7 Reasons Why Raccoons End Up In Cities (Urbanization Guide)

Raccoons (Procyon lotor) eating garbage or trash in a can invading the city

Raccoons are a well-known animal often seen scampering around after dark near garbage cans and bird feeders. These little bandits aren’t afraid to live side by side with people, but what makes them decide to move into the big city rather than stay in a forest?

There are a few reasons why raccoons end up in cities. Cities provide raccoons with an easy source of food, shelter, denning spots, and safety. The adaptability of raccoons makes the transition from forest to city easier. Lastly, lethal control methods are restricted in cities, providing raccoons with protection.

We’ll go over all the reasons why raccoons end up in cities. We’ll also go over some things you can do to keep these masked bandits out of your city yard!

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Do Raccoons Even Live In Cities?

The first and most important question is: do raccoons really live in cities, or are they just visiting?

Raccoons do live in cities. They will find homes in the wooded areas of parks, suburban neighborhoods, or the heart of the city beneath your porch or up in your attic.

A study reported in the Journal of Wildlife Management found that raccoon densities were highest in urban and suburban areas compared to rural environments.

How Long Will A Raccoon Stay In The City?

If you’ve seen a raccoon creeping around your yard, should you expect it to stick around for a while or will it move on?

Raccoons in urban environments tend to use the same location year after year. This is mainly because there are abundant food sources.

Rural raccoons are more nomadic, moving from one place to another to try to obtain food to sate their appetites. Raccoons have home ranges, but these can quickly be scrapped if food sources are low, raccoon populations are high, or predators are nearby.

If a raccoon has moved in under your shed or deck in the middle of the city, it may stick around for its entire life unless you take away its source of food.

Raccoons are nocturnal, so we rarely see them except for a flash of gimlet eyes or a motion-activated light that catches them for a second before they scamper off. 

Unfortunately, even when they run off, they will likely return to that location the next day or later that night.

Here’s Why Raccoons Are In Cities

Raccoons (Procyon lotor) eating on a bench next to a garbage or trash in a can invading the city in Stanley Park, Vancouver British Columbia, Canada.

So, raccoons live in cities and many of them are here to stay. Why did they decide to move into the city in the first place? What exactly attracts raccoons to the fast-paced urban environment bustling with humans?

Raccoons, like all animals, are seeking three main things to survive: food, water, and shelter. Cities provide all three things wrapped up in a neat little bow.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the reasons why raccoons end up in cities.

Cities Provide Raccoons With Food

Raccoons are very versatile when it comes to food. They will change their diets depending on what is available. 

When living near creeks and rivers, raccoons will shift their diet to include more crayfish, slugs, snails, and small fish. On the other hand, a study in the Journal of Zoology found that raccoons living in urban areas rely more heavily on plants, seeds, nuts, and fruit.

We all have the best intentions when we buy fruits and veggies, but the fact is a ton of them end up in our trash bins. Raccoons will sniff out these delicious scraps and devour them.

Aside from the scraps we leave in our garbage bins, cities are also teeming with:

  • Bird feeders
  • Dropped food on sidewalks
  • Restaurant dumpsters
  • Delicious landscape plants
  • Left-out pet food
  • Picnic scraps
  • Backyard barbeque scraps

All of these food items have made it possible for raccoons to not only survive but thrive in city environments.

Raccoons Find Shelter In Cities

Shelter can be hard to find in rural and wild areas. There are so many other animals to compete with to find a good denning spot or a place to wait out the cold winter season.

In a city, things are a little easier for raccoons. They are one of only a handful of animals that will live side by side with humans. 

Besides the low competition for shelter, there is also an abundance of covered areas where raccoons can feel safe. Think about all the areas where raccoons can easily find shelter in a city:

  • Abandoned buildings
  • The area beneath the porch, deck, shed, or outbuilding
  • Parks
  • Chimneys
  • Attics
  • Near man-made lakes
  • In trees that are protected from disturbance (such as those in city parks)

The housing density is higher in cities, which provides ample opportunities for raccoons to move into attics and chimneys or the space beneath your porch.

According to an article in the Journal of Urban Ecosystems, raccoon home ranges are smaller in urban environments compared to rural environments.

The reason?

There are so many resources available in cities that raccoons don’t have to travel as far to survive. Their shelter may be right next to a restaurant dumpster or some other gold mine of food.

Cities Offer Multiple Denning Spots For Raccoons

Denning spots go hand in hand with shelter locations. And just like shelters, cities offer raccoons a variety of denning spots that are safely tucked away from any predators.

Den areas are different from the cover or shelter discussed above. Dens are only used by females and are occasionally shared by males during the mating season.

According to the University of California, the availability of den sites in cities is so great that raccoon populations become quite large in urban settings compared to rural settings.

Females use dens to raise their baby bandits (kits). These dens are used for at least one year, but in urban settings, they are often used year after year.

Kits are born in spring, usually around April or May. Despite being able to forage on their own after about 5 months, kits will remain with their mother in the den through winter and strike out on their own the following spring when a new litter is ready to arrive.

