Raccoons. Everyone’s favorite little backyard masked bandits. They’re cute, and they seem to be everywhere. For many people, raccoons are a frequent uninvited guest. And they never seem to leave!
In truth, raccoons have adapted to living alongside their human neighbors. In general, raccoons won’t leave your property on their own include because they’ve found safety, food and shelter near your home. Commonly, raccoons eat trash, hide in attics or under decks, and eat pet food.
In this article, we’ll cover the three simple reasons why raccoons just won’t leave, as well as what factors contribute to these reasons. We’ll give you some solutions as well so that you can discourage raccoons from sticking around.
Where You’ll Likely Find Raccoons
Yes, raccoons are wild animals. Their behavior is designed to keep them alive in the wild. They are native to North and Central America and are versatile enough to live in almost every ecosystem within that region.
They are comfortable in all sorts of environments, from deserts in the American southwest to tropical woodlands and northern hardwood forests.
A long, long time ago, raccoons lived in the tropics. Have you ever noticed those cute little raccoon handprints left on a vehicle or a dirt path? Raccoons developed those hands for foraging for shellfish along the coast and in rivers!
At some point, raccoons decided to move north. Their diet expanded to include everything from mice to rabbits, and any fruits, berries, or nuts they could find.
Raccoons in the wilderness live in tree hollows or underground burrows and use the cover of night to hunt for any small animals they can catch.
Wild raccoons developed a very wide diet and are happy to eat just about anything they can catch or find. And their flexibility is restricted to what they can eat. They’ll live just about anywhere too.
Raccoons Can Live Anywhere You Can
Most wild animals are best suited to specific environmental conditions. Beavers prefer to live near rivers and lakes. Prairie dogs like wide-open spaces. Rattlesnakes live almost exclusively in desert regions.
Raccoons are one of the few animal species that doesn’t seem to have much of an environmental preference. They are just as comfortable in hot and humid southern summers as they are in cold, northern winters.
Just like humans, you can find raccoons in just about every environment. They are highly adaptive and can live anywhere humans can live.
While raccoons are adaptive and don’t mind the hot or the cold, they are also opportunistic. If there is a comfy place to hang out during the heat of the day or a safe place to hide away during a cold night, raccoons are going to find it.
So if raccoons can adapt so easily, why do they insist on sticking around? Raccoons need that extra incentive to leave, and usually need to be pushed out of human areas by professionals. Let’s get into the top reasons why raccoons refuse to leave on their own.
If you’re interested, more on where raccoons live here.
Raccoons Search for Saftey
Humans aren’t as dangerous as coyotes. At least, that’s what raccoons think. Their natural predators include coyotes, cougars, and bobcats. Even eagles and large owls will prey on small raccoons.
Raccoons are mostly concerned with avoiding these predators while they go out at night to find food. And they have figured out that the best way to stay relatively safe while hunting down their next meal is to stick around humans.
Humans also prefer to steer clear of big predators, and owls and eagles don’t usually hang out where people like to congregate. This is considered a good thing by raccoons.
Raccoons, like every other animal, want to live someplace that feels safe. Lots of people mean fewer predators, and that means more safety for raccoons. Raccoons might be a pest but they’re not dumb, and they’ll stick around if they think they’re safe.
Raccoons Search for Food
A raccoon is definitely not going to be interested in leaving if all the food it could ever need is within foraging distance of your property.
Food is a huge contributor to unwanted critters, and raccoon visitors are no exception. Raccoons are voracious eaters, and they’ll eat anything.
If you don’t leave food out in your yard, then you’ve already made a big step toward convincing raccoons that your property is not the best hangout in town. But just because you aren’t leaving out a meal for them doesn’t mean they won’t find any leftover scraps on their own.
Any food out in the open is likely to attract raccoons. It’s all on the table – from dog food bowls to fruit trees, to less-than-clean recyclables, even lawn grubs.
Anything that even remotely resembles food will be reason enough for raccoons to stick around. And they aren’t likely to leave until all the food is gone.
Raccoons aren’t going to turn down a free meal. But we’ve listed below some of the most popular raccoon buffets, and how to discourage those nocturnal diners.
