NC State Extension Publications

Habitat Requirements

Raccoons use a wide variety of land cover types, but generally select areas with a variety of vegetation types and age classes. Bottomland hardwood forests provide diverse foods, including hard mast, insects, and aquatic species. Croplands, fallow fields and other open areas provide fleshy fruits such as berries, insects, and mice or other animal prey. Raccoons depend on wetlands for a large portion of their food and are seldom found far from water. They also are common in urban areas and adapt well to living near people. Female raccoons use cavities in living and dead trees, abandoned burrows, hollow logs, and culverts, for dens.

photo of a raccon foraging at swamp edge

Raccoon at water's edge

Photo by Gaby Miller  CC BY-NC-SA - 4.0

Food

Raccoons are opportunistic omnivores. When food is plentiful, plant matter is consumed twice as much as animal matter. However, this ratio varies as food supplies change and during different seasons of the year. Raccoons are voracious eaters and tend to return to the same location as long as food is available. Raccoons store fat throughout the fall in preparation for overwintering. Raccoons are not true hibernators, but may sleep for extended periods in colder areas. Some favored raccoon foods include:


Plants
Wild grape Persimmon
Greenbrier Blackberry
Black cherry Eastern redcedar
Dogwood Serviceberry
Blueberry Acorns
Beechnuts Pecans
Animals
Grasshoppers Earthworms
Bird eggs Crayfish
Mussels Snails
Crabs Aquatic insects
Frogs Snakes
Fish eggs Mice

Photo of a raccoon feeding in a crab apple tree

Raccoon in a crab apple tree

Bill Buchanan  CC BY-NC - 4.0

Cover

Both ground dens and cavity trees are used for shelter and escape, but tree cavities are preferred for raising young. Suitable ground dens include old woodchuck or fox burrows, rock crevices, downed trees, abandoned buildings, and brush piles. Active den trees can be identified by claw marks or worn bark. Dens are usually located just below or within the tree canopy. Preferred cavities have 4 to 10-inch openings, are at least 15 feet from the ground, and are sheltered from rain and strong winds.

Water

Raccoons must drink water daily. Permanent sources of open water are a critical part of the habitat.

Home Range

Home ranges average about 200 acres and vary from 1⁄2 to 11⁄2 miles in diameter. During years with varying habitat quality, movement activity and distance may change. For example, raccoons may move long distances when populations are low and food is scarce.

Photo of raccon in a tree top during winter

Raccoon in a tree

Dave Menke  CC BY-NC - 4.0

Raccoon Management

Improving Raccoon Habitat

General Forest Management

• Maintain smaller stand sizes from 10 to 50 acres to encourage landscape diversity

• Encourage a variety of forest stand age and composition

• Maintain long rotations for hardwood stands (60 years or more)

• Encourage inclusions of mature hardwood within pine stands

Forest Regeneration

• Consider two-aged regeneration methods (e.g., reserve shelterwood) to maintain cavity trees and hard mast (e.g., acorn) production

• Distribute timber harvests to encourage age, size, and tree species diversity

Intermediate forest treatments

• Avoid use of broad-spectrum herbicides that aim to remove all non-pine plant species

• During thinning and regeneration harvests, retain trees with potential for cavities

• Thin hardwoods to encourage crown growth and mast production

Other improvements

• Mark and leave unharvested stream-side management zones, which will protect water quality and retain mature trees that produce mast and provide cavities

• Create snags when naturally occurring cavities are not abundant

• Leave small unharvested areas of croplands adjacent to woodlands

Many game and nongame species benefit from raccoon management. Management efforts should emphasize the communities of which which raccoons are a part. Common raccoon associates include:


Species that benefit from raccoon management.
Wild turkey Gray squirrel
White-tailed deer Black bear
Southern flying squirrel Virginia opossum
Pileated woodpecker Northern flicker
Wood duck Eastern screech owl
Great horned owl Red-shouldered hawk
Gray fox

photo of a young raccoon on a suburban fence post

Raccoon (youth) in a suburban setting

Mark Megalos  CC BY - 4.0

Authors

Extension Professor
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Professor (Wildlife)
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Wildlife biologist

Publication date: April 1, 2019
Revised: July 8, 2019

North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.

North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.