By Robert Lucke
With winter so close by, raccoons make their appearance at many an area bird feeder because of a lack of natural food. Hang a peanut butter suet cake out that a raccoon can reach and you are asking for a new eater at your bird feeder all winter long. And make no mistake about it, those little creatures have the reach and acrobatic ability to qualify for Olympic events.
Raccoons are not native to this part of Montana. They, like so many other of our birds and wildlife, gradually moved in, pushed from crowded conditions in the eastern and midwestern United States.
What to do about them, that is the question.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has some explanations and answers in dealing with these curious animals.
"Raccoons are intelligent, inquisitive and excellent climbers, and will adapt and take advantage of their surrounds. They will seek out the easiest meal which could be in your garden or pet's food dish. They are most active at night. You may not see them, but you can identify raccoon activity by their distinctive footprints. Raccoons eat fish, insects, small mammals, fruit, berries and corn. They will also eat eggs and birds.
"It is often more practical to keep a raccoon away than it is to remove it. The best long-term way of coping with troublesome raccoons is to exclude them from areas where they are unwanted. Removing the attraction for nuisance raccoons such as garbage, pet food, etc., and (erecting) sheds should be among your first options. Removal of offending individual raccoons by trapping or shooting should be used only as a last resort."
Around your home there are some specific things that can be done to ward away unwanted raccoons.
"They like to build nests in chimneys where they can raise their young. You can eliminate access to your roof by cutting back tree branches. Another way to prevent access is to nail 3-foot-square sheets of slick metal around the corners of buildings.
"Raccoons are unable to get a toehold and can't climb to the roof. This option is good for outbuildings but may be too unsightly for homes. Chimneys should be covered with a heavy metal screen or a sheet metal chimney cap, which can be purchased at your local hardware store.
"Repellents have not been found effective to ward off raccoons. However, mothballs and PDB crystals used in enclosed spaces, like the attic or chimney, will cause the raccoons to leave, allowing you time to put in place measures to prevent access."
Fish, Wildlife and Parks has suggestions for pesky raccoons in the garden.
"A woven wire fence may prevent access to gardens. The fence should be 6 feet high with the top foot bent outward to discourage raccoons from climbing into the garden. Or, an electric wire can be added to the top. The bottom two feet of the fence should be buried beneath the ground in an L' shape.
"If you don't have a woven wire fence, use two strands of electric wire around the perimeter of the garden one strand 6 inches and one strand 12 inches above the ground.
"Use of scare tactics such as scarecrows, lights and streamers is effective for only a short time. Raccoons quickly learn they are not a threat and will ignore them."
Raccoons are not pets, this MFW pamphlet admonishes. They can carry rabies and other diseases that are harmful to humans and pets.
For further information about raccoons, pick up the raccoon pamphlet at the Havre MFWP office.