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Spring Real Estate Market in Full Swing for Raccoons
The spring real estate market heats up early for resident raccoons in Hingham and the South Shore of Massachusetts. Starting in the late winter, female raccoons begin looking for adequate dens sites to birth and raise their young families. And unfortunately for home owners, many raccoons will find your home the ideal habitat.
Having learned how to manipulate all aspects of trash containers, bird seed bins, and pet food storage strategies, the raccoon has become an adaptive nuisance to human beings. It is not just our food that draws raccoons too close for comfort. The small weaknesses in the structure of our homes pose open invitations to set up house.
While accommodating their natural inclinations, damage to our houses can be extensive. Being that raccoons are fairly strong and able to use dextrous, nimble forepaws like human hands, they can rearrange the inside of an attic or wall space in no time. Raccoons have been known to rip ducts out of walls and break into screened in porches for a morsel of food.
It is ultimately our responsibility that wild animals take up residence within the boundaries of our homes. Raccoons do not open up brand new entrances to our houses, rather they use holes, gaps and weak spots already present because of maintenance oversights.. A wild animal is simply seeking a safe environment when it chews open that small hole or rotted spot, much like it would do with an abandoned woodpecker hole or tree cavity.
While a select few people try to remediate the problem of resident raccoons without the help of a professional (not advised), the majority of homeowners call in local professionals. Problems arise when the wrong type of business agrees to step in. Carpenters and pest control companies should not be attempting to remove wild animals. Service companies who exterminate pests with pesticides are not a wise choice unless there are certified professionals on staff who focus exclusively on wildlife problems.
Wildlife control is fraught with incompetent companies and uninformed homeowners. The goal of this article is to provide enough information to help you realize that wildlife removal is not as easy as it sounds. It is best to make an informed choice, rather than risk preventable animal pain and suffering and bring on frustration and stress for you.
The wily ways of the suburban raccoon, or the Procyon lotor, are familiar to us all. The plump creatures have a well-rounded set of skills enabling them to pry their way into human lives. Contrary to statements occasionally made by annoyed property owners, Raccoons are NOT rodents. They are mammals.
Raccoons have red, brown, gray and black fur and weigh about 15 pounds, but the more notable trash scavengers reach a hefty 40 pounds. Their field marks are distinctive with four to ten contrasting tail rings and a black mask surrounding their eyes. Raccoon forepaws (many people call them hands) look like thin human hands and have five toes. They are amazingly useful and allow the raccoon to perform many things other mammals cannot.
Raccoons use their forepaws to support their highly developed tactile sense. Because these forepaws are so sensitive, they enable the raccoon to handle and pry open prey, assess their environment and climb with ease. They easily pick up food with their front paws and then eat it. A raccoon’s hearing and eyesight is also highly developed and allows them to navigate very well at night.
Raccoons live anywhere from 2 to 12 years, depending on the suburban and urban hazards they are exposed to. Overall, they are quiet animals so you won’t hear much vocalizing unless threatened which is when they occasionally hiss. Newborn baby raccoons do make mewing, twittering or crying sounds on occasion. The chattering sounds many homeowners describe coming from their walls are the sounds of young raccoons starving to death.
Rural areas have approximately 20 – 40 raccoons per square mile, and raccoon densities in some suburbs exceed 100 per square mile. While the raccoon prefers moist woodlands, our suburban neighborhoods provide them with multiple food options providing there is access to water. They are omnivorous, eating just about anything they can.
Raccoons are thought to be exclusively nocturnal, hence the misinformed belief that seeing a raccoon in the daylight means it is rabid. Raccoons forage primarily at night, but also during the day light hours.
Raccoons start to breed in January or February with northern populations breeding earlier than the southern populations. During the end of breeding season the female begins her earnest search for the right real estate.
The male is not part of this process since after mating they tend not to associate with the females.
