There are plenty of reasons why an unknown thud or another sound in the middle of the night can send chills down your spine and increase your heart rate. (I, personally, watch way too many crime shows.) But some of the causes for this nighttime ruckus don’t actually have to be spine-tingling. Sometimes, you might go outside just to find a raccoon rummaging through your garbage cans!
Raccoons can survive in a number of different habitats – from urban areas to woodlands – and their diet ranges from plants (including fruits and vegetables) to insects.
Then they’re out, they’re often looking for food which is why it’s not uncommon to spot raccoons in the evening hours.
Other than potentially knocking around your garbage cans and giving you a fright in the middle of the night, what other activities do raccoons do at night? From finding food to looking for a mate and simply moving to a new location, raccoons can be out for a variety of reasons.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you might see a raccoon at night and what you should do if you come across one!
Are Raccoons Nocturnal?
The quickest and easiest response to this question is yes, raccoons are nocturnal creatures. It wouldn’t be unusual to see raccoons out and about during the twilight hours either, but these creatures are more likely to be spotted participating in a variety of activities during the evening hours when it is dark out.
Like many other nocturnal creatures, raccoons have well-adapted eyes that help them move around in a variety of different terrains in the dark.
The eyes of raccoons have a protective layer, called the tapetum lucidum, behind their retinas. This protective layer acts as a mirror and reflects light in order to help these creatures see better in low-light, or no-light, areas.
In addition to this protective layer in their eyes, some folks even believe that the “black mask” or black colored fur that raccoons have around their eyes helps deflect glare and enhance their sight in the dark!
Where Do Raccoons Actually Live?
A raccoon’s preferred natural habitat is in wooded areas and near a water source like a creek or river.
Because of their nocturnal habits, raccoons have adapted quite well to life outside of a rural environment and can successfully live and thrive in suburban – and even urban – environments.
Raccoons are mammals with grayish-brown fur that have two distinctive and identifying markers: black markings around their eyes and ringed stripes around the length of their tail. These creatures can grow to be anywhere from two to three feet long and can weigh up to thirty pounds!
In addition to living and making their dens in hollow trees and brush piles, raccoons won’t turn down the opportunity to den in attics or under backyard decks if the opportunity presents itself.
With their move into more urban areas, this means that seeing raccoons in your neighborhood, in your garden, and maybe even inside your home has a much greater possibility these days.
If you’re worried about raccoons getting into your home, you and read about the 10 ways raccoons get into your house, and how to keep them out.
3 Simple Reasons Why You See Raccoons At Night
What exactly do raccoons do at night? In a sense, a lot of the activities that raccoons participate in at night could be compared to that of similar activities that college students and other young adults do!
The main goals of raccoons during the evening hours are to collect food and consume their meals, travel to a new location if their current home has been disturbed or destroyed, and also to find a mate so that they can reproduce.
Let’s take a look at each of these activities a bit more in-depth and determine if there is a way to identify the specific type of activity which the raccoons are completing to help better explain their presence.
1. Raccoons Look For Food At Night
raccoons are expert scavengers. I mean, you’ve heard the term “trash panda” before, haven’t you? And yes, while the term may not be the most endearing of nicknames, it does help convey the notion that raccoons are by no means picky eaters.
Because raccoons are omnivores, meaning that they eat both plants and other animals, this increases the number of food options – and food sources – that are available to them no matter what the season.
Some of a raccoon’s favorite plants include berries, apples, corn, and a variety of nuts and seeds. For animals, raccoons have been known to eat smaller rodents, rabbits, and birds (even birds’ eggs!), and will consume worms and insects.
So yes, while raccoons are happy to eat fresh veggies from your garden, they’re also not opposed to taking a dive into your compost bin or garbage cans for scraps if they’ve been left accessible.
Because raccoons have such sharp claws, it’s not unheard of to see these creatures in trees picking off fresh fruit from fruit trees either!
In fact, raccoons’ claws also help them snag clams and crayfish from the water. That’s right – raccoons are also great swimmers! So that splash you hear in your nearby river bank during the night may not be just fish jumping – it could also be a raccoon collecting its dinner!
Here is a list we created of 10 plants that raccoons eat. We hope it helps you to protect your garden.
2. Raccoons Travel At Night
Did you know that raccoons can travel up to three square miles in a single evening? Talk about getting in your steps!
Because raccoons are nocturnal, they’ll do most of their traveling during the evening hours, under the light of the moon. Surprisingly, these creatures can reach a speed of up to 15 miles per hour – which helps explain the amount of ground they’re able to cover in a single night!
Most of the traveling that raccoons do at night will be in search of food, but raccoons also travel in the evenings in search of a new location to den. This is especially true if their current den has been disturbed or threatened by a predator.
Depending on the life stage of the raccoon, these creatures may also travel at night in search of a mate, which leads us directly to our next reason why raccoons are seen at night.
3. Raccoons Look For A Mate At Night
If you think about this one it makes perfect sense. Being nocturnal creatures, a large number of raccoons are likely to be out in the area at night, so it’s the perfect time to get out and see if they can find a mate!
During mating season, usually during late winter or early springtime, male raccoons will search tirelessly for a female mate.
Because females only have a few days in which they can become pregnant during the mating season, there is definitely a feeling of “time is of the essence” when these pests are looking to procreate.
When baby raccoons, or cubs, are born, they are helpless for the first month and will generally require the support of their mothers for food and protection.
What If I See A Raccoon During The Day?
Growing up I was always told that if I spotted a raccoon during the daylight hours it meant that something was wrong and that the raccoon was most likely sick or even potentially dangerous. However, this mindset is a myth.
