Shoreline Area Wildlife: Raccoons

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

PAWS will be providing a weekly post about wild animals commonly found in the Shoreline - Lake Forest Park area. Each post will give facts on the species’ natural behavior, as well as how to avoid and resolve common problems with the animals.

Raccoons are found in every neighborhood of Shoreline and all over heavily-wooded Lake Forest Park.

Photo by Sonya Reasor in her Shoreline back yard
 Natural behavior

Historically found in forests, wetlands and along river and stream corridors the highly adaptable Raccoon has learned to thrive in close proximity to humans. Now you can find commonly Raccoons in suburbs and even busy cities.

Though they are primarily nocturnal, Raccoons can be active during the day. They make dens in hollow trees, rock crevices, or burrows dug by other animals, and in storm sewers, crawl spaces, chimneys and attics.

Except during extreme weather or when a mother is denned with her young, Raccoons do not occupy a den for more than one or two days. Females who are disturbed will often move their young to new dens. Raccoons do not hibernate, but they do live off stored body fat when food is scarce during the winter.

Raccoons are omnivorous. They eat fruit, vegetables, nuts, insects, and small animals, including crayfish, crabs, frogs, and fish. They will also readily take advantage of improperly stored garbage and pet food.

Breeding season extends from late winter through early spring. Females generally giving birth between April and June to an average litter of three or four babies called kits. The kits remain in their birth den until they are about seven weeks old, at which point their mother moves them to a series of alternate dens. In some parts of the country, young Raccoons spend their first winter with their mothers. In Western Washington, many disperse from their mothers in the fall.

Solving and preventing conflicts

Once habituated to people, Raccoons can become bold and their presence, especially in large numbers, can pose problems for home and landowners. The most effective way to deal with Raccoons is to modify your property so that they will not be attracted to sources of food and shelter you have created.

Photo by Sonya Reasor in her Shoreline back yard
Never feed Raccoons-intentionally or unintentionally
  • Dispose of food scraps and trash in a metal can with a tight lid. Use a trash can with locking handle clasps, or secure it with a bungee cord or chain.
  • It is best not to feed cats and dogs outdoors. If you have no choice, pick up food and water bowls, as well as leftovers and spilled food as soon as your pets have finished eating. Do not leave bowls or food scraps outside at night.
  • Raccoons sometimes raid gardens for fruits and vegetables, particularly grapes and corn. By using bright lights, especially those activated by motion, or by creating noise disturbances when Raccoons are present, you may be able to deter them until crops are ready to harvest.

Keep them out of your house

Sometimes female Raccoons may use chimneys as dens to give birth and care for their young. Prevent this from happening by capping all chimney openings. If you suspect Raccoons are present, do not try to smoke them out.

Raccoons may also seek shelter under porches, in crawl spaces, or in attics where they can gain access through loose boards or large holes. If you think there are Raccoons living in these spaces, assume there are young in there from early spring through summer. Wait until the babies are old enough for their mother to move them before you take any steps to force them out.

Photo by Sonya Reasor in her Shoreline back yard
Once you are positive there are no young present, drive Raccoons away by putting up bright, flashing lights, turning on a radio set to a talk station, and hanging mesh bags filled with moth balls or soaked in ammonia. When you think the animals have left, tack a sheet of plastic over the entry and check later to see if animals have broken through it. Be sure to leave the light and radio on until there is no sign of activity, then seal the entry permanently.

Occasionally, Raccoons will venture into houses through pet doors when they smell food on the other side. Stay calm, close surrounding interior doors, leave the room and let the animal find his way out of the pet door or out of an open door or window. Lock pet doors at night or install a door that is electronically activated by a collar your pet wears. Never leave pet food near the opening.

If you or a neighbor have questions or a current problem with Raccoons, please call the staff at PAWS Wildlife Center at 425-412-4040.  PAWS not only helps resolve conflicts with wild animals, but also rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife found by the public.


Julie Houff,  November 11, 2010 at 12:46 AM  

Thank you for the wildlife info. Through education we can only help humans and our wild critter neighbors live more harmoniously together.

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