They prefer building dens in the safety of trees, but can make a home out of a woodchuck burrow, caves, mines, deserted buildings, barns, garages, rain sewers, or our homes. On the South Shore of Boston, most female raccoons birth their young in March and April. Raccoons generally have one litter per year with a gestation period of about 64 days, and birth from 3 to 5 babies.
The raccoon’s young are blind when born and their eyes open between two and three weeks of age. Weaning occurs after about two months and young raccoons can be seen regularly foraging with their mother at night when they are about five months old. The young raccoons stay with their mother through their first winter, and female venture out on their own early the following spring. It is common for offspring to set up dens relatively close to their mothers.
Raccoon Health and Mortality
There are several diseases that can impact a raccoon’s lifecycle. The most talked about disease is raccoon rabies which was first identified in 1990 and has become fairly widespread since then.
Rabies is a viral disease with symptoms similar to canine distemper. Rabid raccoons may become aggressive, salivate heavily, or have paralyzed hind legs. Because rabies can be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected animal, a known rabid raccoon is destroyed by contacting local health officials.
Canine distemper is a fairly common disease among raccoon populations and is usually fatal. Similar to rabies, raccoons with distemper act tame or confused, and eventually lose coordination, become unconscious and die. Distemper cannot be transmitted to humans or immunized pets.
Roundworm infects almost all raccoons at some point. The roundworm is not especially problematic to raccoons, but large numbers of roundworm eggs are passed on to the environment. Eggs ingested by another animal may hatch and cause nerve damage. Cases of human infection have been documented, including two fatal cases caused by accidental infections from captive raccoons.
Humans are the raccoons primary predator, but hawks, owls and coyote are able to predate vulnerable or weak adult raccoons and also young raccoons.
Wildlife Management and Raccoons
Raccoons are protected by law. This means that no one may possess a raccoon without a license, and licenses are not issued for pet wildlife. Hunting or trapping raccoons requires a license. The law does allow unlicensed homeowners and farmers to destroy raccoons that damage property. However, property owners should first try eliminating food and shelter, the major attractions to wildlife, before killing any animal.
Raccoons are attracted when people unknowingly supply easy food or shelter for them. They can be attracted by food available in gardens, fish ponds, pet feeders or garbage, or by cavities that might offer shelter such as attics.
Preventative measures are straightforward and certainly worth the effort to avoid lengthy removals and repairs.
Here are some things you can do immediately to damper any attractiveness:
1) Do not leave open pet food outside.
2) If you feed your pets outside, give them only as much as they will eat and remove all leftovers.
3) Avoid storing pet food in your garage or shed. A raccoon’s forepaws can even manipulated bungee cords.
4) Use metal cans for garbage cans kept in your garage. Use a rope or wire through the lid that you can secure to the handles.
5) Consider hanging trash cans one foot above the ground, or use a rack.
6) An electric fence four inches off the ground will keep most animals out of your vegetable garden.
7) Think like a raccoon and repair any potential entrances to your home.
Moth balls, ammonia, coyote urine, loud talk radio, ultrasonic sound machines, etc. are completely ineffective. So are “over-the-counter” repellants, with one exception; male raccoon urine.
Male raccoon urine can be used only on a pregnant or nursing female raccoon in the attic. It’s the scent of a male raccoon, who kills any young raccoons, so it will drive away the female in an effort to protect her young. Most wildlife professionals feel that it is unpredictable and therefore not worth the effort when removal is so effective.
Hiring a Wildlife Professional Who is a Problem Animal Control Agent
Raccoons will certainly not leave on their own, and will certainly damage your home as they set up shop. Therefore, it is very important to take the proper steps towards their removal.
There is a specific protocol when it comes to managing raccoon removal. Before you agree to somebody’s services, make sure you are hiring someone with the proper qualifications, and in Massachusetts this means finding a Problem Animal Control (PAC) Agent.
Under Massachusetts Law only a PAC Agent may help a homeowner with problem wildlife. To find a PAC agent please refer to Problem Animals Control Northeast District website.
How a Raccoon is Removed From Your House
A raccoon is in your home for one reason: BABIES. And baby raccoons can only be removed by hand, an experienced hand at that.
