Raccoons, masked bandits, trash pandas; whatever you may call them, raccoons are easy to recognize backyard animals. Their signature masked face and bushy banded tail make them hard to mistake for another animal.
Raccoons are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter, including fish. Raccoons won’t dive for fish, and will primarily hunt in shallow water. Thus, raccoons prefer to eat crustaceans, koi, goldfish, and other shallow-water fish.
So, do raccoons catch leaping fish like bears with salmon? Do they dive into the water to get their tiny paws on some sushi dinner? The truth is, it’s unlikely that a raccoon will take the time and energy to catch a fish. Instead, they’ll opt for an easy meal.
Raccoons Will Eat Fish When It’s Easy
There’s no argument about it. Raccoons like to live near water. They build their dens, raise their young, and live near access to fresh water.
Ponds, reservoirs, streams, lakes, and shorelines all provide raccoons with some of their primary carnivore-side foods: fish, snails, slugs, frogs, clams, and crayfish.
Raccoons prefer invertebrate animals to feed on, as opposed to animals with backbones. This means crustaceans, insects, and spiders. However, raccoons are opportunistic. They won’t pass up on an injured waterfowl or shallow water fish
Specifically, though, you may be reading this because you may be worried that a raccoon in your area is poaching your fish.
Well, here are a few things to know about raccoons catching fish.
Raccoon Populations Are Widespread
Raccoons are not like koala bears, panda bears, or lions. They don’t rely on one specific type of food to survive. Because of this, their populations have expanded across the world.
They can be found in almost every state in the United States except Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and areas of high elevation such as the Rocky Mountains. They trundle around in Canada, South America, Europe, and parts of Asia as well.
Humans have helped these masked bandits expand outward from their traditional tropical environments by building barns and sheds that provide safety and shelter.
This expansive tolerance for nearly any food group means that raccoons don’t sweat it when one food group isn’t available.
It’s winter and there’s no crayfish? Not a problem, the raccoon will just dig through the snow for acorns. No acorns in the summer? No problem, he’ll just mosey into your neighbor’s garden and eat some corn.
Fish are a part of a raccoon’s diet, but not a large portion. Additionally, because raccoons live everywhere, they don’t tend to feast on a single species of fish. Rather, they eat what’s easily accessible.
Raccoons Are Smart But Lazy
There is no highlight footage available that shows a raccoon in a crazy race for their food like a lion or cheetah. In fact, most footage of these masked bandits shows them trundling around at low gear speeds, or getting caught red-pawed in someone’s trash bin.
Raccoons are able to move fast, up to 15 miles per hour, but unless they’re being chased by a predator, they don’t generally spend the energy to show off their speed.
Raccoons are clever, and understand that they need to store fat in order to stay warm and survive the winter. They do not hibernate, but a lot of their food sources become scarce in the winter.
During the colder months, the metabolic rate of a raccoon increases, burning more fat. Because of this, raccoons will not spend extra energy jumping into water or hunting fish. Instead, they’ll eat some berries or acorns, snatch a few crayfish, and call it a day.
Raccoons Will Eat Almost Anything
Although raccoons are decent swimmers and will gladly wade in to catch a slow-moving crayfish or clam, they don’t like to waste energy. And swimming burns a lot of energy.
In areas where waters rise and fall with the season, high water times yield less evidence of fishing raccoons. There are fewer tracks, fewer uneaten animal parts, and less scat left behind by the raccoons. Conversely, low waters that expose easy meals leave a lot of evidence of visiting raccoons.
Crayfish can be found on the bottom of lakes, ponds, and streams. When waters are high, raccoons won’t dive or swim to get to their favorite food, they’ll simply eat berries and acorns instead.
This omnivorous nature allows raccoons to adapt quickly when certain foods are scarce. Studies done on raccoons have shown that they can be fed practically anything in captivity and they’ll eat it without hesitation.
From dog biscuits, sweet meats, corn, and poultry, raccoons won’t turn down anything that fills their furry bellies.
Raccoons in certain regions have adapted to certain food types. For example, raccoons that live near marshy areas in Illinois depend largely on waterfowl injured by hunters. Anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 crippled geese provide food for raccoons in this region.
During the summers in Washington State, raccoons eat a diet predominately of the animals living along the mud flats instead of their usual diet of plants in the summer.
