01.24.2005 - Here's one of the finest sights a nuisance wildlife removal expert such as myself can see. It's a nest of baby raccoons. I frequently go to homes to
solve problems with wild animals living in attics. I'm not always sure of what the culprit will be. It's usually rats, squirrels, opossums, or raccoons. I can
usually make a good guess based upon the description of the noises the customer is hearing, but not always. Some people think that rats sound like packs of big dogs
running about! Regardless, when I get in the attic, I can read the signs (i.e. the tracks and the poop) and tell what animal I'm dealing with.
If I'm dealing with raccoons, my top priority becomes clear - find the nest of baby raccoons! You see, raccoons break into attics for one primary reason: their instinct to make a nest high off the ground, where it's safe from predators. Male raccoons or solitary raccoons seldom bother to live in attics. It's always the female raccooons with a litter of babies. The babies are small and helpless, so they must be found and removed manually by hand. Don't hire a lazy trapper who will merely set a trap outside to catch the adult! You have to get the young!
Finding the raccoon nest can be very tricky. The female has usually stashed her young in a very hard to find and hard to reach place. She wants them to be safe. I often spend a very long time in attics, sometimes just sitting very still and quiet in the dark, listening for them. Eventually one of them will let out a soft chatter or coo, and then I can find them. In this case, they were down at the very end of a cathedral ceiling. That means virtually no space for me! But I am persistent. I am relentless. I squirmed down the tight gap, camera in hand, and got to the raccoon nest, and took this photograph. I stuffed the young into a pillowcase, and got out of there.
The next step, as always, is to use the young to lure the mom into a trap, and then relocate them all together into the wild. There, it's up to the mom raccoon to make a new nesting area for the young, who are not ready to survive on their own. The ones in this photo are about five weeks old. They are not fully weaned until 16 weeks.
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The raccoon (Procyon lotor), is a unique animal native to North America. It's not closely related to any other animals, with distant relatives such as bears and weasels. Coons are easy to recognize, with a black mask and ringed tail. Raccoons tend to weigh between 10-20 pounds as adults. They are mostly nocturnal, and are omnivores. Racoons average a lifespan of about 5 years in the wild, and have a litter of 3-6 young each spring. They are very strong, excellent climbers, very intelligent, and they are very skilled with their hands. Raccoons have learned to thrive in urban areas, and live in very high densities in cities, where they eat garbage and pet food. They commonly break into homes and attics, where they cause considerable damage, and they also destroy other property, and thus racoons are considered pest animals by many people. Raccoon control and removal, especially from inside homes, is best left to a professional.
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During their nine weeks of pregnancy, female raccoons experience a major shift in behavior: they begin to seek cramped, dry, dark, and warm spaces to birth and rear the offspring they carry. As it happens, attics fit these criteria seamlessly, all the while providing plentiful bedding material in the form of insulation, HVAC systems, and wire rubber. Because of this, attics are a raccoon nesting favorite, which can pose serious challenges to your comfort: nesting raccoons often destroy insulation and vents, leave droppings, make noise 24 hours a day (as the mother works overtime to feed her kits), and fall through unsecured attics down into the house. To mitigate this destruction, quick identification and removal of attic nests are necessary.
Determining if you have a nest in the attic
Raccoons are noisy animals: their weight and flat feet make their steps sound heavy, and unmistakable from most other pests. A heavy thumping noise coming from above should, therefore, serve as a telling sign of a raccoon. As raccoons operate at night, any such thumping should intensify at night, although in the case of a raccoon nest, it may not stop during the day. Usually, if a nest is present, the kits will make substantial noise, too, in the form of whines, growls, and chirps.
Getting rid of attic raccoons
As an attic infestation usually signals the presence of a nest, more caution than usual should be exercised in evicting them: raccoon mothers are extremely protective of their children and will go to great lengths to defend them, which increases the risk of dangerous bites and scratches when dealing with the nest. Commonplace techniques of applying noise, light, and ammonia-soaked rags near the nest tend to do a good job. Avoid the temptation of high-pitch noise devices: although they are marketed as pest repellents, they have no proven effects and serve only to waste your money and annoy your pets. On the other hand, raccoon eviction fluid and predator urine produce favorable results: raccoon mothers tend to move away if they sense that their kits are in danger, and a predatory scent serves as a good artificial motivator of this instinct.
Once the raccoon has left and no kits remain in the attic, sanitizing and re-securing the attic should be done as quickly as possible. Regarding sanitization, you should aim to deodorize the attic (to avoid attracting other raccoons), as well as collect any droppings the raccoons have left. Note that raccoon droppings very often contain roundworm, which can be transmitted to humans and can cause serious illness (even through merely breathing it in!), meaning that a professional should assist you in the cleanup process.
As soon as it is safe to do so, you should prioritize re-securing the attic from further raccoon incursions. Finding and filling any holes wider than four inches (10 cm), damaged roof tiles, and rodent burrows into the walls of your house should be patched without delay. To further raccoon-proof your house, you may also wish to clip any creeping vines on your walls or trees near your house so as to prevent raccoons from using them as platforms through which to reach your roof. Gutter pipes also make for great ladders for raccoons, making gutter baffles and collars useful tools in impeding roof access.