Raccoons

Figure 1. Raccoon (Procyon lotor).  Photo in public domain.

Learning Objectives

  1. Demonstrate the ability to educate clients about control options.
  2. Describe typical sets used to capture raccoons.
  3. Identify the risks involved in working with raccoons.

Legal Status in New York

Protected. Game species with set season. NWCOs may take or possess raccoons without any additional permit from the DEC when the animal is damaging or destroying property or found to be a nuisance.

Raccoons are a rabies vector species, so you must consult with the county health department and follow their guidelines for disposing of the animal.

Overview of Damage Prevention and Control Methods

Habitat Modification

  • Remove obvious sources of food or shelter around the premises
  • Close outbuilding and exterior laundry room doors.

Exclusion

  • Usually the best method for coping with raccoon damage

Frightening Devices

  • Effective for a short time

Repellents and Toxicants

In New York, any use of toxicants or repellents by NWCOs requires the NWCO to have a pesticide applicator license.

Shooting

  • .22-caliber rifle
  • Shotgun with No. 6 shot or larger

Trapping

  • 1 longspring
  • 1.5 coilspring
  • 160, 220 Conibear®-style
  • Species-specific traps
  • 10- x 12- x 32-inch single-door cage or box traps
  • 10- x 12- x 42-inch double-door cage or box traps

Other Control Methods

  • Direct capture
  • Chimney removal methods
  • One-way doors

Raccoon Species Information

Identification

Raccoons (Procyon lotor) also are called “coons.”

Physical Description

Raccoons are distinctively marked, with a prominent black “mask” over the eyes and a heavily furred, ringed tail. The coloring is grizzled salt-and-pepper gray and black above, although some individuals are strongly washed with yellow. Raccoons are stocky mammals about 2 to 3 feet long and typically weigh 12 to 36 pounds.

Voice and Sounds

Raccoons emit several sounds including chirps, coos, chatter, distress calls, purrs, and complaints. Visit the website http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/raccoon.htm to listen to audio samples.

Tracks and Signs

Raccoons usually leave behind plenty of signs of their presence. Tracks (Figure 2) often turn to smudges when the animals climb up downspouts.

Figure 2. Five long rear toes and “hand-like” front prints are characteristic of raccoon tracks. The “heel” of the hind foot seldom shows, except in soft mud or sand. Image by PCWD.

Latrines, where raccoons regularly defecate (Figure 3), tend to be in areas open to the sky such as roofs, sand boxes, and fallen trees.

Figure 3. Latrine of a raccoon. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

General Biology

Populations of raccoons consist of a high proportion of young animals, with ½ to ¾ of fall populations normally composed of animals less than a year in age. Raccoons may live up to 12 years in the wild, but such animals are extremely rare.

Reproduction

Raccoons’ reproduction peaks in late January to February. Gestation lasts about 63 days. Most litters are born in March through May, but some late-breeding females (typically those who lost their first litter) may not give birth until June, July, or August. Only 1 litter of young is raised per female per year. Average litter size is 3 to 5 young. Young first open their eyes at about 3 weeks and are weaned between 2 and 4 months of age.

Less than half of the females in a population will breed the year after their birth. Most adult females breed every year. Family groups of raccoons usually remain together for the first year with the young often denning with the adult female during winter. The family gradually separates during the following spring as the young become independent.

Denning Cover

Raccoons prefer crevices for their dens. Den sites may include tree cavities, hollow trees, hollow logs, ground burrows, brush piles, muskrat houses, barns and abandoned buildings, dense clumps of cattail, haystacks, rock crevices, storm sewers, under sheds and porches, chimneys, and attics.

Behavior

Raccoons are generally solitary, except females with young. They are nocturnal, but may be active during the day, especially in the spring and summer when the female is nursing and raising young. Adult males occupy territories of 3 to 20 square miles, compared to 1 to 6 square miles for females. Adult males tend to be territorial and their ranges overlap very little.

