Imagine yourself taking a walk outside in the morning to have a nice cup of coffee and some bird-watching time, only to find out that there were no bird seeds in your feeder. If you’ve noticed that some seeds laying on the ground in pieces and no birds, then it’s most likely that a raccoon visited your bird feeder and had himself a snack.
So how can you keep raccoons out of your bird feeder? Here are eight steps that you can do to keep these little rascals out:
- Stay away from trees.
- Use plastic piping.
- Use or make a baffle.
- Bring bird feeders inside.
- Clean up the feeder area.
- Use commercial raccoon repellant.
- Hire a professional to catch and relocate.
- Call your state’s Department of Natural Resources.
Read on, because we’ll discuss everything in great detail, and even give you a few tips on what you should avoid when trying to keep raccoons out. But before we do that, let’s talk about why you should keep them out, other than preventing them from foraging on your bird seeds.
Why Do You Need to Keep Raccoons Out?
Raccoons may be cute, but they’ll wreak havoc on your yard from late spring until the end of fall. They’ll feed on anything that they come across, trying to build up their animal fat during summer and vegetable fat during fall1 — similar to what bears do before they go into hibernation.
However, raccoons don’t hibernate as bears do. Instead, they gear down to keep themselves warm throughout the winter, then go back to building up their fat by late spring.
Seeds from bird feeders are the most accessible food source that raccoons can forage on because they don’t have to search for it. They think that their ever-reliable “human friend” refills the bird feeder for them, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Really, can you blame them? I’ll take a free meal over here please.
Raccoons have black-ringed eyes with excellent night vision. Plus, unlike rodents, they have finger-like paws, which gives them the ability to hold objects much like we, humans, do. They can use it to climb poles; then, with the help of their exceptional acrobatic skills, raccoons can fall from as high as forty feet and still land on fours.
Raccoons are the perfect bandits of the night, which led National Geographic to refer to these wily omnivores as Masked Bandit Raccoons.
They rummage through your property and are a nuisance in many cases. They aren’t the worst thing that could end up on your property but we’d like to get them off as soon and safely as we can.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raccoons are responsible for 28.6% of reported cases of rabies in the United States — second only to bats.
When left unchecked, raccoons can cause substantial damage to crops2. They also love to rummage through your garbage on anything they can get their paws on and even compete with other animals for food (like the bird feeders).
Raccoons are omnivores, meaning they don’t have to compete with birds for the same food sources to survive. But their unusual feeding habits to build up fat puts them in competition with birds when it comes to free food sitting in a birdhouse.
Competition between species happens when two or more animals occupy the same habitat or are competing for the same food. It shouldn’t be the case for birds going to a bird feeder, but in many instances, they lose their food due to the agility and resourcefulness of the raccoons.
Competing with the “thieves of the night,” only means that birds need to wait till you place their bird seeds, which won’t happen daily, or they’ll look for other food sources. This competition can lead to any visiting birds moving to a new location for food.
The good news is that you’re not fighting a lost cause. There are some steps you can do to keep these masked bandits out for good and leave the feeders for your feathered friends.
How to Keep Raccoons Out
Masked bandit raccoons — they compete with various birds for food and other native species for habitat. They’re also one of the leading causes of rabies virus transmission from animals to humans in the United States. Plus, they wreak havoc on your yard when left unchecked.
All of these start with the bird feeder that you have, so the best way to keep them out is to make it less attractive and inaccessible to raccoons. It’ll take a bit of constant work to keep them out, but it’s constructive and easy to do. Even in extreme cases, you can contact someone to help you get rid of them without shooting raccoons down.
Step 1: Keep Feeders Away from Trees
The methods that you’ll use to keep raccoons out of your bird feeders will be useless if it’s close to trees. These little rascals can climb trees and fall from up to forty feet, making feeders accessible for them.
It’s not limited to trees, though, because anything that has a diameter larger than ¼ inch is fair game for raccoons. They can climb poles and pipes, so if these structures are adjacent to your feeders, they’ll be able to reach it despite the measures that you use.
