6 Fascinating Ways Raccoons Care for Their Young


Raccoon Mother With Her Kits

Mothers are known for being protective and caring for their young, no matter what species. Raccoons are no different and will take care of their young and even den with them for up to a year.

As a general rule, when raccoons are raising their young, they will den together for up to 2 months of age. After which, raccoon mothers will forage for food with their kits until they are 1 year of age. At this point, the mother raccoon will let her kits journey off on their own

Humans often see raccoons as little masked bandits running around and getting into garbage cans. But when it comes to raising their young, raccoon mothers take their job seriously. Let’s take a closer look at the habits of raccoons, and the fascinating ways they care for their young.

Mother Raccoons Feed Their Young Milk

Raccoons do not typically live very long in the wild, with the majority of any population being made up of mostly juveniles less than 1-year-old. Because of this, mothers take care to give their kits the best chance of survival.

As such, raccoons do not usually reproduce in their first year, but will in their second year and each year thereafter.

Like most animals, raccoons go through a period with their young where the kits are totally dependent on the mother. She feeds them with milk until they are old enough to start foraging for food on their own.

Even after this period, mother raccoons will continue to care for their young in fascinating ways.

Mother Raccoons Will Forage With Their Young

It’s not typical to see more than one raccoon in the wild. They are solitary creatures. However, mother raccoons will break this rule for their young.

Mother raccoons will take their young on food foraging trips when they are about two months old. These trips may bring the raccoons several miles from their home, showing the kits their surrounding environment and teaching them how to find food for themselves.

Young raccoons take about 20 days before their eyes and ears open. This is when the kittens are the most vulnerable. They will feed strictly on their mother’s milk at this point. Mothers will leave the den for hours at a time to make sure they eat enough to produce milk.

Raccoon Mothers Forage for The Easiest Meal Available

Raccoons are opportunistic, and will find the easiest meal that takes the least effort. They aren’t very agile hunters, so they will typically eat whatever is available.

This is why you sometimes see raccoons going through your garbage bins. If there’s food in there, it’s an easy meal for them that takes minimal effort.

Raccoons are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and other animals. The reason raccoons need to live near water is because their diet consists of many animals that live in or near the water: muskrats, crayfish, frogs, turtles, clams, snails, and fish are all part of a raccoons’ diet.

They’ll take advantage of eggs and young of ground-nesting birds, as well as turtle eggs. In terms of plants, raccoons eat a wide variety of fruits, berries, and nuts that they can find in the wild.

In more urban settings, raccoons often get in trouble by getting into people’s gardens and raiding their watermelons, corn, and any other fruit or vegetable they can get their tiny paws on.

Raccoons will change their diets depending on the season and the availability of food. In the spring, they depend largely on other animals for food. As the season moves closer to winter, raccoons will forage more for plants and nuts.

The species’ namesake, Lotor, means ‘washer,’ and was given to the raccoon for its habit of washing its food in creeks or lakes before eating.

This is a common myth concerning the raccoon, as they do not always wash their food before eating it. In fact, what most raccoons are doing is manipulating their food to soften it before eating.

Raccoons will also search the beds of streams for food, making it look like they are washing food. Their paws are very sensitive, and they are able to easily distinguish between rocks, mud, and crayfish.

Mother Raccoons Don’t Allow Kits to Leave the Den for 2 Months

Raccoon Kits Playing on Log in Wild

Because the young are born around April or May, allowing the kittens to stay in the den during the next winter means more warmth and better protection for the mother during her next gestation period in the winter.

Even when the kitten raccoons are big enough and old enough to find food for themselves, the mother raccoon will allow them to stay in the den for up to a year, while not letting them leave the den for their first 2 months of age. This gives the kittens the best chance of survival.

The survival rate of newborn raccoons to maturity is pretty low considering the possibilities of limited resources, predators, disease, and accidents.

