As temperatures start to drop and winter approaches, it’s not uncommon to wonder what raccoons do during the colder months.
The truth is – although raccoons don’t hibernate in the truest sense of the word, they are certainly much less active, and they do get plenty of rest. They also become resourceful when it comes to finding more suitable shelter and overcoming food shortages.
Raccoons are highly adaptable to the changing seasons, especially since significant temperature drops can be dangerous for them. For that reason, these pests are more likely to invade your home during the winter as a way of finding warmth as well as food.
In this article, I’ll be taking a closer look at the winter habits of raccoons and what this means for homeowners. I’ll also provide information on what you can do if wintering raccoons’ become a problem for you. So, let’s dive in and learn more about these potential pests and their winter behaviors.
- Raccoon Habits in Winter
- Signs of Raccoons in Your House or Yard
- How To Get Rid of Raccoons
- How to Prevent A Raccoon Infestation
- Final Thoughts on Raccoons and Hibernation
- FAQ Do Raccoons Hibernate
Raccoon Habits in Winter
During cold weather especially, raccoons are known to seek shelter in residential areas, particularly when their natural habitat becomes less hospitable or when their usual food sources are in short supply.
This is when it is common to see raccoons undergoing some significant changes in their behavior patterns. Unlike many other animals, raccoons do not hibernate, but instead, they alter their lifestyle. Changing their habits is necessary to fit with harsher conditions and this includes where they live and what they eat.
Unfortunately, this can result in them becoming a nuisance for homeowners since their adaptability means they will often take full advantage of residential areas when those temperatures plummet.
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Raccoons’ Winter Activity
In winter, raccoons enter a hibernation-like state called torpor. This enables them to greatly reduce their body functions to conserve energy, allowing them to remain in their chosen shelter until weather conditions improve.
However, if their surroundings become untenable, torpor also allows them to seek out an alternative habitat, such as your home or yard. This new habitat will invariably be warmer and have better access to food and at this point, raccoons have less need to conserve energy and so their activity levels can increase.
Although largely nocturnal, these mammals can continue to be active at night, even during winter. In fact, their activity is often more intense during this time since they need to work harder to find food and shelter.
Michigan State University explains that raccoons are not migrating animals, and do not seek out warmer climates when the temperature drops, instead they make shelter in hollow trees, caves, or abandoned burrows.
However, when sub-zero temperatures or flooding makes their natural homes inhabitable, they will gladly take up residence in attics, crawl spaces, or garages, and under decking, patios, porches, or sheds. These locations offer the warmth and protection that raccoons need in harsh conditions.
To prevent raccoons from getting inside your home or shed, secure all openings and ensure that there are no entry points that a raccoon could use to gain access.
One of the most significant factors that can attract raccoons to residential areas during winter is the availability of food. During the warmer months, the diet of a raccoon is wide and varied throughout the year and includes fruits, nuts, insects, and small animals like birds and rodents. However, during the winter, the availability of such indulgences can be scarce.
As their natural food sources become scarce, raccoons may start to raid garbage cans, compost piles, bird feeders, and even pet food that has been left outside.
If you want to avoid attracting raccoons to your property, ensure that all outdoor garbage cans and composters are securely sealed, bird feeders are put away, and pet food is stored indoors.
If you have a pond, pool, or any other water source on your property for that matter, raccoons will be attracted to it.
I recommend keeping pools and other water features covered to prevent them from accessing the supply and using it for drinking water.
Signs of Raccoons in Your House or Yard
Raccoons are opportunistic animals, easily adapting to new environments, and quickly causing havoc in homes and yards.
Being aware of raccoon traits such as noises, scent, tracks, and habits can provide homeowners with the upper hand when it comes to identifying their activity and preventing them from becoming a nuisance.
One of the most common signs of raccoon activity in residential areas is the sound of movement, which can often be heard at night.
Raccoons are mainly active at night and tend to make a lot of noise as they scavenge around for food and shelter. It’s common to hear scratching, thumping, or even vocalizations like growls or hisses.
Often described as pungent and unpleasant, raccoons have a distinctive musky smell.
If you start to notice an unusual smell that’s persistent and lingering, especially near outbuildings, crawl spaces, or even in your attic, it’s likely that raccoons have taken up residence nearby.