In Maryland, raccoons rely heavily on insects for food during the winter months instead of their usual diet of leftover acorns and corn crops.
The point is, raccoons will eat anything and have no particular love for any one food. In the time between November and March, raccoons can lose as much as 28 percent of their body weight due to food scarcity.
When food is plentiful, raccoons make sure to put on weight because they know they will lose it eventually.
Raccoons Find Food With Their Hands
Raccoons are famously known for washing their food in water before eating it. The reality is they aren’t actually washing their food, they’re feeling it and manipulating it. For example, to soften it before eating.
The highest sense a raccoon has is its sense of touch. The nerves and cells in a raccoon’s paws are heightened when in water. This is thought to be one of the reasons why raccoons favor eating animals that live in the water.
Specifically, they eat animals that live on the bottom of creeks and shorelines, as they can feel them with their sensitive paws and know exactly what they’ve got their paws on.
Fish are different. They’re fast, and their scales are designed to be streamlined and therefore hard to grab. If a raccoon cannot get a good feel for what it has in its paws, it’s not likely to eat it.
How Often Do Raccoons Actually Eat Fish?
It sounds like raccoons mainly feast on crayfish and acorns. Do they ever eat fish? The answer is…sometimes.
Raccoons will take advantage of fish that have been stranded on sandbars or caught in shallow pools during a draught. Otherwise? Probably not unless an opportunity arises.
If a fish is slow, old, or injured, raccoons will take advantage of an easy meal. The species of fish doesn’t matter to the garbage disposal that is the raccoon.
Raccoons Eat Fish in Landscape Ponds
Landscape ponds may be in danger from masked intruders, especially if you have a shallow pond. As stated previously, raccoons find food with their hands. They like to push against the beds of creeks and shorelines to find their food.
A shallow pond with large fish such as koi can attract raccoons. Koi are decedents of carp, a slow-moving bottom feeder.
If the pond is shallow enough for a raccoon to stand or wade in, then they won’t hesitate to snatch up a koi fish for an easy meal.
Even though raccoons are nocturnal, there will be evidence left if a raccoon is the one to blame for your missing koi or gold fish.
When a raccoon catches a meal, they will eat it right there on the spot. They do not hoard food, nuts, or berries in their den. Instead, they’ll simply snack where they find food and leave the inedible parts behind.
Unfortunately, this can be quite messy for pond owners. The unpalatable spine, head, and tail of the fish will likely be left right there near the pond.
Other predators such as coyotes, foxes, and bobcats typically catch their food and then scurry off to somewhere safe to eat their meal. Raccoons aren’t as worried about where they eat.
Evidence of raccoons on shorelines and marshes are obvious as well. They leave the tails and heads of crayfish littered on the sands as they make their way down the shoreline. Acorn shells, seeds of the fruit, and unpalatable cores are all signs of a visiting raccoon.
How to Keep Raccoons From Eating Your Pond Fish
Koi are beautiful fish. Beautiful, and expensive! If you love viewing your brightly colored fish in your pond, take care to protect them.
If you already have a pond or are thinking of building one, you’ll want to consider how to keep raccoons’ paws off your fish. They are very clever and will seize the opportunity for an easy meal.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to keep raccoons out of your pond. There are deterrents specifically designed for pond protection, and there are simple yard deterrents that will dissuade raccoons from entering your yard at all, let alone your pond.
Improve Pond Construction
The construction of your pond is important. Raccoons don’t mind getting wet, but they are most used to gently sloping shores that lead into water.
When constructing your pond, try to use sheer faces on the outside of the pond. This will help deter raccoons from stepping into your pond.
They don’t mind water, but they will be more hesitant to jump right into a water source if they’re not sure how deep it is.
In terms of depth, 3 feet is the suggested depth of a koi pond. The majority of raccoons will not be able to wade through water at a depth of three feet for an extended period of time.
The raccoon will not be able to touch the bottom and therefore must swim to catch any koi. Combining depth with sheer walls will deter most raccoons from making your beautiful koi their dinner.
Another excellent construction tip is to provide your koi with a hiding spot in the pond. You can create a submerged ledge or buy a fake log that your koi can hide in.
A cave or ledge will give your koi a chance to hide from not just raccoons but any predator that enters their pond. Herons are another source of headache for pond owners, but a cave can protect your koi and give them a chance to hide from predators.