The steps to remove a raccoon from your home are well defined and follow a logical sequence of humane actions. First, the wildlife professional will investigate the attic and any other area animals are suspected to be present. If indeed the information points definitively to raccoons you MUST not rush to set out traps etc. The baby raccoons must be properly and safely removed first.
Finding the nest is the next step towards removing raccoon tenants. The location of the nest dictates what actions will follow in order to gain access to the young raccoons. If raccoons have found a cozy spot in your walls, then it is likely your walls need to be cut open to extract a family of baby raccoons.
Raccoons have been known to set up a nest in a home’s ceiling. Although the same principles apply for remediation, finding the exact nesting spot can turn disastrous. The best way to find the spot is to feel for a warm spot on the ceiling. Then the professional will cut out a small hole nearby to effectively remove the babies.
Meanwhile, a bait trap is set outside to trap the adult female raccoon and once the young are removed, all entrances that the raccoons are using to access their home are repaired. The entry points must be permanently and adequately sealed using steel mesh which is found at most all hardware stores. Repairs to animal damage, and sealing entry holes shut is the most important step in a complete and permanent solution to any wildlife problem.
Sealing the access points is also preventative for other wildlife. Because the raccoons left behind and odor, this can attract new wildlife quickly.
In the event that a female cannot be trapped in a reasonable amount of time, the baby raccoons might be used to attract the female adult mother towards them. Once all are reunited, the raccoons are placed a short distance from your home, but still on your property. In Massachusetts, relocating raccoons is against the law, whereas in some states raccoons can be relocated at least ten miles away.
The Aftermath of Raccoon Removal
If you hear chattering, then you know that the baby raccoons are trapped inside of your home. It is the sound they make when they are starving to death. This happens when the adult raccoon does not return to the nest because of human or natural intervention.
Sustained baby raccoon chattering is abnormal and never because of any other reason than suffering. Often you will notice bursts of this same chatter at night when the mother is most likely to be out foraging for food. They chatter because they are hungry.
Flies are sometimes present when animals are in your home, but only when animal carcasses are present. Many people thing raccoons are attracted to raccoon feces but they are not because the excrement dries quickly. Flies become a problem if raccoons are cruelly and unnecessarily allowed to starve to death while trapped inside of your home. About four weeks after animal death, flies bloom when the carcass maggots hatch. Flies will be an ongoing problem until you find and remove the carcasses.
Odor is also a concern when dealing with a wildlife problem. Most people think there is always an accompanying aroma to dead animals, but in the case of starving animals, it is unlikely. This is because they lose a lot of weight before dying. Odor also depends on where the animals have taken up residence, and on your attic ventilation and air flow. Raccoons urine does have a distinct odor that can be handled by using an enzymatic cleaner.
Raccoon Truths Summarized
1) Raccoon repellents do not work. Noise does not work. Male raccoon urine can work.
2) Raccoon populations are highest in city areas, much higher than in natural areas.
3) Raccoons can climb into chimneys. They do it all the time!
4) Humans are a raccoon’s main predator.
5) Structural damage caused by raccoons is by far the biggest concern, not health issues. They can destroy insulation, tear up ducts, etc in an effort to secure a safe home for birthing and raising babies.
6) Raccoon feces do carry raccoon roundworm and Leptosirosis. Always wear a filter mask when cleaning up.
7) Raccoons leave behind a distinctive scent that can be cleaned up with most enzyme-based cleaning products. Popular brands are Bac-Azap, and BioShield.
8) Poisoning or killing raccoons is ILLEGAL.
9) Raccoons forage during the day. This does not mean they are rabid.
Hopefully you will be on the prevention side of the raccoon relationship, rather than dealing with a nesting family.
As always, thank you for reading. If you have any feedback or ideas for future real estate article do not hesitate to contact Alice Pierce by visiting the Alice Pierce Realtor website, or calling 781-724- 7622 or sending an email. There is also a form that you can fill out here.