If the first litter of kits does not survive at all, mother raccoons will rear a second litter of raccoons later in the year. This may be a response to the inevitable fact that raccoons do not survive long in the wild, and they are driven to pass on their genes as fast as possible.

Just like most animals, mother raccoons will attempt to give their kittens the best possible chance at survival. Females raise the kittens separate from the male, and will not typically tolerate a male coming around the den after their young are born.

Raccoon Mothers Keep Their Young in Covered Dens

Foxes, bobcats, coyotes, and owls are a raccoon’s main foes, but raccoons also fall prey to humans and cars on the road.

Mother raccoons will make their dens in what they think is a safe area away from predators: in a hollow tree, in a burrow in the ground, under an abandoned building.

You would assume a mother raccoon would want to build her den near a food source, but actually this puts her kits in danger by exposing them to predators.

Instead, she’ll leave the den and travel to forage for food in order to avoid leading predators back to her den. Dens will always be close to a water source.

Raccoons are excellent climbers. At just seven weeks old, a kit raccoon can climb a tree both forwards and backward. This helps their young avoid certain predators such as coyotes, and can make foraging for nuts and fruit easier.

Raccoons are very adaptive to their environment. They’ve managed to live alongside humans in cities, suburbs, and rural areas. Raccoons can be found across most of North America.

The only exceptions are desert-like states such as Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. Raccoons aren’t typically found near high elevation areas such as the Rocky Mountains. You can find raccoons in Canada, Mexico, South America, Japan, Germany, and even Russia.

These little masked bandits thrive in forested environments where water is available. Since raccoons typically make their dens in hollow trees, rock crevices, and ground burrows, forests are the perfect environment for them.

Also, well pretty clearly, raccoons are easy to identify, having their famous masked face and bushy banded tail. They are closely related to bears and dogs, but look more like a miniature bear than a dog.

Weighing up to 20 pounds, raccoons are formidable mammals. They are nocturnal creatures, coming out at dusk to forage for food and staying active throughout the night.

Mother Raccoons Give Birth To Kits Once a Year

Both male and female raccoons can become aggressive during mating season. Males sometimes fight over access to females, and females will become very protective of their dens during this time.

Breeding season for raccoons is in late winter and early spring. Mother raccoons gestate for about 63 days and give birth to one litter per year in April or May.

Each litter ranges between three to six kits. The young will open their eyes after about three weeks, and will be weaned off their mother sometime between two and four months after being born.

The females raise the kits without the male. Males will not share a den with the female, but rather mate and then go their separate ways and live in their own dens.

What to Do If You Find A Baby Raccoon

Raccoon Kit Hanging on Log Playful

If you unexpectantly come upon a baby raccoon, there are a few things to check before you call a wildlife professional.

If you see a baby raccoon, the first thing you want to do is step away and observe the kit from a distance. Humans are considered predators to raccoons, and the mother will not return while you are there.

Mother raccoons spend hours away from their young while they forage for food and fresh water. It’s very possible that the kit is simply sitting there, content, waiting for its mother to return.

Mama raccoon will limit the number of visits they make to the den during the day in order to avoid leading a predator back to her young.

Check to see if the kit is moving well, is furred, and appears injured or not. Chances are if the kit looks alright, it’s being cared for!

Raccoons in particular may appear orphaned upon first observing them. However, when a baby raccoon is separated from its mother during the night, the kit will stay where it is until mama raccoon comes back. This can take up to 24 hours.

The only time you should intervene with a baby raccoon is if you see one or more of the following signs:

  • It’s clear the mother raccoon isn’t returning.
  • The kit is crying continuously.
  • The kit has been alone and in the same spot for more than 24 hours.
  • The kit appears stretched out and is cold when touched.
  • The baby raccoon’s eyes are closed (a newborn) and is alone with no mother.
  • The kit appears injured as if it has been attacked.
  • The kit walks up to you non-aggressively.

Unless you notice any of these specific circumstances, a baby raccoon can be left alone. They are probably being cared for, and the mother is simply away foraging, or was separated from her kit during the night.