Keep your feeders in an open area with no possible access point for raccoons. It would be best if you use feeders that you can install and uninstall at will to confuse them of its location. Modular bird feeders will also come in handy when bringing them inside at night. It’ll allow you to keep raccoons out with ease and without using stringent measures.
Step 2: Use Plastic Piping to Intimidate Raccoons
The easiest way to keep these little rascals off your bird feeder is to cover the pole with smooth, plastic piping. It’ll intimidate the raccoons from climbing the feeder and stop them from reaching the bird seeds.
Raccoons use their finger-like feet to grip on the feeder’s pole; that’s how they forage on your bird seeds. But with these plastic pipings installed, they can’t use the pole to climb. It’ll teach them that it’s impossible to climb bird feeders, without doing any harm to the raccoons.
When loosely placed, these pipings will freely move when raccoons climb, which could scare them away for good. The most likely scenario when you start using plastic pipings for your feeder’s pole is that raccoons will get frustrated and give up on climbing your bird feeders.
It doesn’t apply to every bird feeder, though, because the ones hanging from trees or close to branches remain a fair game for raccoons. With their acrobatic and climbing skills, anything that is adjacent to objects that they can climb remains accessible.
Step 3: Use or Make a Baffle
Many bird feeders are pole-mounted, which is easy for raccoons to climb. However, using a raccoon baffle can prevent them from reaching the feeder. It’s a tool that you can install to keep the feeder at least four feet above the ground.
If a plastic piping doesn’t work to keep them out, a raccoon baffle is your other best option. It prevents the raccoons from reaching the pole, forcing them to move to other locations for food.
If you’re interested, you can check out a highly regarded raccoon baffle from Predator Guard here.
This version is just a big cone that makes it impossible for them to jump on to the actual feeder part of the bird feeder.
Keep in mind, though, that raccoons are highly acrobatic mammals that can fall from up to forty feet without a problem. So the feeders hanging on trees or close to trees are still accessible for raccoons. This device works best for feeders that are on a pole.
If you’re building the baffle yourself, it could be anything that’ll make it difficult for a raccoon to reach the feeder. Some birdkeepers use a stovepipe or a fence with fine mesh to keep them out. Nail it down, but make sure that you can still move the feeder around to confuse the raccoons or bring it inside at night.
Step 4: Bring Bird Feeders Inside
Raccoons live up to their “masked bandit” character by being nocturnal creatures. They go out at night to look for food, making your bird feeders vulnerable before birds could even reach them in the morning.
It’ll take some constant work to bring the feeder inside at night, then bring it out in the morning, but it’s a sure-fire way to keep raccoons out of your bird feeder. There won’t be anything for raccoons to forage on, but birds will still have fresh bird seeds waiting for them.
One of the disadvantages that you’ll encounter with this technique is that you may have to modify the feeders to be detachable from the pole or make it stand on a base. There are other modifications that you need to do to make this work, but when you do, there’ll be no way for raccoons to reach your feeders at night.
Step 5: Clean Up the Feeder Area
Nibbles attract raccoons, and being innately curious creatures; they’ll most likely invade your bird feeder through these. Cleaning up the surrounding area, and the feeder itself is the best practice to keep raccoons out, regardless of the feeder that you have.
Even if you’re using a modular feeder that you can bring inside at night, it’s still a good practice to make sure that the surrounding area is clean. It prevents other pests, other than raccoons, from finding your bird feeder, making it safer for your feathered-friends.
Step 6: Use Repellant
Sometimes, moving the feeders inside at night might not solve your problem. The most persistent raccoons can still reach it and forage on bird seeds. If this happens, the best option that you have is to use a raccoon repellant.
It comes in an aerosol form that you can spray around the area, the feeder, and on the pole to stop these little rascals from reaching the bird seeds. A raccoon repellant doesn’t cause harm to animals — even for raccoons, but it’ll keep them out for good.
You can find these in most pet stores, but make sure that you’ll be using a repellant and not a poison bait. Although both will work well in keeping the raccoons out of your bird feeder, the latter can cause harm to animals and may endanger other native species.
