Common Raccoon Myths & Tips for Coexistence

Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Spring is here (despite what the snow says) which means wildlife are on the move. While racoons don't technically hibernate, they do spend more time cozied up in their dens during the winter months, emerging in the spring in search of food and love. During this time you may even raccoons searching for those things right in your own backyard. These adorable "trash pandas" often get a bad rap, but much of the gossip out there are myths leading to an unjustified bias against them. Let's get ready for raccoon season together by busting some of these myths and learning how to coexist with one another.

Raccoon foraging during the day

Myth: Raccoons are nocturnal
There is no need to panic if you see a raccoon during the day - it does not mean it's sick! Raccoons are timid by nature and tend to be most active at night, but they are not strictly nocturnal. It is not uncommon to find a raccoon who has ventured out during the day in search of food or water, particularly females who are caring for young, or in times of extreme heat. It is important to note that in some cases, a raccoon that is active through the day may be sick. Watch for warning signs such as lethargy, lameness, and abnormalities in appearance or behaviour. If you are concerned about an animal's well being, contact a local wildlife rehabilitation centre immediately. 

Myth: Raccoons eat cats

Raccoons are omnivores and opportunistic in their eating habits, but cats aren't on the menu. Their varied diet consists of food items such as crayfish, eggs, snails, insects, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and occasionally small rodents. Raccoons aren't well-equipped hunters and generally avoid confrontation with predator species such as cats, as predators are often able to inflict serious damage. This does not mean that a raccoon is incapable of harming a cat. If a raccoon is threatened, it will protect itself by any means necessary which may result in injury or even death of the cat. The best way to avoid this (and a multitude of other issues) is to keep domestic cats indoors or leashed at all times. 

Blind raccoon

Myth: All raccoons carry rabies
Raccoons are often presented as the "poster child" of rabies. They are considered a vector species, meaning they are at higher risk of contracting and transmitting the disease, but not all carry it. In fact, very few raccoons carry rabies in Ontario. This is thanks to Ontario's rabies control programs which started in the 1980s and continues today. Methods used to control raccoon rabies include distribution of oral rabies vaccine baits, trap-vaccinate-release programs, testing of sick and deceased animals, and ongoing research to improve the effectiveness of rabies control programs. Since 2016 there has been a 95% decline in rabies cases in Ontario, with just 5 confirmed cases of raccoon rabies in 2022. As stated above, watch for warning signs of illness in raccoons and other wildlife such as lethargy, lameness, and abnormalities in appearance or behaviour. If you are concerned about an animal's well being, contact a local wildlife rehabilitation centre immediately. For more information on rabies in Ontario, click here

Tips for coexisting with raccoons in your yard
Raccoons that come into our yards to feed aren't emptying or destroying feeders to be malicious, they're just hungry - and we're providing an easy meal. When feeding backyard birds, it is inevitable that we will also attract other types of wildlife and it's our responsibility to protect our feeders from possibly unwanted guests in an ethical way (this goes for garbage bins, too!). Some ways to avoid attracting raccoons and keep feeders safe include:

  • Baffles: The number one solution to raccoons destroying or emptying feeders is to install baffles on feeding poles. Raccoons cannot jump onto a pole, rather they can stretch out and grab onto one if it’s close enough to a tree, fence, deck etc. So placing a pole 4’ from anything sturdy enough to support a raccoon will work just fine. 

  • Bring feeders in at night: This sounds like a simple solution, but I can tell you from experience, it isn't. You get busy, or the weather is bad, and the feeders are forgotten, and you wake to empty or missing missing feeders again. Not to mention bringing open bird food indoors can be an invitation for rodents to explore your garage or home for the food. If you have a good memory and a secure place to store your feeders overnight, this may be a good option for you.

  • Maintain clean feeding stations: Dropped seed is a huge attractant to other wildlife. You can clean under your feeders by sweeping with a stiff broom, raking, and vacuuming with an indoor/outdoor vacuum if necessary, and disposing of the waste in compost or with yard waste. Keep as much food off the ground as possible by feeding a high quality seed blend without fillers. Filler-filled “wild bird mixes” contain items that backyard birds don’t eat, such as milo, wheat, oats, red millet and other grains. Our backyard birds are not interested in these ingredients and they scratch them out of a feeder and onto the ground in search of the seeds and nuts they truly enjoy - sunflower seeds, peanuts and safflower. 

    For more information on coexisting with raccoons, please visit our website.

If you happen to have raccoons visit your yard, enjoy them for what they are: intelligent, curious, and beautiful animals who are vital in the health of our ecosystems. 

Happy trails!
- Shayna 

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