Raccoons have great looks — masks, bright eyes, striped Davy Crockett tails.
Their closest cousins are bears and weasels. But they’re neither cumbersome or slinky. They waddle.
In Connecticut, and in most of the US, they’re our neighbors. They’re total omnivores that can live — and thrive — in almost any place.
Rural raccoons feast on berries, nuts, mice and bird eggs, washing their food in streams and ponds. Their suburban and urban counterparts raid bird feeders and garbage cans and do just fine. Like a lot of other wildlife in the state, they’ve profited by co-existing with humans
“They’re truly a nice, curious animal,” said urban wildlife expert Laura Simon.
But starting in a few weeks, they could settle in too-close quarters and cost you the price of removal, not to mention serious roof-and-attic-repair cash.
Female raccoons, which mate in the winter, are coming to term and need to nest. They need protective shelter because if male raccoons find the young pups, they’ll try to kill them, the better to mate with the female again.
Hollow trees are excellent nest sites. But they’re increasingly scarce.
“Unfortunately, people cut down hollow trees,” Simon said.
So female raccoons find substitute spots. They’ll use abandoned groundhog dens. They’ll find room among the rakes and shovels in a tool shed.
They’ll clamber down chimneys and nest on the ledges inside.
“People don’t think of this until they start seeing sooty footprints all over their house,” said Chris Vann, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Or, they’ll squeeze through holes in attic walls and curl up there to raise their pups.
“January and February are the mating months,” said Tom Dommermuth of WESTCONN Pest Control and Nuisance Wildlife Removal in New Fairfield. “Then, there’s a 60-day gestation period. So we start seeing raccoons later in March.”
“They go into the tightest corner of the attic and want to stay there,” said Joe Gray of Bats R Us Wildlife Removal Specialists of Bethel.
It takes about eight weeks for the mother raccoon to wean her pups and move them to the outside world. Simon said if the nest is in a chimney, the simplest and most humane solution is not to use the fireplace for a couple of months, then get a chimney sweep to clean up.
“People think they can smoke them out,” she said. “The mother will leave, but the pups will get burned up.”
Attics are tougher. Along with nesting, the raccoons will relieve themselves in the nest. It can get stinky. And noisy.
“They make so much noise, and cause so much damage, people can’t sleep,” Gray, of Bats R Us, said.
The mothers are also fiercely protective of their young — if you block the hole in the attic while the female is out, she will tear a hole in the roof to get back in.
“You could be looking at $1,500 to $2,000 in damages,” Gray said.
If they’re trapped, they can be released on site. They cannot relocated to other parts of the state.
A more raucous method of getting rid of nesting raccoons, Simon said, is to throw rags and tennis balls soaked in vinegar near their nest, as well as getting an old radio or stereo and blasting loud music at them. (At last. ... AC/DC can benefit society.)
A full list of ways to deal with raccoons can be found at wildlifehotline.org.
The best way to prevent all this is to start in the fall. Put a cap on your chimney and close up holes and loose vents that would otherwise allow animals entry come winter. Wildlife control experts said it’s also a good idea to keep tree branches from hanging over your house.
“If you see a raccoon walking along your roof, it may be too late,” said Vann.
There is also this. Raccoons — along with skunks, foxes, coyotes and bats — carry the rabies virus in Connecticut.
However, this should be put in perspective. There has been only one recorded case of a human contracting rabies from a raccoon in U.S. history.
And there are only are only one or two human rabies fatalities in the country every year caused by any animal bite.
In comparison, about 85 people die in the U.S. of bee stings and 51 by lightning strikes.
“More people probably die each year by getting hit by golf balls than rabies,” Simon said.