Even if you’ve never seen a raccoon in the wild, chances are you can paint a vivid picture in your mind of these masked creatures. They are common mammals seen skulking about at dusk and sometimes dawn.
As a general rule, raccoons are nocturnal, so they are most active at night. During the day they sleep and rest in their dens, which can be located in tree cavities, underground burrows dug by other animals, rock crevices, brush piles, and even human dwellings.
Raccoons are solitary creatures. However, during the winter it is not uncommon to see more than one raccoon nesting in the same den. Here are a few different ways that raccoons nest and just where they do it!
How Do Raccoons Make Their Nests?
Raccoons are smart, but lazy. They will not spend a ton of time looking for the perfect den or nest.
Instead, they depend on other animals to make their dens for them. For example, an abandoned groundhog burrow or fox den. This is a common characteristic of opossums as well.
Once a raccoon moves in, they will insulate the den based on their needs. Raccoons that live in more northern regions will insulate their dens more to keep the cold at bay.
Raccoons will also take advantage of dens made by mother nature such as rock crevices/caves, natural cavities in a tree, and sometimes hollowed out logs or fallen trees.
Anywhere that a raccoon feels safe is fair game for a den.
Finally, these masked bandits can make their nests in urban and suburban environments as well. Sheds, attics, chimneys, and the space underneath your porch are all potential nest sites for a raccoon.
This is where raccoons get into trouble with human interactions. Understandably so, humans don’t really like it when a raccoon moves into their attic rent-free.
Later in this article, we’ll discuss how to keep raccoons out of your home, and what to do if they’ve already made a den of it. But first, let’s take a closer look at where raccoons nest, and how they make that spot their home once they’ve claimed it!
Raccoons Nest in Abandoned Burrows
Raccoons have claws on their fore and hind paws that are used for digging for insects, but they do not typically dig their own burrows.
Raccoons are opportunistic creatures, and will take advantage of anything that gives them an edge that they don’t necessarily have to work for. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to see a raccoon taking over an abandoned gopher burrow or a fox den that isn’t being used.
This behavior seems to be more prevalent in male raccoons, who enjoy making their nests in subterranean environments or near the ground.
Raccoons will always make their dens in an area that is forested and near water. They need forest cover and undergrowth to hide from predators, which can include great horned owls, cougars, coyotes, foxes, and even alligators.
Living near water is important for a raccoon as most of their animal-based food comes from prey they find in streams, ponds, and shorelines. They will eat crayfish, clams, fish, frogs, snakes, and if the opportunity arises, injured waterfowl.
Their choice of abandoned burrow will depend largely on the environment around them. It has to be in a safe area away from predators, but also be close to food and water.
Just because a good-looking burrow has been abandoned, doesn’t necessarily mean a raccoon will take advantage of it. If it’s in a place without cover or not near water, they won’t move in.
Raccoons Create Natural Dens
Raccoons will commonly take up residence in a den made by nature. Rock crevices, caves, the area beneath fallen trees, and under brush piles are all up for the taking.
Caverns and natural cavities are more commonly used by female raccoons, as they make good nesting dens to raise their young.
Just like with borrowed burrows, raccoons will insulate their natural dens in colder areas in preparation for winter. This can mean leaves, twigs, whatever is available to the raccoon to make their den warmer.
Natural dens will vary widely depending on the geographic location of the raccoon. Some areas are swampier, meaning raccoon dens are more likely to be fallen trees or rock crevices. Other areas are more prairie-like and so brush piles or tree cavities will be a favored den location.
Raccoons are rarely seen at high elevations due to the lack of available dens. High elevations mean fewer trees and fewer water sources.
Even though mountainous forests seem like the perfect location for a raccoon, they are rarely found there, though they are widespread everywhere else.
Trees Make a Ready-Made Shelter
Raccoons are nororious climbers and as such, they can easily scale a tree or two (just think, they can get onto your attic!)
Thus, raccoons can easily climb trees.
If a raccoon comes across a tree with a hollow hole that provides adequote depth and shelter, they will most certainly make a home out of it.
Simply put, the tree shelter will keep the raccoon covered, dry, and off the ground. Plus, the exterior of the tree is hard and solid wood, making it actually quite ideal for our furry friend.
