Have you ever walked outside with your coffee, hoping to enjoy a few stress-free moments watching the birds at your feeder, only to find it empty? Or worse, laying on the ground in pieces?
If so, you’ve probably been visited by a raccoon.
Keeping raccoons out of your bird feeders can be a tricky business. Follow the steps outlined here to help keep your feeders raccoon-free and save your sunflower seeds for the birds!
What is a raccoon?
The first step to combating any pest is to understand what it is.
Raccoons are, believe it or not, closely related to the much more cuddly-looking panda bear. Although they are considered a pest species, they are not rodents. They are nocturnal creatures–meaning they forage at night and sleep in their dens during the day.
This time of year, from late spring and for the rest of the summer, these fast-moving little creatures will consume food almost constantly while awake. They are building thick layers of fat on their body for winter months, just like hibernating bears. However, raccoon do not hibernate. Whenever winter temperatures are above twenty-eight to thirty degrees, they will come out and forage for food.
Raccoon make stubborn opponents
Raccoon will go to great lengths to steal easy food from bird feeders. With their black-ringed eyes, they often are so stealthy that you’ll compare a raiding raccoon to a masked bandit. Their night vision, hearing and acrobatic skills are highly developed. They even have finger-like paws, allowing them to handle and manipulate things that interest them in much the same way a human would. Raccoon can unscrew and unhook things just like you can, so a feeder hanging within their grasp will be an automatic target.
Even a pole-mounted bird feeder won’t be safe on its own. Raccoon can climb any pole that is larger than ¼ inch in diameter and have no qualms about jumping or dropping from as high as forty feet in the air.
Saving your feeder
Follow these steps or combine a few to help keep raccoons out of your bird feeders.
- Use a squirrel baffle for pole-mounted systems. If your feeder is pole-mounted use a baffle at least four feet above the ground. Raccoon will not be able to climb up the pole to reach the feeder. Keep in mind, poles that are close to trees, hanging branches and rooftops will be fair game, even with a baffle.
- Do not hang feeders from trees. If raccoon are a problem in your area, using a hanging feeder is probably a bad idea. There isn’t a way to protect tree-hung feeders from raccoons. You can use S hooks and/or cables to make it more difficult for them to pull the feeder down, but it won’t keep a raccoon from shaking the feeder or jumping on top of it to reach seed.
- Bring bird feeders inside at night. Although it takes a little extra work, bringing your feeders into the house or garage before dark will protect them. Particularly if you’re using hanging feeders, this is a good idea. Raccoon are primarily nocturnal, but birds are not. By following this strategy during the day, you can feed birds when the sun is out, but not raccoons by moonlight.
- Clean up after birds. Try a feeder that catches falling seed and/or use a higher quality seed that birds are less likely to waste. The fewer nibbles found on the ground, the less likely a curious raccoon is to attempt invading your feeder.
- Keep bird feed sealed. Feeders are not the only places raccoon raid. If you have bird seed in a shed or an unsealed container, you’ll likely get visitors there too. Store your bird food in durable containers with tight-fitting lids. This will keep bird seed safe from all kinds of pests, including the raccoon.
What NOT to do
These tricks, commonly referenced in forums, should be avoided when trying to combat raccoon invasions. Remember, these small creatures might be annoying, but they are part of the wild landscape too and some of these techniques could harm wild birds or humans unintentionally.
- Never grease, oil or apply petroleum jelly to feeder poles or wires. Although it will keep most pests off, the grease can harm birds if it gets on their feathers. Greasy substances can’t be easily preened and will leave wild birds more vulnerable to predators.
- Don’t shoot a raccoon. Although killing raccoon is legal in most areas, we don’t recommend it. It is especially important not to shoot at them. Besides the normal risk of shooting a gun in your yard (and it’s illegal in most urban and suburban areas), raccoon can be carriers of the Rabies virus. If blood or tissue with the rabies virus reaches your skin, eyes or mouth it is fatal to humans.
Here in Florida, we deal with raccoon invasions on a almost daily bases. We know these creatures, looking so cute and innocent in pictures, can be as sneaky as any well-trained thief. Use the steps above to help keep a raccoon out of your bird feeders. If handling the raccoons on your own isn’t working, contact your state’s Department of Natural Resources for help.
What techniques do you use to keep raccoons and other pests out of your bird feeders? We would love to read your successes in the comments below!