CORVALLIS, Ore. – Raccoons are wonderful animals to watch, but can be a real pain in the garden.
They dig in vegetable beds, eat fruit off trees and vines, knock down corn and break into bird feeders.
By understanding the life and habits of these masked marauders, you can protect your landscaping and save your precious produce.
Nocturnal by nature, raccoons often search for food late in the evening and early morning. They are omnivores and eat fruit, vegetables, eggs, birds, insects, carrion, fish and other aquatic animals, not to mention pet food and garbage.
Adult male raccoons range over a wide area. Traveling territories can be three to 20 square miles. Females cover much smaller areas, usually about one to six square miles.
Urban and suburban residential areas are favorites because of abundant food, water and shelter. Raccoons den in hollow trees, buildings, drain pipes, under decks and in brush piles and abandoned burrows.
They often are more plentiful than people think. Because they feed at night, evidence of their passing is seen far more often than the animals themselves.
What can a person do to discourage these visitors? Dana Sanchez, a wildlife specialist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, suggests the following:
- Bring pet food and water bowls inside at night;
- Cover fish ponds with a net, if they're small;
- Use tight-fitting trashcan lids or wire the loose ones shut;
- Harvest your garden produce as soon as it is ready and pick up wind-fall fruit promptly;
- Trim tree branches so they don't touch house and shed roofs;
- Block foundation vents;
- Use a two-wire electric fence – with wires five and 10 inches above ground – if you decide to place an electric hot wire around a fish pond, corn patch or berry vines;
- Install wooden lattice to keep raccoons from living under your deck. Be careful not to trap any that might already be inside.
If an animal is present under your deck, close up all but a one-foot diameter opening, return at night, after the animal has left, and close completely. If a female has kits, you may need to wait until they have left their den (3-7 weeks after birth) to close the area safely.
Another option is to trap the raccoons, but Sanchez cautions: "You must have a plan for dealing with the animal once captured. Raccoons are cute but not cuddly. Do not attempt to pet or pick up a wild raccoon."
For people who would like help removing raccoons, Sanchez recommends that they hire a wildlife control operator licensed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. A listing of such businesses is on their website.