Attics Provide Shelter for Raccoons
Humans and raccoons have been living together for hundreds of years. But only recently have they been living as neighbors, and sometimes even unintentional roommates.
The reason raccoons are able to live so close to humans is twofold. First, urban settings provide raccoons with plenty of food. Trash bins, dropped food, and outdoor pet food are within easy reach of a raccoon.
Secondly, people inadvertently provide raccoons with the perfect dens: away from predators, with plenty of shelter, and within easy reach of needed resources.
Raccoons are particularly fond of attics. They can scale trees that are in close proximity to the roof, transfer to the roof, and sneak in through weak spots and even remove roofing tiles with their dexterous paws.
Raccoons Love Sheds
Sheds are another favorite den site for urban raccoons. Sheds will keep raccoons out of the weather and safe from predators.
Chimneys are also a possible nest site for raccoons, but are typically only used by mothers preparing to raise their young.
If you’re not keen on having a raccoon roommate, there are several techniques you can use to deter raccoons from your yard, and to exclude raccoons from your house after they move in.
Raccoons Nest in Your Home
Raccoons are very adaptive to their environment. Long ago they were secluded to mostly tropical regions, but now they’ve expanded their territories all across the United States, and parts of South America, Europe, and Asia as well.
The main reason for this is a raccoon’s diet. They are omnivores and will eat pretty much anything that’s available to them. With the aid of humans building shelters in areas they wouldn’t normally live, raccoons have been able to adapt to a variety of climates, temperatures, and terrain.
From swampy areas, to prairies, to forests, and yes, even cities, raccoons will live anywhere. Including your home.
Most commonly found in the attic, you may also find raccoons nesting in your walls or basement.
Keeping Raccoons Away From Your Property
There are a few ways to minimize the chances of a raccoon moving into your yard and home. These include scare tactics, habitat medication, and exclusion techniques (physical barriers).
Scare Tactics for Raccoons
Scare tactics are deterrents that will frighten a raccoon into leaving your property. This can be a motion-activated sprinkler, for example, or a radio.
Raccoons tend to be more sensitive to sounds and sensations, rather than light. A motion-activated light may startle a raccoon because it is something new and different, but they will quickly adapt and no longer be afraid of it within a few days.
If you’re strongly considering using a motion-activated light, it should be paired with another adverse deterrent. You can read our handy dandy guide about using motion-activated lights for wildlife here.
Instead, try using a radio. Although you may think a radio set to human conversation would drive a raccoon away, a better deterrent would be a radio set to a channel that changes sound often, such as a music station that has both commercials and music playing.
The key to scare tactics is changing up the sound itself and the location of the sound often. Once a raccoon realizes a noise will not hurt it, the animal will become habituated to it and no longer be afraid of it. However, if the location of the sound keeps changing, they will continue to be wary of that area.
Another possible tactic is using a motion-activated sprinkler system such as the Orbit 62100 Yard Enforcer. This will detect motion and send a spray of water directly at the raccoon, giving them a bath in the process!
I really love this method, because all it will do is startle the raccoon and make it think twice before coming back.
Scare tactics may work for a time, but eliminating the reason raccoons are visiting in the first place will keep them away for good.
The most common reason a raccoon visits your yard is because you have a resource they need one of the following:
In order to make your lawn less attractive to raccoons long-term, you should do the following:
- Keep pet food inside at night
- Keep brush piles or lumber off the ground
- Keep your lawn trim
- Trim bushes so they aren’t touching the ground
- Keep any bushes or shrubs from touching the side of your house
- Properly seal your garbage cam
Modifying your yard to be less inviting to a raccoon is the first step. Make sure to keep outdoor pet food and water sources picked up at night. This is an easy meal to a raccoon and will keep these bushy-tailed bandits coming back for more.
If you have any brush piles, woodpiles, or building materials – keep them stacked neatly in your yard, and off the ground if possible. Raccoons don’t really know the difference between a convenient lumber pile and a fallen tree.
Mowing your lawn may be a chore, but keeping the grass short will give raccoons less of a hiding spot from predators.
In the same vein as lawn maintenance, keep your trees and bushes trimmed. Trees that are close to the house should be trimmed back so that raccoons cannot gain access to the roof.