Raccoon den locations in cities may include:

  • Chimneys
  • Attics
  • Space under porch or deck
  • Space under a shed or outbuilding

In urban settings, raccoons are more likely to den near structures as they protect from the elements, especially in winter, and they are generally warmer when compared to a natural den in a hollow tree cavity or a burrow in the ground.

If you’d like, you can learn more about where raccoons live in rural environments as well.

Cities Are Safer For Raccoons

Raccoon furtively looks out of a small wooden house. Small predator of the forest, which is increasingly seen in civilization. black and white fur. Animal photo of a mammal

This one may sound bizarre. Raccoons are safer the closer they are to people. That can’t be true!

Believe it or not, raccoon survival rates in urban settings are greater than in rural environments.

There is a multitude of reasons for this:

  • Less gaming
  • Fewer lethal means of management
  • Greater availability of cover and denning areas
  • Greater food availability

Gaming and purposeful elimination are two big causes of the discrepancy between rural and urban raccoon survival rates. 

According to an article in the Journal of Zoology, purposeful sporting activities that results in raccoon elimination happen twice as often in rural settings than in urban ones. Starvation is a factor in rural areas but is practically nonexistent in urban areas.

In the study mentioned above, vehicular collision was marked as being a higher cause of mortality in urban settings than in rural settings, but this contradicts some of the information in other studies that report just the opposite.

One thing that all of these super smart science folks agree on is that raccoon survival rate is higher in cities than in rural environments. Overall, raccoons are safer in cities than in suburban, rural, or wild environments.

Raccoons Can Use The Same Space Over And Over In Cities

Site fidelity is described as “an animal’s tendency to return to a previously occupied place.” Raccoons in cities have a higher site fidelity than those in rural settings.

This is important when talking about why raccoons end up in cities. The ability to use the same place year after year indicates that that area is safe or rarely disturbed.

Take a moment to think about raccoons in the wilderness – things are constantly changing:

  • Forest fires 
  • Storms
  • Logging
  • Clear-cutting
  • Floods
  • New houses being built

All of these things can drastically change the landscape, food availability, and relative safety of the area.

Now, think about the city landscape. How often does it change? There are storm drains to direct the water where to go, fires are put out immediately by the fire department, and the area is already cleared of trees.

Additionally, all the houses that are going to be in a city are already there. A few may be added or demolished, but for the most part, neighborhoods and houses all stay the same.

The small degree of change in cities is highly attractive to raccoons. 

Raccoons are somewhat lazy animals and only venture out as far as they need to for a meal Imagine living somewhere where you only have to walk 10 or 20 yards to find a quick meal, a drink of water, and secure shelter. Would you move away?

Raccoons Can Adapt To Any Situation

One of the biggest reasons overall that raccoons end up in cities is that they are so adaptable to any situation.

Raccoons can thrive in almost any environment:

  • Savanna
  • Grasslands
  • Agricultural
  • Swamp
  • Rainforest
  • Urban
  • Suburban
  • Intertidal zones
  • Forest
  • Marsh
  • Bog

The only place that you won’t find raccoons is in high-elevation Rocky Mountain regions and very hot desert regions like parts of Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

According to an article in the Journal of Urban Ecosystems, these little masked bandits are so adaptable to urban life that it’s become a synanthropic relationship. This means that raccoons benefit from living close to humans!

After coming this far in the article it shouldn’t come as a surprise that raccoons benefit from living close to people. We give them plenty of shelter, food, safety, and denning spots.

One of the most remarkable things raccoons can do is adjust their diet to their environment.

Take, for example, the koala bear and the Canada lynx. They feed exclusively on eucalyptus leaves and snowshoe hares, respectively. Both of these species are so specialized in their diets that if their environment gets disturbed or disrupted, they could easily go extinct.

This is not the case for the diversified raccoon! If they live near a pond and feed on crayfish and snails, then the pond gets drained, they’ll trundle off to the next nearby food source and be just as content.

Raccoons Are Protected In The City From Lethal Control

Raccoon digging in a flower pot near a city

The final reason why raccoons end up in cities has to do with the laws and regulations in cities compared to rural areas.

The gap between life in the city and life in rural areas doesn’t exactly correlate to different attitudes toward raccoons. However, it does correlate to the different legal approaches you can take to get rid of raccoons.

Not only is lethal control often looked down upon by city residents, but it’s also very difficult to use within city limits.

Most cities have laws in place regarding the use of baits. These can be difficult to use in cities where there is a high concentration of domestic pets. 

In addition to the tight restrictions on eliminating raccoons, it is also illegal in most states to relocate a raccoon from a live trap. Instead, the animal must be eliminated. 

Those who live in the city often have no way of eliminating the animal and therefore cannot use live traps either.

Raccoons are considered furbearers and can be saught after for game. This is often restricted within city limits. Property owners in rural areas who are dealing with a problem raccoon can often eliminate them without a permit.

It is a little easier to get rid of raccoons in rural areas than it is in the city. Don’t worry, we’ll go over some amazing tips to get raccoons to leave your city yard a little later!