Raccoons do not truly hibernate, but they “hole up” in dens and become inactive during severe winter weather. This period of inactivity may extend for weeks or months in New York. Raccoons may lose up to half of their fall body weight during winter as they use stored body fat.

Habitat

Raccoons prefer hardwood forests near streams, rivers, swamps or ponds. They also occur around farmsteads and livestock watering areas, far from naturally occurring bodies of permanent water. They are highly adaptable and are also found in suburban and urban areas.

Food Habits

Raccoons are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals. Plant foods include fruits, berries, nuts, acorns, corn, and other types of grain. Animal foods include crayfish, clams, fish, frogs, snails, insects, turtles and their eggs, mice, rabbits, muskrats, and the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds and waterfowl.

Damage Identification

Raccoons may cause damage or nuisance problems in a variety of ways. Raccoons are superb climbers and frequently will enter buildings by climbing trees or downspouts, or by shimmying up the side of a building. Look for smudge or scratch marks on trees or at the corners of buildings (Figure 4a). Latrines on roofs and in attics are classic signs of raccoon presence.

Damage to Structures

Raccoons cause damage or nuisance problems around houses and outbuildings when they seek to gain entrance to attics or chimneys, or when they raid garbage in search of food. In many urban and suburban areas, raccoons learn that uncapped chimneys make adequate substitutes for more traditional hollow trees for denning sites, particularly in spring. In extreme cases, raccoons may tear off shingles or fascia boards to gain access to an attic or wall space. Raccoons only need a 4-inch gap to enter a space (Figure 4b).

Figure 4a. Arrows point to smudges indicative of climbing by raccoons. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.
Figure 4b. A raccoon entered this attic through the vent. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Damage to Livestock and Pets

Raccoons occasionally kill poultry and leave distinctive signs. The heads of adult birds usually are bitten off and left some distance from the body. The crop and breast may be torn and chewed, the entrails sometimes eaten and bits of flesh left near water. Young poultry in pens or cages may be killed or injured by raccoons reaching through the wire and attempting to pull the birds back through the mesh. Legs or feet of the young birds may be missing. Eggs may be removed completely from nests or eaten on the spot with only the shell remaining. The lines of fracture normally will be along the long axis of the egg and the nest materials often are disturbed. Raccoons can destroy bird nests in artificial nesting structures such as bluebird and wood duck nest boxes.

Damage to Landscapes

Raccoons can cause considerable damage to garden or truck crops, particularly sweet corn. Damage to sweet corn by raccoons is characterized by many partially eaten ears with the husks pulled back. Stalks also may be broken as raccoons climb to get access to the ears. Raccoons damage watermelons by digging a small hole in the melon and raking out the contents with a front paw.

Raccoons also roll up freshly laid sod in search of earthworms and grubs. They may return repeatedly and roll up extensive areas of sod on successive nights. This behavior is common particularly in mid- to late summer as young raccoons are learning to forage and during periods of dry weather when other food sources are less available.

Health and Safety Concerns

Raccoons are associated with rabies and raccoon roundworm. The incidence of reported cases of rabies in raccoons and other wildlife has increased dramatically over the past 30 years. This increase can be attributed to more testing, greater awareness, and higher numbers of raccoons. Raccoons recently have been identified as a major host of rabies in the US, primarily due to increased prevalence in the eastern US.

Raccoon roundworm (Baylisasacris procyonis) can cause blindness, brain damage, and death. Raccoons are not the only carrier of this disease, but they are the definitive host. Avoid disturbing feces and items contaminated with feces. Consult Module 3, Wildlife Diseases, to learn more about this infection and how to prevent it in humans.

Damage Prevention and
Control Methods

Raccoons can be controlled whenever they are causing damage.

Habitat Modification

Remove any obvious sources of food or shelter that may be attracting raccoons to the premises. Raccoons forage over wide ranges and anything other than local habitat modification to reduce numbers of raccoons generally is not effective for reducing damage.

