The Masked Bandit: The Raccoon
Right now as I write this article, masked, furry creatures called Raccoons are lying asleep somewhere hanging their heads and dreaming of what lies ahead in the cold winter months.
Raccoons (Procyon lotor), are located throughout the State of Illinois. They are nocturnal animals foraging mostly at night. They are technically carnivores, but will also consume a wide variety of foods that are available during different times of the year. Reportedly, they will only den 1,200 feet from a permanent water source, making streams, rivers and lakes their primary habitat. In the forest they den in hollows of trees, along a fallen log or in rocky crevices. Being extremely adaptable, agile and creative creatures, they have learned to survive quite well in urban settings right alongside humans. They will often be found living in seldom-used fireplace chimneys, attics and other locations especially during the winter months. They are not nest makers and do not add nesting material to their den sites. They are very attracted to the warmth of homes that offer protection from the elements.
Being a relative of the bear family, they are particularly strong and have powerful claws. They use their hands like primates and humans. Raccoons can literally rip shingles off a roof to get inside! They are also one of the smartest animals around being crafty and sometimes very difficult to catch. They have adapted quite well to having their natural habit destroyed with the loss of forest and wooded land to development.
Destruction of their natural habit has caused them to adapt and enter into our cities and sometimes our homes. They mate between December and May and only one time per year. In our Rockford, Illinois area, the average number of young seems to be between 3-4, but they sometimes have as many as 6 or 7 in each litter. Raccoon have a gestation period of 63 days and the young are born in April and May (typically). Diseases within the raccoon populations are somewhat high with Distemper being the illness that is most common. Signs of Distemper include staggering while walking and the appearance of being drunk, crusty eyes with nasal and ocular discharge, apparently fearless behavior and being seen during the daytime hours. Rabies can also be contracted by the Raccoon, but is it not as common.
Like it or not, raccoons are our neighbors but there are some things that you can do to prevent coming in contact with them:
1. Have a chimney cap placed on your chimney flues (all of them)and remember to check the integrity of your cap at least yearly.
2. Use garbage cans with tight fitting lids and locking devices (bungee cords work sometimes).
3. Trim tree branches away from homes at least 4 feet (they can climb right up downspouts, but lets not make it any easier on them!).
4. Do not place bread and other food on the ground outside that is left overnight.
5. Use a grub control insecticide (always follow the label instructions) on your lawn.
6. If all else fails, contact a licensed and insured trapper licensed through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
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