Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Nature: Outfoxing wily raccoons is not a simple task

A raccoon raiding one of Jim McCormac's bird feeders/Jim McCormac

Nature: Outfoxing wily raccoons is not a simple task

Columbus Dispatch
November 1, 2020

NATURE
Jim McCormac

Raccoons are abundant, range throughout Ohio and might be our most instantly recognizable wild mammal.

Close relatives of bears, they are immediately identifiable by their black-bandit mask and ringed tail. A big one can weigh 35 pounds. The wily mammals occur in nearly all habitats and thrive in citified landscapes. Raccoons are consummate omnivores, meaning that they will eat nearly anything. The meal plan includes our castoffs, as victims of plundered trash cans have learned.

In northern climes, raccoons go on autumnal food binges, packing on massive quantities of fat. Up to one-third of a successful glutton’s bodyweight is blubber. So much fat is stored that a raccoon can ride out winter without eating, if need be. They don’t truly hibernate, but will remain holed up in a den for extended periods during cold snaps.

We are smack in the midst of raccoon fat-storage season. This is when the masked bandits stage frequent raids on bird feeders — not that they wouldn’t during any other season. Seed meant for songbirds is easy pickings.

I feed birds, and have several feeders. The raccoons ignore the thistle feeder, which mostly attracts goldfinches. (Thistle seed is too small to interest the big bruisers.) They do, however, like my suet feeder, and at one time could access the hook that it hung on. The furry thieves would take the suet cage down, open it up and ravage the contents.

After the last suet raid, it took me more than a week to find the feeder. A raccoon had dragged it into the crevasse between my shed and the garage wall. It’s a miracle I ever noticed it, and recovery required rigging a pole-mounted grappling hook to fish it out.

Afterward, I found a shepherd’s-hook pole that was too skinny for the raccoons to climb. The suet dangled 6 feet over the heads of the frustrated furry freeloaders. One night, thought, a crew excavated the deep-seated pole from its ground mount, toppled it and made off with the suet. I am hard at work on Plan C.

My biggest battles involve my largest seed feeder, another pole-mounted job. In spring, a jumbo adult sow began bringing two young kits around. She would agilely climb the pole, using the raccoon baffle as a foothold, then fling pawfuls of seed down to the youngsters.

This was cute for a while. But it wasn’t long before the young raccoons could climb up, and sometimes I would pop the night light on to see a trio of them on the platform. Sometimes I would go out for a word with them, and they would smugly saunter off — only to return later that night.

As the seed bills spiked, I decided to outsmart these raccoons. I removed the raccoon baffle and heavily greased the pole with Vaseline. That worked for one night. By the second night, they had rubbed it all off and were back atop the feeder.

I activated a motion sensor on the nearby night light, figuring an unexpected dose of bright light would chase them into the shadows. No go — I could just better see them laughing at me.

My friends weighed in with all sorts of raccoon-thwarting advice, most of it bad. Some of the fatalists said I would never win, that the raccoons are smarter than I am. They might be right.

But for now, I have won. I pop the feeder off its mount most evenings, and stow it in the locked garage. I suspect it’s only a matter of time before the raccoons figure out how to break in. I just hope they don’t steal my car.

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first and third Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jim mccormac.blogspot.com.

 

3 comments:

Jovan said...

This story was funny! Thanks for the laugh. I can totally relate! I have a mom and baby raccoon raiding my bird feeder at times...the mom climbs up and tilts the bird feeder and all of the seed comes out to the ground! While they are cute - my bird seed bill is getting to be too much. Hahaha! And let's not even talk about the squirrels and the wild hog. The only thing I do is have long stretches of time where I don't fill the feeder at all - seems to help. Fun times!

Emily said...

Hey Jim,

Enlarge the photo, its tongue is sticking out! Loved the one with the three raccoons you posted earlier, too.

Hope you are doing well.

Emily, a friend from Detroit

C said...

I think that they like hot pepper and hot sauce too; notice you
did not even bother trying that. The squirrels eat all my bird seed-
they are sooooo fat.

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