Protect property by removing as many potential sources of food as possible. Trash cans, preferably metal, should have tight-fitting lids that remain attached even if upended. Loose lids can be secured with bungee cords or wire. The best solution is to store trash containers inside secure buildings.

Use only plant and vegetable matter (no meat, eggs, fats, or oils) in compost piles to avoid attracting raccoons, opossums, skunks, and other scavengers. Avoid leaving food and water out overnight for pets. Put free-ranging poultry in fenced, predator-proof runs overnight. Avoid planting sweet corn patches near creek bottoms or other wooded areas.

Both raccoons and opossums eat birdseed, so hang bird feeders on a wire between trees or on a baffled pole to prevent raiding. Reduce the amount of seed that falls to the ground by avoiding the use of mixed seed (use 1 type of seed per feeder) and using feeders that recapture fallen seed.

When raccoons are rolling up freshly laid sod, pin the strips of sod down with long wire pins, wooden stakes, or nylon netting to allow the grass to take root. If damage is extensive, install electric fences if legal. Sod-turning behavior is most prevalent in mid-to late summer when family groups of raccoons are learning to forage. Homeowners may be able to avoid problems by having sod installed in spring or early summer. In most cases, removal of the problem raccoons is necessary. Application of grub control insecticides is only effective if grubs are controlled before damage starts.

Exclusion

Exclusion usually is the best method of coping with damage by raccoons. Damage to sweet corn or watermelons can be stopped by excluding raccoons with a single or double hot-wire arrangement, if allowed by local ordinances (Figure 5). Turn the fence on in the evening before dusk and turn it off after daybreak. Use electric fences with care and install appropriate caution signs.

Figure 5. Electric fences, where legal, are effective in protecting property from damage by raccoons. Image by PCWD.

Damage to poultry can be prevented by excluding raccoons with tightly covered doors and windows on buildings or mesh-wire fences with an overhang surrounding poultry yards. Raccoons are excellent climbers and are capable of gaining access by climbing conventional fences or by using overhanging limbs to bypass a fence. A “hot wire” from an electric fence charger at the top of a fence greatly increases the effectiveness of a fence for excluding raccoons.

Wrap filament tape or place plastic bags around ripening ears of corn to reduce raccoon damage to sweet corn. Tape and fences are more effective than bagging. When using tape, it is important to apply the type with glass-yarn filaments embedded within so that raccoons cannot tear through the tape. The use of tape is more labor-intensive than fences, but may be more practical and acceptable for small backyard gardens.

Store garbage in metal or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids to discourage raccoons from trying to access garbage. If lids do not fit tightly, it may be necessary to use bungee cords or wire, weight, or clamp them down to prevent raccoons from lifting the lid to get at garbage. Secure cans to a rack or tie them to a support to prevent raccoons from upending them.

Limit access to rooftops by removing overhanging branches and wrapping and nailing sheets of slick metal at least 3 feet square around corners of buildings. This prevents raccoons from being able to get a toehold for climbing. While this method may be practical for outbuildings, some clients may consider it unsightly and generally unacceptable for their homes. It is more practical to secure chimneys or other areas attracting raccoons to the rooftop or to remove the offending individual animals than to completely exclude them from the roof.

Prevent access to chimneys by securely fastening a commercial chimney cap over the top of the chimney (Figure 6). Homeowners attempting to exclude or remove raccoons in the spring and summer should be aware of the possibility that young also may be present.

Do not complete exclusion procedures until you are certain that all raccoons have been removed from or have left the exclusion area. Raccoons frequently use uncapped chimneys as natal den sites, raising young on the smoke shelf or the top of the fireplace box until weaning. Homeowners with the patience to endure several weeks of scratching, rustling, and chirring sounds normally will be rewarded by the mother raccoon moving the young from the chimney when she begins to wean them. Homeowners with less patience often can contact a NWCO to physically remove the raccoons. In either case, raccoon exclusion procedures should be completed immediately after the animals are gone.

Figure 6. A cap will keep raccoons and other animals out of chimneys. These are available commercially and should be made of heavy material. Tightly clamp or fasten them to chimneys to prevent raccoons from pulling or tearing them off. Photo by Hy-C.

For raccoons denning in homes or buildings where the young are older and mobile, install a one-way door over the entry hole. The female and young can leave on their own, but won’t be able to re-enter.

Frightening Devices

Although several techniques have been used to frighten raccoons, particularly in sweet corn patches, none have been proven to be effective over a long period of time. Frightening techniques include the lights, radios, dogs, scarecrows, plastic or cloth streamers, aluminum pie pans, tin can lids, and plastic windmills. Frightening devices may have some temporary effectiveness in deterring raccoons, but none will provide adequate long-term protection in most situations. Frightening devices that use more than one technique (sound, motion and light) and vary the pattern might be more effective at deterring raccoons.

Repellents and Toxicants

In New York, any use of toxicants or repellents by NWCOs requires the NWCO to have a pesticide applicator license.

Before using any product, you must check the New York State Pesticide Administrator Database (NYSPAD) to see if the product is registered for use in NY and for the target species. For example, if the product is registered for use on squirrels, it cannot be used for deer. The following are presented as examples of repellents and toxicants that may be effective.

Repellents

Ro-Pel is a contact/taste repellent that is applied directly to surfaces to keep chewing animals from causing damage. Do not apply Ro-Pel to edible plants or crops that bear fruit because it will impart a bitter taste.

Toxicants

No toxicants are registered for the control of raccoons.

Shooting

Raccoons can be shot at night with proper lighting. Trained dogs can be used to tree the raccoons first. A .22-caliber rifle will effectively kill treed raccoons if shot placement is restricted to the head. Otherwise, use a shotgun with no.6 or larger shot. Check state and local ordinances before using shooting raccoons.

Trapping

Raccoons are relatively easy to catch in traps, but it takes a sturdy trap to hold a raccoon for long. For homeowners with pets, cage and box traps (Figure 7) usually are preferable to foothold traps.

Figure 7. Note the sections of newspaper underneath the cage trap. While raccoons may damage the paper, the paper will reduce the chances of droppings and urine staining the deck. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Cage and Box Traps

Cage and box traps for raccoons should be at least 10 x 12 x 32 inches for single-door models and longer for double-door models. They should be well-constructed with sturdy materials. They can be baited with fish-flavored cat food, sardines, fish, or chicken, however these baits can attract other animals. Place a pile of bait behind the treadle and scatter a few small bits of bait outside the opening of the trap and just inside the entrance. The back portion of the trap should be tightly screened with ½-inch or smaller mesh wire to prevent raccoons from reaching through the wire to pull out the bait.

Pay special attention to the 12-inch area around the trap. Cage-trapped raccoons will reach for anything they can and pull it into the trap, including shingles, grass, dirt, siding, and garden hose. Cage traps with ½- x 1-inch mesh, particularly in the lower portions of the trap, help reduce the risk of this problem. You can also place a board or other sturdy object under the trap. Traps should be secured, as trapped raccoons have been known to move and flip traps.

If a trap must be placed in proximity to sensitive areas, protect them by wrapping the cage with ¼-inch mesh or plywood boards or other durable objects to prevent damage from a trapped raccoon. Place a small bottle, cap, or other item inside the cage to keep the raccoon occupied, reducing damage to the area and self-inflicted injury to the raccoon.

Body-gripping Traps

No. 120, 160 and 220-sized Conibear®-style body-gripping traps are effective for raccoons and can be used in natural or artificial cubbies or boxes. These traps do not allow for selective release of non-target catches, and they should not be used in areas where risk of non-target capture is high. Box or foothold traps should be used instead in such situations. It is possible, however, to use body-gripping traps inside structures, such as attics and basements where control of access is possible. Conibear®-style traps can be successfully used in boxes on roofs (Figure 8).

Figure 8. Raccoon was caught and killed by a No. 220 Conibear®-style trap set in a box on a roof.
Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Traps should be set so that the jaws close top-to-bottom and NOT side-to-side, so that the jaws strike the spine and stomach of the animal. Traps should be secured to the box to prevent the 2 from being separated. Raccoons do not always die quickly so avoid using this set in areas readily visible to people.

Foothold Traps

Raccoons can be captured in foothold traps. Use a No. 1 or No. 1½ coilspring or stop-loss trap fastened to a drag such as a tree limb 6 to 8 feet long. Choose sites carefully, particularly where dogs are walked, as unleashed dogs may attack trapped raccoons. For water sets, use a drowning wire that leads to deep water. As with cage traps, always be aware of the surroundings, particularly when the traps are not set in a lethal manner. Trapped raccoons will destroy whatever they can reach.

Pocket Sets

Pocket sets are very effective for raccoons, and are made along the water’s edge where at least a slight bank is present (Figure 9).

Figure 9. Diagram of a pocket set for raccoons.
Image by PCWD.

Dig a hole 3 to 6 inches in diameter horizontally back into the bank at least 10 to 12 inches. The bottom 2 inches of the hole should be below the water level. Place bait or a lure (fish, anise oil, honey) in the back of the hole and above the water level. Set the trap (No. 1 or 1½ coilspring, double-jaw, or stop-loss is recommended) below the water level in front of or just inside the opening. Attach the trap to a movable drag or 1-way slide to a drowning wire leading to deep water.

Dirt-hole Sets

Dirt-hole sets (Figure 10) are effective for raccoons. Place bait or a lure in a small hole and conceal the trap under a light covering of soil in front of the hole. A No. 1 or 1½ coilspring trap is recommended for this set. It is important to use a small piece of clean cloth, light plastic, or a wad of dry grass to prevent soil from getting under the round pan of the trap and keeping it from going down. If this precaution is not taken, the trap may not go off.

Figure 10. Diagrams of a dirt-hole set for raccoons. Image by PCWD.

Species-specific Traps

Raccoons have incredible dexterity in their front paws and a variety of traps have been designed to exploit that ability. These traps significantly reduce the likelihood of non-target catches because the narrow tube makes it difficult for dogs to trigger the trap. Very few animals have the dexterity and small foot size of a raccoon. Species-specific traps include the Egg Trap®, Duffer’s Raccoon Trap®, and Lil’ Grizz® (Figure 11). Species-specific traps can be used just like footholds. Anchor them securely and consider what the trapped raccoon might damage.

Figure 11. The Lil’ Grizz® is a popular species-specific raccoon trap. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Disposition

On-Site Release

Healthy raccoons can be released on-site. Try to release them where they will not run into traffic or cause other disturbances. If possible, release them in the early morning or evening. Typically, raccoons will run up a nearby tree or into cover. Keep children and pets away. Raccoons may reinvade the home or a nearby residence.

Relocation and Translocation

Raccoons are a rabies vector species. NWCOs must contact the County Health Department Office in the county where the animal was caught to get guidance on if and where the animal can be released off-site. Prior to release, NWCOs must obtain permission from the owner of the land where the animal will be released.

Releasing raccoons a distance from where they were trapped is not recommended. Survival rates for translocated raccoons is low and they may move up to 25 miles from their release site.

Euthanasia

Carbon dioxide is the preferred method of euthanasia for raccoons. Adult raccoons die relatively quickly, but juvenile raccoons can last 30 minutes or more, particularly when placed in a chamber with less than 100% carbon dioxide.

Disposal

Check state and local regulations regarding disposal of carcasses.

Other Control Methods

Direct Capture

Sometimes raccoons are ill or are in locations where immediate removal is required. Raccoons present special challenges due to their mobility and ability to climb. Required equipment includes: gloves, catch pole, cat grasper, hand net, and a raccoon-sized cage or box trap. Due to the variety of situations where raccoon removal may occur, we only provide some basic strategies.

Restrict the movement of the raccoon by closing doors, cabinets, and rooms. In general, slow moving raccoons can be captured with a catch pole. Faster raccoons will require a hand net. Raccoons may defecate and urinate during capture. Carefully monitor the behavior of a captured raccoon. Each animal is different. Always consider your personal safety.

While rare, cornered raccoons may attack. A cornered raccoon may duck its head, making it difficult to place the noose of the catch pole around its head. In these circumstances, poke the chest of the raccoon with a catch pole. The raccoon will lift its head, providing an opportunity to place the noose around the head and chest. Clean up the area and inquire about any exposures before disposing of the raccoon.

Removal from Chimneys

Unused chimney flues provide excellent habitat for raccoons to raise young. Customers may complain of hearing noises emanating from the fireplace, a classic sign of juvenile raccoons. Removal of raccoons from the chimney is a 2-step process: secure the female and then remove the young.

The Chim-Trap® (Figure 12) sets on the flue. Bungee cords are stretched from the top of the trap and secured to a strap on the chimney. Some NWCOs use cables for the top half of the distance to prevent raccoons from chewing up the bungee cords. View the video entitled, Removing Raccoons from Chimneys, by Rich Daniotti for more information.

Another method for removing raccoons from a chimney requires only a single visit. Secure a cage to the top of the flue and insert a modified chimney brush down the flue to the smoke chamber. The frightened female will enter the flue, followed by the brush, which encourages her to enter the cage. When the female is secure, enter the home to remove the young through the damper. Equipment needed includes: drop cloth, lighting, respirator, gloves, mirror, raccoon cage for young, hammer, tin snips, screw driver, pliers or vice-grips, eye protection, assorted cotter pins, propane torch, and lighter.

Figure 12. The Chim-Trap®.
Photo by Wildlife Control Supplies.

Another method for removing raccoons from a chimney requires only a single visit. Secure a cage to the top of the flue and insert a modified chimney brush down the flue to the smoke chamber. The frightened female will enter the flue, followed by the brush, which encourages her to enter the cage. When the female is secure, enter the home to remove the young through the damper. Equipment needed includes: drop cloth, lighting, respirator, gloves, mirror, raccoon cage for young, hammer, tin snips, screw driver, pliers or vice-grips, eye protection, assorted cotter pins, propane torch, and lighter.

The No-See-Um Chimney Trap is left overnight and placed inside the flue so it will be out of the view of the public (Figure 13).

Lay out the drop cloth in front of the fireplace and remove items that may become damaged or soiled. Light the propane torch and put on your respirator and goggles. The propane torch helps create an updraft in the chimney to reduce dust and debris falling into the living area. Open the damper ¼ inch. Some dust likely will fall down. Let the propane torch continue to send warm air up the chimney. Avoid burning the young. Open the damper more and use your mirror to confirm the presence of the young. If you can reach them, simply grab them each in turn and place them in the cage. Have the door closed, as they will climb. Handle them carefully but do not be concerned with their screeching.

Figure 13. The No-See-Um Chimney Trap.
Image by Wildlife Control Supplies.

Thick leather gloves are enough to protect you, as the young are not developed enough to bite with any real force. If you cannot get all the young, you may need to remove the damper. Straighten the cotter pin and try to pull it out. If it is too rusted or difficult to move, cut the head off and remove. Be careful, as soot may fall down into the fireplace area when the damper is removed. Remove the remaining young and replace the damper with a new cotter pin. Confirm that the damper is working properly.

Instruct clients to have the chimney inspected for damage. If the fireplace flue and chimney is in proper working order, clients should have a fire to sterilize the chimney and fireplace area. The fire should continue for 2 to 4 hours. Clients should not leave the home during this process.

Acknowledgments

Authors

Information for this section came from a variety of sources, particularly Eric Fritzell of the University of Missouri.

Material was updated and adapted from the book, Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage, 1994, published by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension.

Reviewers of Original Document

  • Tim Hiller, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife;
  • Rick Benson, Southern Wildlife Control; and
  • Mike Mengak, Warnell School of Forest Resources