The area beneath bushes can be trimmed so that it is more open, and less attractive to raccoons looking for a good hiding spot.
Garbage cans are a big one. If you live in an area with bears, you probably have a bear-proof can anyways. But if you don’t, and you have a raccoon problem, you may want to consider getting one.
A popular garbage lid, the Doggy Dare Trash CAN Lock will keep the lid of your garbage can fit and snug around the base, making in quite the challenge for raccoons to get their paws on the inside.
If you don’t want to go so extreme, try using a bungie cord to keep your garbage can lid connected to the can.
This way, when a mischievous raccoon knocks over your bins, the lid stays on, and the raccoon learns it won’t get any food from your garbage bins.
Physical barriers that stop raccoons from entering your home, chicken coop, or garden are going to be the most effective deterrents.
Raccoons are wily, and can use their paws to tear at fascia boards, climb netting and fences, and dig underneath fences. They are able to turn doorknobs, unlatch latches, and open simple locks such as those on a dog kennel that just slide out.
To deter a raccoon, you have to go above and beyond the norm. As stated before, raccoons can be found in attics. To prevent this, keep your trees trimmed near your rooftops. This denies them access to your roof.
To keep raccoons out of the chimney, consider installing a spark arrestor. This is great at keeping out birds and opossums as well.
Raccoons love an easy meal. Freshly ripe corn and watermelon are irresistible to a raccoon, among other garden vegetables and fruits.
To keep them out of your garden, you can install regular wire fencing and bury the fencing about 8”, curving it out into an ‘L’ shape.
Raccoons love water, and will be attracted to any landscape ponds, especially those with slow-moving koi fish.
To protect your pond and fish from raccoons, try using a nylon net over your pond at night, when raccoons are most active. The netting should not touch the water, but rather be stretched over and held tight on all sides.
What to Do if a Raccoon is Nesting in Your House
If you’ve heard something scurrying around in your attic, or notice a funky smell, a raccoon might have made your attic its home.
This is common enough and tends to happen more during the winter months, when temperatures drop and raccoons begin breeding.
Raccoons begin breeding from January to March, and give birth in April to May. Litters typically consist of 3-4 kits, but can be more or less.
If you know there is a raccoon in your house, consider the time of year so that you will know if it is a potential mother with babies.
The first step to getting a raccoon out of your house is waiting and observing. If it is an adult raccoon, they will leave your house at night in search of food and water. During this nighttime food run, you can seal up the hole which the raccoon comes out of, and exclude it from your house for good.
If the raccoon is a mother with kits, you may have to put up with your roomy for a little while, about 2-3 months. After this time, the mother will begin taking her young on foraging trips at night.
Just as with a regular adult raccoon, once the mother and kits have vacated your house, you can seal up any holes to discourage them from coming back.
It’s SUPER important not to leave the kits inside your home, and only exclude the mother. If you have a family of raccoons nesting inside your attic, contact a pest control professional for advice on your specific situation!
That’s A Wrap!
Raccoons will make their nests in abandoned burrows, natural caves and crevices, tree cavities, and even human dwellings. They always build their nests near water, and their preferred choice of den may depend on if they are male or female.
Since raccoons are widespread throughout the United States, they will build their nests in different places depending on their geographic location.
Raccoons may find their way into your home, but there are ways to deter them from your home and yard without having to resolve to lethal action.
Sound and noise deterrents, physical barriers, and habitat modification can all minimize your interactions with these masked bandits, and protect your garbage cans from nightly spills.
Henner, C. M., Chamberlain, M. J., Leopold, B. D., & Wes Burger, L. (2010). A Multi-Resolution Assessment of Raccoon Den Selection. Journal of Wildlife Management.
Hosack, M. (2003, June 5). The Virtual Nature Trail at Penn State New Kensington. Retrieved from The Pennsylvania State University: https://www.dept.psu.edu/nkbiology/naturetrail/speciespages/racoon.htm?
Leising, K. (2000). The Biogeography of the Raccoon (Procyon Lotor). Retrieved from San Francisco State University Department of Geography: http://online.sfsu.edu/bholzman/courses/Fall00Projects/raccoon.html
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