Remember, in this instance, raccoons are just a nuisance and we truly want to keep them involved in the ecosystem as much we can.
Step 7: Hire a professional to catch and relocate
As one of your last resorts to address the issue, you may be considering using raccoon traps to catch these masked bandits and have them relocated to other locations.
DON’T ATTEMPT TO USE A RELOCATION TRAP YOURSELF. Call a professional. Please?
Raccoon’s they still play a significant role in wildlife’s ecosystem.
It’s a humane way of making sure that the raccoons taking space in your yard will be out for good. However, you still need to follow your state’s policies when dealing with wild animals and take the proper precautions, like calling a professional (unless you are one).
Step 8: Department of Natural Resources
We know that, sometimes, a combination of all the steps mentioned above may not be enough to keep these masked bandits out of your bird feeders, and your yard. If self-addressing this issue doesn’t work, then you may want to consider reaching out to your state’s Department of Natural Resources.
Some departments can guide you on what you should and shouldn’t do when dealing with raccoons. Others may have their custom-made raccoon traps that work well in getting rid of these pests, and they’ll even send someone to help you deal with the infestation safely.
Don’t Do This When Trying to Keep Raccoons Out
When looking for ways to keep raccoons out of your bird feeder, you, of course, want to stick to the things that work. Instead of busting out the steps that won’t work for raccoons, let’s go through the ones that may work but could pose a danger to different species.
Some of the techniques that people share on various forums may even unintentionally harm small animals, birds, and even humans. That’s why you should be very careful when dealing with wildlife and always contact a professional if you’re able if you have questions.
#1 – Don’t Use Greasy Substances
The use of grease, oil, and petroleum jelly is the most commonly shared tip that’ll help keep most pests off, including raccoons. It works as a deterrent because raccoons don’t like the feel of grease on their fur. Even if they try to reach the bird feeders a few times, they’ll eventually give up to keep their fur oil-free.
There’s no doubt that this technique works well, but it can cause more harm to birds than with raccoons. Unlike raccoons that don’t like the feel of oily fur, birds with oily feathers can’t preen and fly.
Even with oily fur, raccoons are still excellent acrobats that can climb objects, but not the birds. Oily feathers make them susceptible to other predators, and even if you were able to feed them, they’d most likely end up being prey for other animals.
#2 – Don’t Use Poison Baits
A lot of local ordinances don’t have issues with the use of poison baits for wild animals, but we don’t recommend its use to keep raccoons out. They can be a nuisance in your yard and carry different health risks, but poison baits rarely contain formulation that only affects raccoons.
It may help you get rid of raccoons, but it also poses significant risks to other small animals. If you feel like it’s the last option that you have to deal with the problem, it would be best to contact your state’s DNR to help you use poison baits properly.
#3 – Don’t Hang Feeders From Your House or Trees
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the well-rounded skill set of raccoons to wander through your yard. Placing your feeders close to your house, trees or other objects that raccoons can climb to reach the feeder is a common mistake for a lot of bird keepers.
You’ll probably read a lot of advice about hanging your feeders to a tree. It may work to some extent, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Even if the twine, rope, or string can’t support their weight, the feeder will still fall on your yard, giving raccoons free access to food all-night-long and you, a big mess to clean up.
Putting a Lid on It
Raccoons may be cute, but you have your bird feeder up for a reason. Even the bird seeds that you stored in your shed aren’t safe for these masked bandits. However, it doesn’t mean that you’ll need to go through extreme measures to keep them out for good.
The best methods that you can do to keep these little rascals out of your bird feeders may require constant work, but it’s efficient! The more you work on these methods, the more these raccoons learn that they shouldn’t be messing around with the seeds on your bird feeder.
- Ikeda, T., Asano, M., Matoba, Y., & Abe, G. (2004). Present status of invasive alien raccoon and its impact in Japan. Global environmental research, 8(2), 125-131.
- Beasley, J. C., & Rhodes Jr, O. E. (2008). Relationship between raccoon abundance and crop damage. Human-Wildlife Conflicts, 2(2), 248-259.