Raccoon Species of New York (Upstate)

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Raccoons in New York

Raccoons are rather comfortable climbing trees.

Raccoons are rather comfortable climbing trees.

Raccoons are some of the most prolific mammals in the world. Native to southern Canada, most of the United States and northern South America, they have been introduced into Europe and Asia where they have prospered and made various regions and climates their home. Present across Japan, they are even an important part of their mythology.

Raccoons owe this success to their ability to find a meal in almost everything they come across; especially in their ability to exploit human leftovers. Often considered pests, raccoons have adapted to city life by depending on trash bins, dumpsters, bird-feeders and other sources of food left by us in our daily activities. They do so well living amongst us that raccoon populations tend to be more dense in urban areas than they are in their natural habitat.

We have only one species of raccoon in our region: the Common Raccoon (Procyon lotor), but the 18 total members of the Raccoon Family (Procyonidae) can be found across most of the western hemisphere (from southern Canada to Argentina). Members of this family tend to have slender bodies (although the Common Raccoon is a plump exception) and long tails. Most have distinct facial markings and ringed tails. All members are opportunistic feeders that eat whatever they can when the moment arises. In the eastern hemisphere they are invasive, and often considered to be difficult-to-control pests that destroy crops and feed uncontrollably on native plants and animals.

Although our urban raccoons are often pests, invading trash cans, crawl spaces and sewer systems, their role in our region is that of a common furbearing animal. Hunted and trapped throughout their native range, they are often used as an inexpensive source of food and pelts. In fact, most wild raccoons rarely live over 3 years. Most are either hunted or trapped by humans, or killed by cars. In colder regions they often succumb to malnutrition in the winter months.

Raccoon in a treeIn New York State we have a mottled distribution of raccoons. In some areas they are rare, while in others they exceed 100 per square mile (usually suburban regions). High densities of competitive, solitary animals, who often feed in trash and can live in sewers means there is a lot of potential for disease. Raccoons can become infected with canine distemper and raccoon rabies. Although canine distemper cannot be transferred to humans and raccoon rabies can be treated in humans, both illnesses can be easily transferred to pets. The symptoms of both vary and may be confused with other health problems. When confronted with ill wildlife, it’s best to contact your local animal control agency and let them handle it. Some diseases carried by raccoons are symptomatic, such as roundworm, but still transferable to humans. Sure, not all raccoons are disease-carrying vermin; many are seemingly friendly to people, since they may be known as a source of food. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t aggressive wild animals that can claw or bite you if you get too close. Feeding raccoons, or leaving food or trash accessible to them is not recommended. Keeping them as pets is against the law in New York State.

Raccoon Books and Field Guides

Humane Capture / Control for Raccoons

New York State Raccoon Species Identification Guide

Common RaccoonCommon RaccoonCommon RaccoonCommon RaccoonFind more images

Common Raccoon
(Procyon lotor)

AKA: Common Raccoon, North American Raccoon, Coon

Identifying characteristics: A plump, furry animal with a reddish-brown to grey fur and a characteristic “black mask” across the eyes. Cream colored fur outlines the black fur around the eyes and runs along the edges of the ears. The nose is large and black. The bushy tail has from four to ten black rings. The five-toed forepaws almost resemble a human hand and have excellent grasping dexterity for a mammal without opposable thumbs. The hind paws also have five toes.

Size: Average body length of 2 to 3 feet, weighing an average of 15 pounds (usually several more pounds in early winter). Males are generally larger than females.

Habitat: Deciduous and mixed forests, with high moisture and close proximity to water; suburban and urban areas where they live in dense population in close proximity to humans; farmland. Raccoons are arboreal (live in trees). Dens are usually constructed in hollowed-out trees or logs, but they often seize an opportunity to make a home out of another animal’s burrow, crawlspaces in homes, garages, vacant structures, sewers, and piles of junk.

Feeding: Omnivorous and opportunistic. Their natural diets consist of insects, frogs, snakes, lizards, rodents, birds, mollusks, worms, plant matter, seeds and fruit. Acorns and corn are a large part of their diet in New York State. In suburban and urban areas, human trash will also be consumed. Raccoons almost always travel in straight lines from their den to their food source. Although they generally feed at night, when starving, or with pups to feed, they may seek food during daylight hours, especially if the opportunity arises.

Predators: Coyotes, large predatory birds, wild dogs, wolves. Their young are eaten by snakes and foxes. They will bite, claw and jump when threatened.

Reproduction: Mating season is from February to March. Males greatly extend their home territory to increase the potential of finding a female. Females find or expand their dens. Males leave immediately after mating. The young are born in early spring and are dependent on the mother for roughly 1 year. Raccoons mate once a year and have litters of 3 to 7.

Other Info.: Raccoons are nocturnal; usually solitary, but sometimes observed in groups. They do not hibernate, but may have longer sleeping periods in winter.

Vocalization: Chattering; chattering-hiss.

Raccoon Chatter

Distribution

Complete distribution

Found all over the state and neighboring states.

Status: common.

Tracks

Raccoon Tracks

Look for paired prints (a fore and hind print next to each other); 5-clawed toes; 4 inch long hind prints and 2 inch long fore prints. The fore prints may overlap with the hind prints. The average stride is from 10 to 15 inches.

Droppings

Raccoon droppings are about the same size as the droppings of a medium-sized dog. Dark and tubular with blunt ends. They may contain seed fragments and insect parts.

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