Jun 3, 2014 | Featured in: Watching Backyard Birds, June 2014

The Top 10 Tips for Dealing with Raccoons

A raccoon raids a backyard bird feeder in Quebéc, Canada.
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Raccoons are undeniably cute, but they are not good neighbors. If raccoons are raiding your feeders by night, these 10 tips are for you. Most backyard feeder perperators can use all the help they can get in fighting this mammalian marauder.

10. Understand that they are smarter than you.

Add to that stronger, more persistent, bolder, and hungrier. Raccoons have all night to undo the measures you've taken to keep them away from your feeders. For instance, a friend of ours watched a raccoon repeatedly slide down a freshly greased feeder pole. It then walked to her children's sandbox, dabbed its paws in the sand and scooted right up the pole.

9. Take in your feeders every night.

It's a pain in the neck, but it certainly eases your frustration come morning. A closed garage is ideal. If you can devise a raccoon-proof metal garbage can that can stay outside, you can put your feeders in that overnight.

8. When the 'coons fly.

If there is food at the end of the rainbow, raccoons will fly to get to it. No feeder pole is too small or slick, almost no baffle insurmountable. Raccoons will try seemingly impossible feats, and usually gain access where it seems no furred animal could. Be prepared for frustration in your efforts to thwart them.

7. Memories.

Once rewarded, a raccoon will remember you forever. If you take your feeders inside for 10 nights straight, then forget on the 11th, you'll find out that the 'coons have been checking every night and will be only too happy to clean out your feeders for you.

6. June is the cruelest month.

The worst offenders at bird feeders are lactating female raccoons, which are eating for four or five. Just before their young are weaned, female raccoons are fearless in their hunger and will often make forays into feeding stations in broad daylight. Trapping or otherwise removing these females can doom their young to starvation or, perhaps worse, send them directly to your feeding station, quintupling your problem.

5. NEVER feed raccoons deliberately!

If you have a compost pile, don't throw meat scraps on it. Pets fed outside are at risk of losing their meals, or even their lives, to scrappy raccoons. Feed pets indoors only.

4. Put out less, lose less.

In summer, it's a good idea to use smaller feeders that can be emptied in a single day. If you're feeding on platforms, feed only as much seed as the birds will clean up by nightfall. Downsize your suet feeder, or use just a small chunk of suet. Be sure to bring it inside at night, too.

3. Remember rabies.

Raccoons are a rabies vector species, and like all wild animals, should be treated with respect. Don't take chances by attempting to chase, challenge, or otherwise make contact with your nighttime raiders.

2. News travels!

That one cute little raccoon that begs for food outside the kitchen screen could multiply to a dozen or more. Some people who feed raccoons get 30 at one time!

1. Dirty is as dirty does.

Raccoons receiving nightly treats at your feeder will often show their appreciation by raiding your nest boxes; digging up newly planted or just watered plants in your garden; stripping your fruit trees, tomatoes, or melon vines, or making a communal latrine of your front stoop. Any combination of these, or all of them, is possible. Do your best to dry up their food supply before the raccoons in your neighborhood kick into high gear.

About Bill Thompson, III, and Julie Zickefoose

Bill Thompson, III, lives in Whipple, Ohio. Bill is the editor of Bird Watcher's Digest by day. He's also a keen birder, the author of many books, a dad, a field trip leader, an ecotourism consultant, and a guitar player.

Julie Zickefoose is an avid blogger, artist, naturalist, licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and mom of two enthusiastic birders. Learn more about Julie »

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  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018
  • I had a pair nesting for the first time this year at our farmstead in South Dakota. Boxes put out for Bluebirds which didn't come, but these were a very pleasant consolation.
    by fluffypeanutcat, Tue, 25 Sep 2018
  • This is a good point. While cleaning mine, I kinda got the impression the cheep cheeps were waiting on me since they started chirping as soon as I brought it outside again. I swear they are so smart. Within five minutes of filling the feeder up, they are there to feast.cheers Cheep cheeps!
    by Kimber timbers, Fri, 20 Jul 2018