Raccoons (Procyon Lotor) a.k.a. Coons are one of the best known and easily recognised non-domesticated mammals in our region. Due to their adaptability raccoons are able to use urban areas as a habitat. Easily accessible refuse bins, fruit and nut trees and chicken coops are favoured sources of food for urban raccoons. Though their preferance is fruit and nuts, their diets consist mainly of insects, worms and other animals that are readily available. Unfortunately that includes chickens.
An average specimen of the raccoon is 32 inches long, including the tail, and weighs 11 to 18 pounds. In the Northern part of their range raccoons may weigh as much as 33 pounds. Male raccoons are generally larger than the females. Their fur is relatively long with an overall coloration of grizzled grey to brownish black. The most distinctive features of the raccoon are the blank-ringed tail and the blackish coloration on the front of the face, which resembles a bandit's mask.
Raccoons are native to North and South America, ranging as far south as northern Argentina and as far north as Southern Canada. The northern limits of their range have been expanding in recent years due to increased agricultural activity in Canada. Raccoons have been introduced in Europe and Asia as well, with Germany hosting the largest population. Raccoon sightings have also been reported in all the countries bordering Germany. Within their range, raccoons prefer to inhabit the lower elevations, avoiding the particularly harsh winter conditions of the high mountains, but in recent years the raccoons have been moving into new habitats which include mountain ranges, prairies and coastal marches.
Method of kill
A raccoon typically attacks birds by biting the head or upper neck area. The heads of adult birds are usually bitten off and left some distance from the body. The crop and breast may be torn and chewed and the entrails eaten. Raccoons have been known to mutilate poultry in cages by pulling their heads or legs off. Several kills may be made during during a single night raid with part of one or more carcasses fed upon. Dead fowl may be at the kill site or dragged several yards away. Raccoons are also serious predators of wild bird populations. Reports indicate that raccoons have been responsible for eliminating local poplulations of some nesting waterfowl.
Prevention and treatment
Raccoon proofing your coop and run is important. Raccoons have nimble fingers and are very intelligent animals who can easily open coop windows and doors to gain access. One method of deterring them is to fit raccoon proof latches to your coop's door and window(s). They can also gain access to the run by digging or tunnelling their way in. Placing paving slabs and/or burying wire mesh around the perimeter of the run will help deter them. Hardware cloth is another excellent deterrent. It can be fitted around the run to stop raccoons reaching in and grabbing chickens and should also be fitted over the coop windows. It is recommend that you use large washers and screws to fit hardware cloth to the window frames, as raccoons can rip staples out.
Will chickens be Safe from raccoons in daylight? Sadly, no. Though raccoons are naturally nocturnal they have adapted to living in urban areas and are getting used to human activity and dogs to the point where they are getting surprisingly bold. Keep this in mind if you are planning on free ranging your flock.
In addition to ensuring your coop and run is raccoon proof you can also make your property unattractive to raccoons. You can do this by restricting access to waste food and den sites, such as attics and hollow tree trunks. Other methods of deterring them and driving away mothers and their kits, that have proven to be successful, are loud noises, unpleasant odors and flashing lights. Keeping a well trained dog on the property will also help, but a raccoon, when trapped, may get aggressive and attack a dog and some raccoons carry rabies. Raccoons are unlikely to kill dogs and cats, but some cases have been reported.
Please note: Hunting, killing and trapping raccoons is permitted in most US states and most Canadian provinces, but transporting and relocating raccoons to other areas is often illegal. Please contact your local city, town, or county offices to determine what is and isn’t allowed in your specific area.
For more discussions on raccoons and how to deal with and deter them see the Predators and Pests section of the forum.