Three winters ago I looked out the back window to check the bird feeder because it was a snowy and very cold day, and even though it was the middle of the afternoon and sunny, a raccoon was on the ground under the feeder looking for bits of anything he could possibly eat. I immediately recalled the old advice everyone has about raccoons in the daytime, their being rabid and probably politically unpopular too, but I went out back to check him out and he seemed pretty lively. Mr. Raccoon climbed a nearby tree and stopped about ten feet up and watched me. Rabid animals don’t do that.
Later that afternoon, Mr. Raccoon discovered the suet block hanging on the side of the feeder and I happened to look out at this moment, when he was sitting happily in the frigid snow with a Big Block of Suet in his paws, looking like the happiest raccoon in the world. I think that block of suet saved his life because that was a tough winter. We had snow capped with ice on the ground here from December to March and that’s tough on little animals. I began leaving more good garbage on the compost pile but I was still a bit skeptical of our relationship.
You hear lots of stories about raccoons, and how destructive they are, and how they can be dangerous and spread parasites and disease. I’ve heard the same things about people and I think Mr. Raccoon has been easier to get along with in most cases. He has at times wanted to come in the house and I have discouraged this. I would not leave the garage door open at night, or leave a window rolled down in the car. When I’m grilling chicken outside he will sometimes come up and ask me what’s for dinner? but I have tried to make it clear that he’s a wild animal and not a house guest. I will still leave him some good food, because he seems to do no harm.
In the Ozarks, raccoons were a big problem if you had a garden. Gardens in the Ozarks are little tiny oases full of wonderful food and when animals find out about them you will never get anything to eat ever again from that garden. Doesn’t matter how great a fence you build, all the food is there and animals will find a way. I’ve been through this. I had a wonderful garden in the Ozarks for ten years running, but only got significant food for myself from it for the first two years. In the old days, Native Americans moved their villages to new locations every couple of years, and I suspect that the main reason was raccoons. If your corn crop is the best food source in the region, the coons will always get it first.
Here in Indiana, there’s so much corn growing that I don’t think anything, including coons, will bother it. You get really tired of corn and there’s only a brief interval in the ripening process when field corn tastes at all sweet. Coons have never bothered my garden here although they do check things out and sometimes dig new plants up to see if there’s something good in the pot or in the planting hole. They do want the melons, but they have not been able to contrive a way to get them over the top of the fence, so in most cases I can go pick up the melons they pre-selected and clean them up a little and they’re still good. Voles are more of a problem than the coons. I sometimes reach down for a ripe melon and find nothing but an empty shell with a hole in the bottom. Setting the melons on a brick while they are still growing is enough to stop this, but sometimes I get careless.
This past spring and summer were tough times for all here, first were several weeks of rain in torrents and then a summer of serious drought. My hay crop fell by fifty percent and the swamp across the road dried up as soon as the rains stopped. The raccoons were in dire straits then because their frog harvest (their main spring crop) fell very short of expectations. The poo they left on the porch told me that they were eating garbage, raspberries, black cherries and an occasional road kill squirrel. It’s hard to think of that as a balanced diet, and I think it did affect their health.
Mr. Raccoon started showing up in the daytime, early in the summer, looking for anything at all to eat. I again remembered the advice about daytime raccoons being rabid, but even though he was obviously in a bad mood, he seemed to be all hair and attitude and otherwise just almost about to starve. I felt bad. We began leaving food for him then, and shortly after this the entire family showed up. Not just Mr. Raccoon, but Mrs. Raccoon and the little Twins, plus the Raccoon Aunts and Uncles and baby cousins. They didn’t all stay, but Mr. Raccoon has become a regular visitor, and in times of plenty he does prefer coming to visit at 2 a.m., when I can hear him tipping things over on the porch.
I’m surprised this little fellow is so bold. I won’t call him tame and I won’t let him eat out of my hand because raccoons can be rather cranky. I would rather that he not directly associate me with food. What has worked out pretty well is a little trash can with a hinged lid that I got at Walmart. I cut the top off a plastic jug and inverted that inside it, to raise the level of the bottom a bit, and I put a dish of food on the jug bottom and close the lid. Sometimes I put a small weight on the lid so the neighbor’s cat won’t bother it but usually the cat is skittish about such things. Mr. Raccoon is pretty particular about his food, when he’s not starving. He prefers Fancy Feast brand cat food and won’t eat any of his kibble unless there’s some Fancy Feast to go with it. Plus, he gets ornery if he doesn’t get his marshmallow. Then I will hear him rolling his little trash can around the porch at 2 a.m. in search of it. The critical thing about a raccoon feeder is that they need to open things and turn things upside down. In the summer a pottery saucer, the sort that goes under an earthenware flower pot, worked pretty well. Put the food in one and invert a smaller one over the top and it deters the cats, but the raccoons love to flip the top dish off to reveal supper. It’s a surprise every time.