University of Maryland Extension

Raccoons

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raccoon climbing tree

Many homeowners are surprised to learn that in most cases raccoon populations are higher in suburban areas than rural areas. This is usually due to the abundance of food and shelter. Its distinctive black mask and ringed tail are characteristics that make it easily identified. The average raccoon is about 2 to 3 feet long, weighing 10 to 30 pounds. Male raccoons tend to be more territorial, living in a range of about 3 to 20 square miles. Females are less territorial and have a home-range of about 1-6 square miles. They are most plentiful in areas of large trees and near water sources. They make dens in hollow trees, hollow logs, brush piles, under sheds and porches, drainage culverts, and occasionally in attics or chimneys. Racoons are primarily active at night, but on occasion may be seen moving about during the daylight. They feed on almost anything available including fruits, berries, grains, nuts, cat and dog food, fish, frogs, reptiles, rabbits, and eggs.

Raccoons can cause considerable damage to vegetable gardens, especially corn. Their characteristic damage to corn is partially eaten ears with the husks pulled back. Stalks also will be broken over as they climb them. Raccoons may also become a nuisance when they climb down chimneys or get into attics for nesting or their daytime sleeping quarters. Very often raccoons will raid and dump out garbage cans. Raccoons are also prime carriers of rabies, and when their populations increase, the incidence of rabies may be increased as well. Be wary of raccoons that are lethargic, extremely aggressive or are uncoordinated. Animals acting in this unusual manner should be reported to the county animal control department or county police department.

Control of raccoons involves excluding them from attics, and chimneys with securely fastened ¼ inch hardware cloth and tight-fitting hoods for the chimney. All outside food sources should be eliminated. This may include cat and dog food, bird feeders, garbage cans, and compost piles. Garbage cans must be kept in a garage or shed or be fastened tightly with strong straps and tied to something. Electric fencing can be very effective in excluding raccoons from vegetable gardens. A problem raccoon can also be trapped using a live trap baited with canned fish-flavored cat food, or sardines. If several raccoons are to be trapped it is best to bait the trap but not set it for several days to get the raccoons accustomed to using the trap as a feeding station. Because of the potential spread of rabies, you may not, according to Maryland law, relocate the captured raccoon. Do not handle the cage without gloves and call local animal control or another facility to have the animal humanely destroyed. If you wish to trap a raccoon, a Maryland Department of Natural Resources permit may be necessary.

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