The Urban Wildlife Series takes a look at wildlife we share our city with. This is the fourth in a series. You can view the others, as they are added, by clicking here.
When we moved in here, I was really excited as being on the ground floor meant I could install a little water feature on our patio and I had a vision of a miniature fish pond – apartment style of course, but a fish pond nonetheless – with burbling water and maybe some potted bamboo and perhaps a lily or two. But then my husband, a landscaper at the time who was well versed in water features, vetoed my plans because he knew from experience it would attract raccoons. And raccoons love tasty fish buffets almost as much as my dog.
We do have a family of raccoons who live somewhere in our close vicinity, and I see them with enough regularity that I feel a bit protective of. I get a bit of a thrill every time I see them wandering and I feel like they are “our” raccoons and while I won’t go so far as to feed them (see below for the why not), I do chat with them and say hello. Crazy raccoon lady? Perhaps. I really love raccoons. I love their human-esque paws, and their little El Bandito masks, and their pokey little snouts.
A few facts:
Raccoons prefer hardwood forest areas near water – and “water” can mean a bowl full of water on your patio for your dog, or a raging river. They den in hollow trees, ground burrows, brushpiles, barns and other buildings, and rock crevices. Raccoons are omnivorous, meaning they will eat whatever comes their way, including eggs, berries, fish, snakes, garden grubs… you name it. It’s been my experience they are also fans of household garbage, especially things that may have at one time contained cheese. One litter of 3-5 kits is raised per year, and most litters are born around this time of year (April-May) although it’s not totally uncommon for babies to be born a bit later in the year – June, July, or August. Raccoons are nocturnal, and I most commonly seem to see them at dawn and dusk as their busy days are just starting or ending. Like my friends, the skunks, they do not truly hibernate, but they do “hole up” in dens and become inactive during severe winter weather. They have been known, again, like my friends the skunks, to bunk down with more than one family. While raccoons are not normally aggressive and rarely injure people, they can be dangerous when threatened or cornered. They are wild animals and should be treated accordingly. A quick mention about rabies: while many parts of Canada list raccoons as a rabies risk, in BC, only bats are considered to carry rabies.
Feeding raccoons (along with more or less any wild animal, including ducks) is a bad idea. Wild animals who are fed by humans come to depend on the humans for their food. They also lose a great deal of fear of humans, and can make rather incredible nuisances of themselves as they become more and more demanding (and lazy) about their food source. Not to mention that although urban raccoons consume a pretty high quantity of fatty, nutritionally-void garbage, humans electing to feed them “people food” can contribute to diseases, sicknesses, and potentially premature death in raccoons.
The Ministry of Environment, the governing body for wildlife, classifies raccoons as “Nuisance Fauna”. Raccoons are rather intelligent and have become adept at getting themselves into human places in search of food. Their latin name is procyon lotor, and “lotor”, the part of the name that indicates the species, means “the washer”. Raccoons have been observed dunking their food in water before eating it, and in an urban setting, a pretty little fish pond is a darn good pool of water for a raccoon. They also have a great deal of dexterity, and long slender digits they utilize for all sorts of things, including leaving prints in drying concrete.