Raccoon Damage In Cities Is Different 

City raccoon damage may be a torn roofing tile, a destroyed fascia board, a den beneath the porch, or some spilled garbage.

In rural and agricultural areas, raccoon damage is a little more significant. 

These feisty animals can be quite vicious around chickens and ducks. Raccoons will devour corn just before harvest and feast on many other crops which can get pretty costly, especially when your harvest is your means of income.

This difference means that rural areas tend to view raccoons as mortal enemies, while city environments see raccoons as simple pests or nuisances.

All of this comes together to make city life pretty dang easy for masked bandits. They can walk through yards and knock over trash cans with little threat of repercussions.

How To Keep Raccoons Out Of Your City Yard

If you live in the city and have a little slice of a backyard, it can be an oasis from the hustle and bustle of city life.

When raccoons decide to move in and make themselves at home, it can be downright irritating. Who wants to share their slice of paradise with a raccoon?

Additionally, while we won’t go over this one below, take a look at our guide on using scents that raccoons hate to repel them – it’s a doozy!

Eliminate Raccoon Food Sources

Raccoon (Procyon lotor), also known as the North American raccoon.

First and foremost, you’ll want to eliminate any sources of food that the lazy raccoon is scrounging up in your yard.

  • Bird feeders: bird feeders are highly attractive to raccoons. They can climb up to get into the bird feeder. Or, better yet for these lazy animals, dropped birdseed on the ground is super easy to gobble up.

Try using a catcher tray to prevent bird seed from reaching the ground. Songbird Essentials Seed Hoop hooks directly to the bird feeder and hangs below to catch any spilled seed.

Remember, raccoons are excellent climbers. Try to position bird feeders so they are inaccessible to raccoons.

  • Pet food: Feeding your pets outdoors is a sure way to attract raccoons. Feed your pets indoors if you can or pick up the food dish each evening to prevent attracting raccoons.
  • Koi ponds: If you happen to have a pond in your backyard that has koi, frogs, snails, or other aquatic animals, it’s likely going to attract raccoons. CreiYuan Pond Netting can help keep your fish safe and keep raccoons out.
  • Unsecured Garbage: Depending on what you put in your trash, it can act as a buffet for neighborhood raccoons. If you can, keep your trash cans in a shed until garbage day.

If you don’t have a shed or garage to store your trash bins, make sure the lids are secure by using a bungee cord or similar. You can also purchase something like Blazer Brand’s Strong Strap Stretch Latch to keep your lids secure.

You can read more about the things that attract raccoons to your yard here.

Eliminate Cover And Denning Spots

Raccoons venture into the big city for food, shelter, and safety. We already discussed eliminating food sources, so let’s move on to shelter.

The space beneath your porch, deck, shed, or another outbuilding is the perfect location for raccoons to retreat during the day. They’ll also barge into your attics and chimneys if they aren’t well protected.

  • Chimneys: To keep raccoons from making a home out of your chimney, install a spark arrestor or chimney cap. Make sure it is secure, as raccoons are dextrous enough to remove them if they are loose.
  • Space beneath structures: Raccoons are strong and clever. To keep them out of the areas under buildings use a low-gauge (10 is preferred) hardware mesh with ¼ or ⅓ inch holes.
  • Attics: Make sure roofing tiles are in good condition. Replace any broken screens in windows. Trim tree branches that are close to rooftops.

You can read more about how raccoons get into your attic here.

That’s All For Now!

Raccoons are pesky trespassers at best, and a destructive nuisance at worst. These masked bandits have adapted to city life and are here to stay.

A few different reasons why raccoons end up in cities include:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Denning spots
  • Safety
  • Repeated use of the same area
  • Raccoon adaptability
  • Restrictions on lethal control methods

There are also some common methods of repelling racoons, such as eliminated sources of food or shelter for them. Additionally, there are a few products such as sprays or Epsom salt which may repel raccoons.

If you can’t seem to get rid of a troublesome raccoon in your yard, check out our nationwide pest control finder to get in contact with a wildlife professional near you.

References

Bateman, P. W. (2012, April 19). Big city life: carnivores in urban environments. Journal of Zoology287(1), 1-23. https://zslpublications.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1469-7998.2011.00887.x

Gross, J., Elvinger, F., Hungerford, L. L., & Gehrt, S. D. (2012). Raccoon use of the urban matrix in the Baltimore Metropolitan Area, Maryland. Urban Ecosystems15, 667-682. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11252-011-0218-z

Prange, S., Gehrt, S. D., & Wiggers, E. P. (2003, April). Demographic Factors Contributing to High Raccoon Densities in Urban Landscapes. The Journal of Wildlife Management67(2), 324-333. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3802774

Prange, S., Gehrt, S. D., & Wiggers, E. P. (2004, June). Influences of Anthropogenic Resources on Raccoon (Procyon lotor) Movements and Spatial Distribution. Journal of Mammalogy85(3), 483-490. https://academic.oup.com/jmammal/article/85/3/483/901013

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