Raccoons

Image © Brian Tang

Although raccoons prefer woodlands near water, cities and suburbs provide adequate food and shelter. Raccoons are easily identified by their bandit mask and ringed tailed. By nature they are shy, but they often become bold when living in close proximity to humans. They are very dexterous and intelligent, which often leads to what people perceive as being mischievous. Raccoons are valuable scavengers and help maintain ecological balance.

Living in Your Yard

Raccoon dens are above ground in tree cavities, chimneys, attics and garages or below ground in old woodchuck burrows, storm sewers and crawl spaces or under decks. They do not hibernate during the winter, but raccoons will stay in their dens for prolonged periods of time, especially in inclement weather.

Communal dens are common. Up to 23 raccoons have been reported in a single den with usually only one adult male present. Most only use their homes temporarily March through August to raise their young. If at all possible, consider “living with them” until the young leave the nest at eight to 10 weeks of age.

Preventing Problems

  • Do not encourage raccoons by feeding them.
  • Keep pet food and water dishes inside, especially at night.
  • Do not allow spills to accumulate below bird feeders.
  • Keep grills and barbecues clean. Even small food scraps may attract raccoons.
  • If possible, do not keep garbage cans outside.
  • Trim tree limbs that provide access to your roof.
  • Repair broken, weak or rotted areas on your roof, soffit and fascia.
  • Install and maintain chimney caps before animals move into your chimney.
  • Use welded wire to prevent animals from accessing openings under decks, elevated sheds, concrete slabs and porches. 
  • Use welded wire on the inside of attic vents to deny access to the attic if the covers are removed. 

Recommended Deterrents

  • Wrap a 4- to 6-foot-wide piece of aluminum flashing around tree trunks so that raccoons cannot get a foothold on the bark. Make sure the aluminum flashing is a minimum of 4 feet from the ground. This will deny the raccoons access to the tree and your roof. This provides an immediate solution, but you should leave the flashing up for five to seven days.
  • Grease downspouts with a mixture of petroleum jelly and crushed red pepper. Raccoons will be unable to climb the downspout due to the slippery surface. This provides an immediate solution, but you should keep the downspouts greased for five to seven days.
  • Place lighting, such as bright flashlights, flood lamps or blinking strands of holiday lights, in the den. It is best to leave the lights on 24 hours a day. If this is not possible, the lights must be on during the day to disturb the animal’s sleep.
  • Play a radio, portable alarm clock, noisy children’s toy or anything that makes noise repeatedly either in or near the den. It is best to have the sound on for 24 hours a day. If this is not possible, the sound must be on during the day to disturb the animal’s sleep.
  • Place ammonia-soaked rags in the den for one week. (Ammonia has an irritating smell.) Over time, the ammonia will dissipate, so it is important to resoak the rags daily. Do not use ammonia-soaked rags March through August; they may injure infant wildlife too young to escape.
  • If the animal has established a den site in a chimney, usually on the smoke shelf in the fireplace flue, use the same techniques listed above. Lower a light down into the chimney, place a bowl of ammonia on the fireplace grate, and place a radio inside the fireplace. Do not try to “smoke out” the animals. They can be overcome with smoke, and then you will be faced with physically removing them yourself.

For deterrents to be successful, it is important to use all of the techniques at the same time. To determine if an animal has left a den site, wad up newspaper, and pack it into the den entrance. (This also helps to hold in ammonia fumes.) If the animal is still using the den, the newspaper will be pulled out. If after a few days the newspaper has not been disturbed, securely repair any openings. Failure to do so may result in another animal moving in.

Garbage Cans

The simplest way to keep animals out of garbage cans is to bring the cans inside where the animals cannot reach them. If this is not possible, pour 1 cup of ammonia inside the can, sprinkle black pepper on the top bag, or place ammonia-soaked rags on top of the lid and secure the lid with bungee cords. Use these techniques for five to seven days or when placing garbage on the curb for pick up.

Gardens

The best way to keep raccoons out of your garden is to build a 4-foot-high chicken-wire fence around it, leaving the top 12 to 18 inches bent outward and unattached to any support. The raccoon’s weight will pull the top of the fence down, landing the animal back where it started. 

Taste deterrents work, such as spraying a mixture of 1 gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of hot sauce or garlic puree onto the plant, but they need to be reapplied after a heavy dew or rain. Nurseries or home centers may carry commercial products as well.

Grubs

Raccoons and skunks may tear up lawns in search of grubs. Place cayenne pepper and ammonia-soaked rags in the affected area. Another option is to mix 8 ounces of Dawn dish soap, a handful of chewing tobacco and water in a lawn sprayer and spray on the affected grass area. Contact the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Illinois at (630) 653-4114 for more advice.

Communal Bathroom Areas

To prevent a part of your yard from becoming a raccoon rest stop, clean up feces, and place ammonia-soaked rags around the area. Never handle feces with bare hands; always use gloves or a shovel. Resoak the rags in ammonia daily and continue to use this deterrent for one week.

Public Health Concerns

Raccoons may become aggressive if they feel threatened by humans or other animals such as cats and dogs. Never attempt direct contact with a wild animal, and keep your pet’s vaccinations current. Raccoons may carry canine distemper and roundworm and harbor transmittable parasites. Although harmless to raccoons, these parasites can be very dangerous and even fatal to other animals, including humans. Transmission occurs through the nematode’s microscopic eggs found in raccoons’ feces. Raccoons may carry rabies, but there have been no reports of rabid raccoons in DuPage County in recent years.

What Not To Do

  • Trapping and removing an animal is not always a solution to the problem. Removing the animal is illegal without the proper permits and only creates an open space for another animal. A trapped adult may also leave young behind to die of starvation in an inaccessible area. Focus on removing the attraction, not the animal.
  • Never move young from a den. 
  • Do not use poisons. They are inhumane and may be illegal. They can also result in secondary poisoning of raptors, wild scavengers and neighborhood pets.
  • It is illegal to keep wild animals, even for a very short time. They have specialized nutritional, housing and handling needs that you are unlikely to be able to provide. Inexperienced individuals who attempt to raise or treat them inevitably produce unhealthy, tame animals that cannot survive in their natural habitats.

Willowbrook Wildlife Center

If you come across a wild animal and are concerned, leave it alone. Call Willowbrook Wildlife Center for advice at (630) 942-6200. The center is located at 525 S. Park Blvd. in Glen Ellyn and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except select holidays. Recorded messages provide general information for callers when the center is closed.

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