Just to add, you SHOULD NOT feed wild raccoons.
Raccoons Eat Garbage
They’re called trash pandas for a reason!
Raccoons love to go through your garbage and find all the tasty bits that weren’t good enough for the dinner table. And they make a huge mess during their search.
Cleaning up after raccoons is no one’s favorite daily task. Fortunately, there are a few simple solutions that can discourage them from making a mess hall out of your driveway.
A simple bungee cord can go a long way in making dinner time more trouble than its’ worth for raccoons.
Another fairly quick and inexpensive option is to spray down your cans with ammonia. A simple spray bottle will work just fine, and raccoons hate the smell. It will discourage them enough to keep them from noticing any nice-smelling dinner scraps.
There are even specialty products out there if you’re willing to spend a little cash to prevent nightly banquets. A Strong Strap – Universal Garbage Can Lid Lock Utility Strap or YYST Bin Strap are both popular options.
Whatever you do, it will be better than offering a free nightly buffet to your forest friends.
Raccoons Love Fish Ponds
Little raccoon hands are perfectly designed to catch fish.
It’s no wonder that most fish pond designs include a hiding place for your tranquil little fish. It’s one of the best options when it comes to protecting your aquatic friends.
Without a place for your fish to hide, raccoons will happily turn your backyard oasis into a seafood buffet by catching and eating your pond fish.
Bird Feeders Attract Raccoons
You’re no longer leaving pet food out at night. You’ve secured your trash, and the fish are safely hiding in their underwater cove. You should be covered, right?
Not quite. Raccoons might prefer a full meal but they’ll never turn down a tasty snack, and that includes birdseed.
Raccoons might look a little tubby, but they are extremely agile and built to climb trees. They will happily leap out of a tree to get into your bird feeder, making sure to make a big mess in the process.
One easy trick to deter raccoons from chowing down on snacks meant for the sparrows is to keep the bird feeder away from trees. This makes it a bit more complicated for raccoons to get at that tasty treat.
Another solution is to support the feeder using a climb-resistant pole, such as an electrical PVC conduit.
If the raccoons have to work harder than usual for their food, they’re more likely to just move along to an easier dining option.
If you’ve got a raccoon in your bird feeder, here’s how you can keep them out.
Chicken Coops Attract Raccoons
Backyard chickens are more and more popular in suburban areas, and we’re not the only ones benefiting from free eggs.
Raccoons aren’t harmless egg thieves. They have been known to attack chickens as well.
Raccoons can be vicious predators, it’s part of what has made them so successful in the wilderness, the city, and everywhere in between.
It is important to protect your flock from predators as persistent and intelligent as raccoons. Simple chicken wire usually isn’t going to do the trick.
A lock or complicated latch will deter raccoons from getting in through the door. As for the fence, make sure it goes a foot or two below the surface to prevent any sneaky raccoon from burrowing its way in.
Raccoons Search for Shelter
We already know that raccoons like to feel safe. They also like to be well fed. On top of that, they’re lazy.
Raccoons don’t build their own dens. In the wild, a raccoon will find a suitable hole in a tree or a rock face and then refurbish it to be a cozy hiding space.
For an urban raccoon, most of the homemaking work is already done. A raccoon that finds its way into a house, garage, or shed has found a pre-made den full of warm insulation. It’s no surprise then that raccoons prefer to live in safe, secure, man-made buildings.
Raccoons are notorious for hiding out in attics. They can do massive damage to a home, and they especially do not like to leave.
This is especially true during the winter. If you ever wondered why raccoons keep hiding out in your building year after year, chances are good that freezin’s the reason. Raccoons don’t hibernate during the winter, but they still aren’t crazy about going out in the cold.
Attics are especially well insulated, and humans don’t usually spend a lot of time there. To a raccoon, that is the perfect winter get-away on a cold winter night.
If you’re suspecting that raccoons are in your attic, here’s a guide on how they got in from the jump.
Sheds and Garages
Sheds and garages are great for storage.
They’re often the safest place to store cars, tools, and old furniture. They’re also where people store dog food, birdseed, chicken feed, trash bins…you know where we’re going with this.