Utilize Yard Deterrents
If you’re not keen on changing the construction of your pond, try deterring raccoons from entering your yard in the first place.
Motion activated lights and sprinkler systems can humanely scare raccoons and make them less likely to return to your yard.
Lights tend to be less effective on raccoons than a motion-activated sprinkler system. When observed in the wild, raccoons that had a flashlight shone on their faces didn’t tend to react very much. They are more startled by sudden sounds or sensations.
The Orbit 62100 Yard Enforcer is a motion-activated sprinkler system that comes packed with valuable specs. You can change the settings so that it is only activated at night, when raccoons are most active.
Additionally, it has sensing technology that allows it to tell the difference between a branch moving in the wind and an animal scurrying around your yard.
If you’re not ready for a techy installation in your yard, try using noise makers. Wind chimes, pots and pans on strings, radios, and bioacoustics all provide a deterrent to make raccoons turn their banded tails and scurry off.
With sound deterrents, it’s important to change up the location and the sound itself often. Otherwise, those clever little trash pandas will realize the noise won’t hurt them, and keep coming back.
Remove Pond Vegetation
Pond vegetation sort of rides on the bandwagon of fish caves. Vegetation provides your fish with a place to hide from predators.
Most animals do not see well through water. However, raccoons are different, and actually tend to see quite well in the water. Vegetation will block their vision and make it harder for them to spot a koi fish.
You can also put vegetation and even boulders around the perimeter of your pond to make it more difficult for animals to get to your pond in the first place.
Remember how raccoons are lazy? If they have to work hard to get to your pond, they’re less likely to take that route for a food source.
Install Physical Barriers
Koi ponds are meant to be enjoyed. The colorful fish are fun to watch and admire. So, putting a huge barrier or fence around your pond may not be your most favorite option.
Instead, try putting a net that is easy to put on and take off over your pond at night. Nighttime is when raccoons are most actively seeking food.
When choosing a net, make sure it will fit over your entire pond. Nylon netting works great, and comes in practically any size you need. You can also cut it to fit irregular shaped ponds.
Make sure your netting does not actually touch the water. Use a stake, rope, or even a broomstick in the center of your pond to keep the net above the water.
This is important, as the koi can get stuck in the net if it’s too low. Once the net is in place, use stakes, bricks or heavy rocks to hold the netting down.
In the morning, simply remove the net and enjoy your fish viewing.
Thats a Wrap!
Now that we’ve learned a little more about what raccoons eat, where they eat, and how they find food, it’s obvious that fish aren’t high up on a raccoon’s priority food list.
They tend to eat whatever is available, be it crayfish, clams, frogs, slugs, grasshoppers, acorns, apples, grapes, or corn.
When one food source is eliminated, a raccoon will adjust their diet based off of what is available. They certainly don’t turn down easy meals, such as pet food that’s been left out, or your leftover Chinese food you put in the trash bin outside.
It’s not likely that raccoons actually go hunting for fish. Instead, they’ll take advantage of koi ponds or fish that have been stranded on sandbars or shallow pools during a draught.
If you want to keep raccoons out of your yard and koi ponds, try using sound or sensation deterrents first. Raccoons don’t mind getting wet, but a sudden splash and noise from a sprinkler system will be enough to send them running off.
Raccoons are very adaptable creatures. If they live in an area with an abundance of grasshoppers, that’s what they eat. An abundance of pet food? Chicken eggs? Snakes? Check, check, check. They’ll eat anything.
But, don’t expect to view a beautiful scene with a raccoon catching a leaping salmon from a waterfall.
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Tevis, L. (1947). Summer activities of California raccoons. Journal of Mammalogy, 28(4), 323-332.
Tyler, J. D. (2000). Notes on winter food habits of raccoons from western Oklahoma. In Proceedings of the Oklahoma Academy of Science (pp. 115-117).
Zeveloff, S. I. (2002). Raccoons: A Natural History. UBC Press.
Urban Wildlife – Raccoons. (n.d.). Retrieved from Pinellas County Animal Services: http://pinellas.gov/animalservices/wildlife-raccoons.htm#koi
Raccoons (Procyon Lotor). (n.d.). Retrieved from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/species/procyon-lotor#conflict