February 9, 2013 in Washington Voices

Scavenger raccoons not afraid to defend their turf

Pat Munts
 

Raccoon tracks in the first snow told us a good-sized one had been by to check out a bird feeder we accidently left on the porch.
(Full-size photo)

The encounter started with a series of thumps on the back step that woke me up.

Listening closely it sounded like something was banging on the 5-gallon plastic bucket we keep bird food in. Mind you, I knew the bucket was half full so whatever was thumping it wasn’t small.

I snuck downstairs and flipped on the porch lights to find a pair of full-grown raccoons hauling the bucket up the stairs to the backyard. After I inquired what they thought they were doing, the smaller female headed off into the darkness while the male stood up on his back feet and growled at me as he guarded his prize. We proceeded to have a little talk about who owned the bucket and that I wasn’t interested in his companion. Finally he grudgingly disappeared into the dark, and I brought the bucket into the house.

Raccoons are common in much of the Northwest. We rarely see them because they forage at night. They eat a varied diet, including fruit, bugs, slugs, bird and chicken eggs, vegetables, carrion, nuts and seeds. In urban areas people make life pretty easy for them by making available pet food, bird seed, and fish, snails and frogs from backyard ponds.

They are solitary animals that prefer forested areas close to water sources where there is cover for dens and trees to rest in. They will build dens in large brush or rock piles, large borrows, hollow logs, tree cavities, attics, overhanging eaves, crawl spaces, chimneys and even abandoned vehicles. Dens are usually used for resting and for raising kits in the spring. Adults will move to a different den every few days in their square-mile territory.

Raccoons have long front digits and back feet that can turn 180 degrees, making them excellent climbers. Because their back feet rotate, they can come down head first. They can easily climb up and down downspouts and travel from overhanging tree branches to roofs. Some of you have probably heard them dancing on your roof at night, especially during the winter breeding season.

Adult males can weigh more than 50 pounds and females more than 30. Add to that sharp teeth and claws, and they are nothing to mess with. Fortunately, they’d rather run than fight, so unless they are cornered by us or challenged by a dog, they can coexist with us.

They will challenge you, as I experienced, if food is in short supply or they are defending a mate and kits. The best thing to do if that occurs is just let them be and back off. Keeping food sources out of reach and closing up holes will send them elsewhere.

They have been back to our yard many times over the years. They’ve stripped our plum tree, figured out how to get into a self locking bucket of seed, and have made our alpha male, own-the-neighborhood cat think twice about going under the deck. It’s all part of living where we do, though, and I wouldn’t change it.

Pat Munts has gardened in Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@inlandnw gardening.com.


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