It is perfectly normal and acceptable for raccoons to be out during the daytime.
While it is more common to see these creatures in the evening hours, there are still a number of reasons why raccoons may be out in the sun.
The top three reasons raccoons are out during the day are:
- Raccoons may need extra hours to forage enough food to support their young raccoons. As we mentioned, when raccoons are born they aren’t able to fend for themselves for at least the first month. This means that their mothers are tasked with food collection for not only themselves but for their litter as well.
- Raccoons may be foraging in a certain area while known predators in the area are away. Owls, coyotes, and even your pet dog are all considered risks to raccoons. While your dog is inside napping or owls and coyotes may be resting in another area, raccoons may be out in a particular area that is inaccessible during the evening hours.
- Raccoons may be traveling to a new area because their current den has been disturbed. When a raccoon’s den is disturbed, these creatures are not likely to return to it. This means, if a raccoon returns to its den after a night of feasting or looking for a mate and discovers their den has been filled, occupied by another creature, or otherwise disturbed, it will carry on and find a new location for its den. This extra travel may mean that you see these creatures out after sunrise in search of a new home.
So, please don’t panic if you do see a raccoon during the day. Oftentimes, there is a simple and primal reason for their daytime activity. They are looking for food or traveling to a new location to make their den and don’t pose any sort of immediate threat.
You can read more about where raccoons go and live during the day here.
What Should I Do When I See A Raccoon?
Whether you see a raccoon during the day or at night, there isn’t too much that needs to be done if you cross paths with this creature by happenstance.
Raccoons are generally not aggressive unless they’re provoked.
If you do encounter a raccoon and aren’t sure how to proceed, the most effective response is to leave it alone and remove yourself and any others from the area.
Then, call your local wildlife preserve or pest professional so that they can examine the nearby area and determine whether the encounter was a one-time visit, or if there is a den nearby which could mean recurring visits.
If you do find yourself with constant raccoon activity, there are certain steps you can take to ensure that you’re protected both physically and legally during an unplanned encounter.
- Make sure any exposed skin is covered. With the potential of scratches and bites that come along with many pests, long sleeves, leg covering, and gloves can go a long way to help keep yourself protected.
We recommend a pair of deerskin work gloves like Saranac Hunter Premium Deerskin Gloves. These gloves are puncture resistant and will provide an extra layer of protection when there’s a chance of going hands-on with any type of pest.
- If you are looking to explore trapping options, be sure to check with your local wildlife preserve as well as local ordinances. Trapping, even trap and release, is not always an option.
If trap and release is a legal option in your area, and you’re comfortable with the method and a possible encounter with a raccoon, using a humane trap like Havahart Large 1-Door Humane Catch and Release Animal Trap could help catch the raccoon and assist you in relocating it safely.
Don’t forget your gloves and other protective covering if you choose this route while planting the trap and releasing the creature itself.
Found a raccoon living in your attic or chimney? You can read about what to do if you find a raccoon in your house here.
Here’s How To Deter Raccoon Activity
We’ve already mentioned that raccoons aren’t picky eaters, and during mating season or when these creatures are moving dens, it may be quite the challenge to go an entire season without seeing a raccoon.
However, there are a few steps you can take to help deter raccoons from taking up a more permanent residence in your yard.
- Ensure your garbage and compost bins are closed securely. If your garbage cans or compost bins are in close proximity to your home, you are more likely to see – and hear – a raccoon (and other pests) rummaging through these areas for a midnight snack. Ensuring that the lids of your garbage and compost bins are closed and properly secured will help deter these critters from an easy meal.
- Clean your garbage cans regularly. You might want to consider cleaning out your garbage cans regularly with soap and water, or possibly even with a bleach mixture depending on the garbage contents, to ensure food scraps and any leaked items are removed.
Not only will you have spotless garbage cans as a result, but the regular cleaning will also help to remove any lingering food smells that could potentially attract additional unwanted pests.
- Remove any leftover pet food and water from your yard. If your four-legged pets spend a decent amount of time out in the yard, having food and water available to them would be a sign of a responsible pet parent.
However, once you bring your pet inside, you don’t want to leave their leftover food, treats, toys, or water outside. If pet food is left outside it will attract raccoons – and other pests – to your yard to enjoy a free meal.
- Keep up to date on your yard work. Trimming low-hanging branches and cleaning up brush piles helps eliminate hiding spots for raccoons. Keeping trees and larger bushes properly trimmed and your lawn visible below them will also allow you to more easily spot raccoon tracks so that you can take steps to deter them and prevent any potential damage they may cause.
Putting It All Together
Raccoons have become a much more common pest in neighborhood gardens and homes and can frequently be seen on television and in movies being portrayed as the black-masked nuisance picking through your garbage cans.
It’s true, raccoons have been known to pick through open garbage cans when searching for food, and their food search – whether it may be in your trash can, garden, or another source – is one of the main reasons why you may spot this creature at night.
In addition to searching for food, you might also see raccoons traveling at night to find a new den location or looking to mate. And yes, while most of these activities will take place during the evening hours, it is also possible to see raccoons out during the day participating in very similar activities.
If you do see a raccoon, it’s important to do your best to stay calm and not approach the animal.
While raccoons generally only attack if they feel threatened, your best course of action if you spot a raccoon – or several – would be to reach out to your local pest professional or wildlife preserve service for assistance. These professionals can examine the area where you’ve spotted raccoon activity to help determine the likelihood of their return and help you build an effective deterrent plan.
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Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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