By securing your garage and shed door, you can do a lot to prevent a break-in by nature’s little masked bandits.
Just remember, those little hands are very dexterous and they can figure out simple locks. Be sure when you lock up, your lock is complex enough to stump the neighborhood raccoons.
More like raccoon houses! Raccoons won’t pass up a place with free rent, and that includes your dog’s house.
Raccoons hiding out in your dog house pose a serious concern. Raccoons can be vicious, and they are not easily intimidated by dogs.
If you keep your dogs outside and suspect a raccoon has been hanging around their shelter, don’t hesitate to contact a professional.
That’s right. Wood piles.
If they see something that looks like a ready-made shelter, raccoons will make themselves comfortable. That includes your pile of future firewood.
Remember how raccoons will make shelters in tree hollows out in the wilderness. Their urban counterparts will do the same thing.
Raccoons will double up by choosing fruit or nut trees as their new home. A house that grows food, what’s not for a raccoon to love?
However, the unfortunate truth is that raccoons will eat just about anything. That includes eating the leaves off your trees.
Oh, and did you know that raccoons can do significant damage to trees?
Urban Raccoons Have Small Territories
The size of a raccoon’s territory plays a huge role in how likely a raccoon will leave on its own.
Raccoons in the wilderness can have quite a large range of territory, so they aren’t restricted to any one area.
Urban raccoons, however, have much smaller territories. They will rarely travel more than a few city blocks to find food. Realistically, they rarely need to travel far for food when they live in an area heavily populated by humans.
They also are not going to cross heavy traffic if they can avoid it, so once an urban raccoon is settled, it is there to stay.
Best Ways to Keep Raccoons Out
Now that you know how hard it can be to keep raccoons out once they’re settled in, let’s talk about how to convince them to move out.
Raccoons are nocturnal animals. They like to hunt and forage under the cover of darkness.
They are also easily startled by light. This makes motion-activated lights a fairly effective way to discourage raccoons from becoming nightly visitors.
Hmcity Solar Outdoor Lights are a great option for motion-activated lighting. And, they’re solar powered!
Raccoons might like to fish for koi in residential ponds, but they do not appreciate a surprise shower.
A motion-activated sprinkler placed where you know raccoons are going can be a great way to catch them off guard and frighten them off.
The Orbit 62100 Yard Enforcer Motion-Activated Sprinkler is one of the best options out there. Not only will your lawn and garden get a little extra hydration, but it will scare off raccoons and other pests. And even better, it has a day-night cycle, so you aren’t going to set it off when you enjoy your lawn during the day.
Using motion sensor lights AND sprinklers in conjunction with one another is a win win and it doubles the effectiveness of the stimulus to repel raccoons.
Whether we like it or not, raccoons are here to stay. Our neighborhoods provide an ideal environment for those cute little nocturnal terrors.
One of the best ways you can learn why your raccoons are so determined to stick around your property is by setting up a camera. Learn what is so appealing to them, and then counter with the perfect defense!
If you want to get rid of those pesky critters for good, you should always consult a professional. They will be able to safely remove any unwanted pests from the premises.
Ditchkoff, S.S., Saalfeld, S.T. & Gibson, C.J. Animal behavior in urban ecosystems: Modifications due to human-induced stress. Urban Ecosyst 9, 5–12 (2006).
Cagle, F. R. (1949). Notes on the raccoon, Procyon lotor megalodous Lowery. Journal of Mammalogy, 30(1), 45-47.
Riley, D. G. (1989). Controlling raccoon damange in urban areas. In Ninth Great Plains Wildlife Damage Control Workshop Proceedings. USDA Forest Service General Technical Report (Vol. 171, pp. 85-86).
Smith, W. P., & Endres, K. M. (2012). Raccoon use of den trees and plant associations in western mesophytic forests: tree attributes and availability or landscape heterogeneity?. Natural Resources 3: 75-87, 3, 75-87.
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.
Download My Free E-Book!
Take a look at my guide on Pest Proofing Your Home In Under a Day! I get into the nitty-gritty on the most common types of pests you’ll see on your property including BOTH insects and wildlife, along with the specific signs to look for regarding any pest you have questions about.