If a baby raccoon does show any of the above signs, you can take steps to rescue it and give it a chance at survival.

The first thing is to contact a professional. Wildlife control officers or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator will know exactly what to do with an orphaned baby raccoon. They can get the help the animal needs, and rehabilitate it enough to release it back into the wild.

Additionally while on the phone and contacting a professional, they can guide you on specific steps for your situation and get things sorted out for you!

You can also view this amazing, state-by-state list of wildlife rehabilitators from the Humane Society that can help you find someone licensed near you that can assist.

What to Do If A Raccoon Moves in With Babies

Raccoons don’t really want to be in your house, but if their homes have been destroyed by wildfire, flooding, logging, or deforestation, they may have trouble finding a new den.

Chimneys, attics, and barns may look like a comfy new home to a raccoon, especially during the winter months when warmth is hard to come by.

Once a mother raccoon is impregnated, they will try to find a proper den to give birth and rear their young. Birthing dens can sometimes be different than the living den of a raccoon.

Attics are common raccoon nesting areas. Raccoons are nocturnal, and therefore most active at night. Because of this, you may never even know a raccoon is living above your head unless you hear or see them as they exit or re-enter your attic.

The most obvious indicator of a raccoon living in your attic will be hearing scuttling noises, or smelling their urine or feces.

If you’re sure a raccoon has moved into your attic, there are several steps you can take to exclude the furry bandit from your home safely. If it has babies, you will have to take extra time and contact a professional to make sure you’re adhering to local guidelines.

If it is a single raccoon and you are sure there are no kits, the best way to get it out of your home is to first locate where it is getting in and getting out.

IF THE RACCOON HAS KITS – CALL A PROFESSIONAL. In many instances, excluding a mother raccoon from her kits is a clear no-go.

Once you find out where the raccoon is getting in and out, wait until it leaves in the evening to forage for food and water. Once it is gone, simply patch up and reinforce the area where it got in and out. When the raccoon comes back, it will have no way to get into your house and will likely find another den.

The tricky part is when you find out you have a mother raccoon in your attic or chimney, and it has babies.

Calling a professional at this point can be a little complicated. Unless the local ordinances allow them to remove the raccoon and her kits from your property,

Instead, the best thing to do is to wait until the kits are old enough to start foraging with their mother. This happens at about 2 months of age. The raccoon kits will not move until they are at least this old. So, you would have to have a professional remove them by hand regardless.

Once they start foraging together, the raccoons will completely vacate your home in search of food. At this point, you can work with a professional to take the proper steps into patching up your home and staying within wildlife relocation guidelines.

Wrapping it Up!

Raccoons are some of the most easily identified mammals. These bear-like creatures are closely related to bears and dogs and can cause some ruckus near your home.

These masked bandits have several distinctive and fascinating ways to raise their young. They will have extra litters, go on foraging trips with their kittens, and won’t even kick the kids out until they’re well and ready.

If you ever find a baby raccoon in the wild, chances are it is being cared for and has simply been separated from its mother. Unless a baby raccoon appears sick, injured, or has no fur (is a newborn), you can usually leave it and the mother will find it within a day.

If you are ever in doubt about a raccoon, call a professional.

References

Long, C. A. (2008). The wild mammals of Wisconsin.

Gehrt, S. D., & Fritzell, E. K. (1998). Duration of Familial Bond and Dispersal Patterns for Raccoons in South Texas. Journal of Mammalogy, 859-872.

Raccoon. (n.d.). Retrieved from University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment: https://oepos.ca.uky.edu/content/raccoon

Raccoons. (2016). Retrieved from University of Connecticut Home & Garden Education Center: http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/FactSheets/raccoons.php

You Found a Healthy Baby Raccoon. (n.d.). Retrieved from Tufts Wildlife Clinic: https://wildlife.tufts.edu/found-wildlife/healthy-baby-mammal/raccoon/

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