleep most of the winter and wake up in warm spells to stretch their legs and look for something to eat.
Raccoons tend to be active when we are not. It’s one of the secrets to their success in the city. You might catch a glimpse of one walking around in the day - particularly at dawn or dusk, but usually you have to find them at night.
If you can put a game camera (battery-powered, motion-triggered camera) in your yard you might get a picture of one that comes by in the middle of the night.
In the daytime check muddy patches on trails or near water for their distinctive, hand-like footprints.
Sadly a lot of them end up killed while crossing the road, making them easy to find as roadkill.
Living With Raccoons
Raccoons look cute and cuddly, but they are fierce, wild animals. Admire them from a safe distance and don’t try to pet them. Avoid raccoons that move towards you or don’t seem afraid, and then call animal control. Raccoons can carry rabies, and a bite from a raccoon should be considered a medical emergency.
Raccoons can also cause significant damage to houses when they move in, for example into an attic.
The most important part of living with raccoons is not feeding them. If raccoons can’t get into your trash, and if you don’t leave food out for them (this includes pet food for other animals - never feed stray cats or dogs), they’ll have less of a reason to hang around your house or move into it.