In my experience, people either love or hate raccoons. Those in the latter group claim that raccoons are disgusting, overgrown rodents. Truth is, they are not rodents at all, but are mammals that belong to the order carnivora – meat eaters. They do eat meat, and just about anything else. Still, people think of them as vermin because they tend to invade homes, gardens, and farms. And bird feeders. Thus this post. I have a bird feeder that’s been out for years without becoming a raccoon buffet. But I’ve been found out. I caught one rascal in the act. So now, I must bring the feeder in every night and remember to put it out every morning.

Photo credit: D. Gordon E. Robertson

One of the keys to raccoons’ success is their intelligence and adaptability. They live in a wide variety of climates and rural, urban, and suburban habitats around the world. They are not picky about where to create a den – trees, caves, barns, attics, etc. Similarly, they don’t seem to be too picky about what they eat. Raccoons that lives in the woods will eat what you might expect – birds, nuts, insects, etc. Some even swim, catching and eating fish, frogs, and crayfish. Those who live close to humans, though, take advantage of garbage cans and pet food (or bird feeders!). Interestingly, studies show that urban raccoons may actually be more intelligent than their relatives in the woods. The reason for this is that, in order to survive, they must overcome human-made obstacles to get food. In other words, the urban environment presents them with puzzles they have to solve to be rewarded with food. Raccoons have learned to unzip tents, open Tupperware, turn doorknobs, unhook latches and hooks, lift levers, and more. They also have learned to avoid human threats, including roads, especially intersections (really, scientists have done studies on all this!).

Raccoons are one of the few species thriving in the face of human activity. This is also the reason why there are more human-raccoon encounters. There are endless stories about how humans have gone head to head with raccoons, trying to keep them away from gardens or out of sheds. In order to keep my bird seed for the birds, the question for me becomes, can I outwit a raccoon? Game on.