Mess and Damage
Raccoons are notorious for their ability to create mess and destruction. They tend to topple trash cans, dig up yards, and even break into houses.
Look out for litter scattered around your yard, decimated pet food containers, or damage that looks to have been caused by gnawing or scratching to outbuildings and structures.
Look out for distinctive five-toed footprints that are about 2 to 3 inches wide. If you notice these tracks in your yard or around your home, it’s likely that raccoons have been around.
How To Get Rid of Raccoons
If you have identified a potential raccoon infestation, it’s important to act swiftly to avoid extensive property damage.
Seeking the services of a pest control professional is a great way of helping to assess the situation if raccoon removal is something you feel uneasy about. They will recommend the best course of action to remove the problem humanely and safely from your property.
If you want to get rid of a raccoon infestation by taking matters into your own hands, there are deterrents available in stores and online – such as loud noises and lights – that can help scare them away.
Additionally, trapping is another effective method for relocating animals away from your property but should always be done through a licensed professional so proper animal welfare guidelines can be followed.
Once the infestation has been removed you will need to make sure that all entrances to your home and yard are secure and that any potential entry points such as broken windows, holes in walls, or roofs are properly sealed.
Also be sure to remove any food sources that may attract these animals such as pet food, bird feeders, fruit trees, and compost piles.
How to Prevent A Raccoon Infestation
The best way to avoid a raccoon infestation in the first place is to put measures in place to discourage them from seeking shelter and food in your home or yard.
Here are my top tips on what you can do to keep raccoons away from your property when the cold nights draw in.
Don’t Feed Them
Avoid leaving pet food and bird feeders outside, keep garbage cans and compost bins secure, and clear up BBQ equipment or leftover food that could otherwise be attractive to raccoons.
Raccoons will look for ways to enter homes and yards in search of warmth and shelter. To prevent this from happening, make sure all accessible entry points are securely sealed.
Check your property for holes or cracks in windows or walls that a raccoon might try to use as an entrance point.
Remove Potential Shelters
It’s not uncommon for raccoons to also take up residence in places like attics, sheds, and under decks if given the opportunity.
If you have any outbuildings or outside shelters on your property, it’s important to seal up any potential access points or remove eaves and troughs where possible.
Deterrents such as lights, loud noises (like radios), odors (like vinegar), or even dogs can be effective at discouraging raccoons from entering your home or yard.
Try to use deterrents sparingly so that potential pest invaders don’t become accustomed to their presence over time.
Final Thoughts on Raccoons and Hibernation
While it’s true that raccoons are not technically hibernating animals, and they enter a state of torpor in order to conserve energy, it is not uncommon for them to be active during the winter.
Unfortunately, during this time, they are more likely to invade your yard or garden in search of a warm and dry place to rest and a more reliable source of food. Recognizing their presence is easy: they are messy, noisy, and smelly and you will need to take action to first remove them and then prevent them from returning.
To avoid them finding your property attractive you can take preventive measures such as securing garbage and composters, sealing up potential entrance points, removing potential shelters, and setting up deterrents.
Where an unwelcome resident has invaded, traps and sensory devices can be used to get rid of them. However, it’s always a good idea to contact a pest control professional who will assess the situation and offer advice on what steps to take next.
In conclusion, understanding raccoon behavior in winter is important to ensure your home and yard remain raccoon-free throughout all four seasons.
FAQ Do Raccoons Hibernate
Do Raccoons Come Out at Night in Winter?
If possible, raccoons will stay inside their den during the night. If they absolutely have to go outside, they’ll wait for the day as days are warmer than nights.
How cold is too cold for raccoons?
Raccoons cannot survive temperatures below -4F and may be at risk of hypothermia when exposed to prolonged periods of temperatures below 40F.
When the temperature drops too low for them to survive comfortably outside, they look for warm places such as attics, crawl spaces, or sheds to live in until the weather warms up again.
Do raccoons appear in winter?
In winter, raccoons are considerably less active because they enter into a state of torpor. This allows them to reduce their heart rate, thus conserving energy when food is scarce.
Although this helps them survive the cold temperatures, it also means that if their habitat is disturbed or compromised, they will look for new places to stay. Whilst on the move, they will also seek out potential food sources.
Michigan State University – Raccoon winter habitat