By Cheryl Conley

Lake Creek Nature Center Board of Directors

These opportunistic rascals with the masked faces are everywhere. They’re highly intelligent with amazing problem-solving skills and thrive in cities. Often called “trash pandas”, I’m referring to raccoons.  Although nocturnal, you might see one during the day. Don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that they must have rabies.  Most likely, they are pregnant or nursing moms foraging for food.

Like any good mom, pregnant raccoons seek out den sites that offer protection from predators and the elements.  Acceptable sites are tree cavities, underground burrows dug by other animals, rock crevices, brush piles, fallen trees and even sheds, garages and attics. Why do they choose human dwellings to give birth? Because they can. Raccoons can enter your attic or other structures through ventilation openings on the outside of your house.  Any warping or tears in house siding is another easy way. Structural problems in things like trim boards and dormer junctions can provide easy access as well. In early spring you should check both the outside of your buildings for any damages or structural issues. Get them repaired now—birthing season is upon us.

If you find you have an unwanted guest, your first reaction may be to call an exterminator. For several hundred dollars, they’ll set a trap to catch the mom. What do they do with her and what about the babies? That’s the million dollar question. There are some ethical companies out there who will do their best to save the mom and babies but there are also many unethical ones as well. Rather than spend your hard-earned money on an exterminator, let me share a method to strongly encourage Mom to move out and take her kits with her.

The most effective way to evict your raccoon mama is to make it unpleasant for her to stay. You must “attack” her three senses—sight, sound and smell.  Since raccoons are nocturnal, they don’t like lights. If you know how she’s getting in, shine a light in the entry hole or in the area where she’s living. If you use the entry point, be sure you don’t block it or she won’t be able to leave. Leave it on 24 hours a day. Now place a radio in the area tuned to talk radio and play it loud. Raccoons don’t like the sound of the human voice. Maybe Howard Stern? He’s annoying even to people!  The third step is smell.  There are commercial repellants you can buy from Amazon or a big box store. One of them is called Repels-All. Better yet, purchase fox or coyote urine at Academy or from Amazon and soak some rags with it. I would put the rags in a plastic tub and then place it near where she’s living. If animal urine grosses you out, you can try peppermint oil or vinegar. The smell has to be strong so use several rags. By doing these three things, she will move her babies to a more suitable location. She may move out immediately or it may take a few days. Be patient.

Don’t try to trap her! When a mom is separated from her babies, they will severely injure themselves trying to get to them. If you choose to do nothing at all, mama will leave when her babies are about 8 to 10 weeks old.

The most important thing in this whole process is to repair any holes or damaged areas on your house, garage or shed once the family moves out. Another animal is sure to find any entry points and you’ll be going through this again. Better yet, inspect your buildings now before unwanted animals move in.

Remember to be kind and humane. Afterall, it’s just a mama raccoon trying to find the safest possible place to give birth.