Raccoons are many things - cute, intelligent, devious, charismatic, strong and downright destructive. Battling a raccoon can be a huge challenge and should be dealt with early. They are not one of those creatures that can be tolerated in your space - they will absolutely destroy an attic or crawlspace if left long enough.
In late winter/early spring the sow raccoons (females) are looking to move from outdoor communal dens to a solitary birthing den - which can easily be your attic or roof. Here she seeks a safe spot to give birth to an average of 3 kits. She will keep the kits inside for 2-3 months depending on weather, during a cold summer they may spend nights inside regularly for the entire season.
Raccoon dens have a communal toilet area, the size of which can indicate how many generations have been utilizing the space. Extreme caution must be taken when cleaning these areas because raccoon feces can transmit distemper, raccoon roundworms and various other bacterial infections, as well as protozoan and other parasites. Proper safety equipment and clothing is necessary for any raccoon clean up. For more information you can refer to advice from the CDC here.
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This before and after shot shows a crawlspace after generations of raccoons called it home. Unfortunately the attic was also victim to destruction. Luckily this was covered by insurance but many policies have been re-written to remove wildlife protection. Know what to look and listen for - tracks in the snow, sand or mud around your cottage (just google what their tracks look like, we don't have a good photo if you can believe it! We'll fix that). Raccoons make a wide variety of sounds: thumping or scratching while they move around but also vocalizations such as growling, snarling and a high pitched purr.
You should also look for entry points, which is easier said than done. Raccoons need a fairly large access hole, but you may have to get on the roof to see it. Any trees very close to the building, especially with branches touching the roof, allow them direct access. So do TV antennas if you still have one. Raccoons will use it as a ladder and get directly onto your roof. From there they can rip through roof vents, peel away fascia or soffit, or rip off decorative covers for air ventilation in the attic. To access a crawlspace under the building, all they have to do is dig a hole in most cases, so look for disturbed dirt that looks like it has been smoothed away from the building.
If you have a raccoon already and are looking to live trap it, be sure to wear heavy duty wildlife gloves and remember that by law, animals in live traps must be released within 1 km of the trap site to prevent the spread of population-specific diseases. Live traps must be checked every 24 hours to ensure the animal doesn't suffer.
If you are ready to take measures to seal them out, be absolutely certain that all the animals are out. If you seal one in there are too many consequences to list. Some DIY techniques to deter raccoons are:
- Remove tree limbs within ~2' of the roofline.
- Cover TV antenna with flat stock to prevent climbing - covering one rung is sufficient but make sure to cover the bottom as well .
- Ensure all soffit is securely attached to 'J' trim and fascia.
- Cover roof vents with hardware cloth to prevent animals from pulling the vent off. Chicken wire and rocks won't do it, as you can see in the photo below.
- Install hardware cloth inside attic ventilation areas.
- Use flat stock or hardware cloth as a skirt around the bottom of the building, ensuring some of the substrate below has been excavated to prevent digging (see photo).
More photos of raccoon entry damage: