Top 5 Raccoon Behavior Characteristics – Habitat, Diet, Social Behavior

Raccoon Behavior Characteristics

Let’s discuss the Raccoon behavior characteristics in details.

Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are highly intelligent and adaptable mammals that are found across much of North America. They are well known for their masked facial markings and their curious, mischievous nature. Raccoons exhibit a number of interesting behavioral traits when it comes to their habitat, diet, social structure, reproduction, and intelligence.

BehaviorInteresting Fact
HabitatRaccoons are found as far north as Alaska and all Canadian provinces, despite harsh winters.
DietUrban raccoons get up to 30% of their diet from human garbage and pet food.
Social BehaviorRaccoons occasionally den communally in winter for warmth, with up to 23 individuals.
ReproductionUrban female raccoons can give birth a month earlier than forest raccoons due to abundant food.
IntelligenceRaccoons have excellent spatial memory – they remember solutions to complex problems for over 3 years.

Raccoon Behavior Characteristics

Raccoons are fascinating creatures with unique characteristics and behavioral patterns. They are intelligent, adaptable, and highly curious animals that inhabit a wide range of habitats across North America.

While they can be a nuisance to homeowners, they play an important role in the ecosystem and should be treated with respect and caution.

racoon characteristics


Raccoons are extremely adaptable when it comes to their habitat. They are found in a wide variety of environments including:

  • Urban areas – Raccoons thrive in urban and suburban settings. They den in abandoned buildings, sewers, attics and other manmade structures.
  • Forests – In forests, raccoons den in the hollows of mature trees and fallen logs.
  • Marshlands – Raccoons inhabit marshes and swamps where there are trees for denning.

Some key habitat features raccoons seek are:

  • Access to water for drinking and foraging
  • Dense vegetation and structures for hiding and denning
  • Abundant food sources from insects, plants, garbage and more

They can make their homes in dense forests, open prairies, wetlands, mountain areas, rural farmland, and even urban cities.

Raccoons do not restrict themselves to pristine natural environments, but are found wherever they can find adequate shelter and abundant food sources.

In forests, raccoons prefer mature, deciduous forests with tree hollows that provide nesting sites high above the ground.

Female raccoons will choose large hollow trees to birth and raise their young during the spring and summer months.

Raccoons change dens frequently, moving to new hollow trees or fallen logs as needed. In prairie environments, raccoons are still dependent on trees near water sources for protection, even if these are isolated groves.

Wetland habitats also sustain raccoon populations. They prefer wetlands with plenty of vegetation, such as cattails, rushes, and reeds.

This provides cover for daytime resting as well as prime foraging territory for aquatic foods. Although not great swimmers, raccoons will travel through shallow water and saturated marshes to hunt for crabs, fish, frogs and other prey.

In mountain ranges, raccoons prefer deciduous forests up to about 8,000 feet in elevation. They den in rock crevices, hollow logs and tree cavities at high elevations.

Perhaps most impressively, raccoons thrive in urban and suburban areas alongside humans.

They den in abandoned buildings, crawlspaces, storm sewers, attics and other manmade dens. In these environments, their major food sources end up being human trash, pet food, garden vegetables, and intentional feeding.

Urban raccoons have small home ranges of only a few blocks or less. The availability of den sites and food holds the key to optimal raccoon habitat across their widespread range, no matter how developed.


Raccoons are true omnivores that will eat just about anything. They consume a very wide range of plant and animal matter, adapting their diet to whatever is seasonally available.

  • Invertebrates – Insects, spiders, crayfish, crabs and other invertebrates make up a large part of the raccoon diet. They forage for these along the shores of rivers and lakes.
  • Plant material – Raccoons eat fruits, nuts, seeds, corn and other plant foods. They are particularly fond of berries and fruits.
  • Vertebrates – Small rodents, birds, eggs, fish and amphibians are preyed upon when the opportunity arises.
  • Human food waste – Raccoons in urban areas dine on human garbage, pet food left outdoors and other food waste.

Insects and other invertebrates are a staple food. Raccoons forage along shorelines, marshes and streams for crabs, crayfish, mollusks and other aquatic life.

They capture insects like beetles, grasshoppers, grubs and more both on land and in shallow water. Spiders, centipedes and millipedes are also eaten in large numbers.

Beyond invertebrates, raccoons also consume a variety of plant foods. They relish fruits and berries and will gorge themselves when these ripen in late summer and autumn.

Oftentimes raccoons will select fruit over any other food source when given a choice. Favored fruits include wild grapes, cherries, apples, plums, blackberries and more.

Raccoons also eat many kinds of nuts and acorns in the fall to fatten up for winter. Seeds, grains and corn are part of the raccoon diet if they can access agricultural fields or grain spills from trains.

Vertebrates are a supplementary food for raccoons. They opportunistically prey on fish, turtles, frogs, bird eggs and small rodents when they can capture them.

Carrion is also eaten if they come across road kill or other dead animals.

Urban raccoons rely heavily on scavenging human garbage for leftovers and unfinished pet food. They are not great hunters but will take advantage of easy vertebrate prey when it is available along with other food sources.

The omnivorous and opportunistic eating habits allow raccoons to thrive in a wide range of environments across North America.

They are generalists, feasting on anything edible they encounter. Their diverse palate is a key reason they flourish on the continent.

Social Behavior

  • Solitary – Raccoons are primarily solitary animals outside of mating and raising young. They forage alone and rest alone most of the time.
  • Nocturnal – To avoid predation andcompetition, raccoons are nocturnal. Their peak activity levels occur at night.
  • Non-territorial – Raccoons have overlapping home ranges rather than defined territories. Several raccoons may rest in the same general area during the day.
  • Intelligent – Raccoons have very dexterous front paws and intelligent, adaptable behavior. They are excellent problem-solvers.
  • Vocalizations – Raccoons make a variety of hisses, growls, screams and other vocalizations to communicate.

Raccoons exhibit some fascinating social behaviors and interactions with members of their own species. In general, raccoons are solitary creatures that forage alone, rest alone, and only interact for mating or raising young.

Home ranges of adult raccoons can overlap significantly with several other raccoons without conflict due to their non-territorial nature.

Raccoons do not have complex social hierarchies or family units. The only long-term bonds are between mother and offspring.

Other than that, adult raccoons mostly interact with each other for courtship and reproduction purposes. Dominant males mate more successfully with more female partners.

Raccoons come together briefly in late winter for breeding before females separate to birth and raise litters alone.

Though predominantly solitary, raccoons can congregate in close proximity when concentrated food sources exist.

Groups of raccoons may forage in overlapping home ranges around productive wetlands, agricultural fields with harvestable corn, or urban zones with garbage cans.

These groups are temporary based on food availability and do not represent highly social units.

Raccoons are nocturnal and sleep sheltered in dens during the day to avoid predators and humans. They spend most of their waking hours at night foraging, travelling an average of 2-5 km per night.

Peak activity is early evening and before dawn. Raccoons rely heavily on their senses of smell, hearing and touch to find food and navigate at night when vision is limited.

Raccoons vocalize with a variety of hisses, screams, growls and whinnies. These vocalizations facilitate communication between mother and kits, warn off predators and signal distress or aggression.

Body language like erect fur, expanded tails and bared teeth also convey mood and reaction. Scent marking with feces and urine is another communication method raccoons use.


  • Promiscuous – Male raccoons mate with multiple female partners each breeding season. Females may also mate with more than one male when in heat.
  • Winter mating – Even though raccoons raise their young in the spring and summer, breeding occurs in late winter, typically January to March.
  • 2 months gestation – After a 2 month gestation period, an average litter of 4 or 5 young are born. The kits weigh only a few ounces at birth.
  • Altricial young – Baby raccoons are born helpless, blind and deaf. They rely completely on their mother for the first 8 to 10 weeks of life.
  • Weaned at 16 weeks – Raccoon kits are weaned between 12 and 16 weeks of age. They stick with their mother until dispersing and finding their own home range around 1 year old.

Raccoons have an interesting breeding and reproductive strategy. They are polygamous, promiscuous breeders, meaning males will mate with multiple females each season and vice versa.

Breeding usually occurs in late winter between January and March, but the exact timing varies by latitude with southern populations breeding earlier.

Male raccoons wander widely in search of females coming into estrous. Receptive females allow males they encounter to mate with them.

Dominant adult males tend to mate with the most females during each breeding period. Interestingly, male raccoons do not help rear offspring in any way after mating.

After successful mating, a female raccoon will have a gestation period of about 63-65 days before giving birth to a litter of kits.

Average litter size is between 4-5 kits, though 1-7 young may be born.

Kits weigh only 60-75 grams at birth, have their eyes closed, and are helpless. They rely completely on their mother.

For the first 8-10 weeks after birth in the spring, raccoon kits remain sheltered in the maternal den where they nurse, grow, and eventually open their eyes between 18-24 days.

By about 2-3 months old they begin venturing out of the den with their mother to learn foraging behaviors. By autumn they are independent, though some kits may overwinter with their mother before fully dispersing as yearlings.

Raccoon reproductive behaviors – promiscuous mating, lack of paternal care, and maternal care only until weaning – seem to be effective for their environments and lifestyles.

Typically 50-70% of juveniles survive their first year. Those that do can live over 20 years in the wild. Successful mothers may birth several litters over their lifetimes.

Intelligence & Cognition

  • Excellent sense of touch – A raccoon’s paws have a tactile sensory region that makes them very dexterous. They can identify objects before sighting them.
  • Problem-solving skills – Raccoons are excellent at breaking into food containers, garbage cans, pet food storage and even complicated locks and latches. Their intelligence allows them to navigate obstacles in their pursuit of food.
  • Spatial memory – Raccoons remember the locations of reliable food sources and dens very well. They can return to reliable locations across large distances.
  • Adaptability – As proven by their urban living, raccoons are highly adaptive mammals. They learn new behaviors and adjust readily to changes in their environment and available food sources.

Raccoons exhibit a great deal of intelligence and adaptability, likely moreso than most other medium-sized mammals in North America.

They have excellent sensory abilities, especially tactile sensation and dexterity in their forepaws.

Raccoons rank in the top 10 most intelligent animals according to some experts, even more intelligent than cats and dogs

Raccoons are great problem solvers with good memories.

A raccoon’s sense of touch gives them incredible dexterity. The hairless, rubbery palms on their front paws are extremely sensitive.

This allows them to manipulate and examine objects extensively by touch.

They can identify textures, shapes, and food items before seeing them. Their intelligence and manual dexterity gives them great skills for scavenging.

Raccoons are famous for their ability to break into food containers, garbage cans, pet food storage bins, and even complicated locks in their quest for food.

Their intelligence and persistence allows them to defeat many deterrents that seem “raccoon-proof”. They remember how to open latches, twist off lids, pry open dumpsters and more.

In laboratory experiments and studies, raccoons have demonstrated excellent memory retention and problem-solving abilities on par with primates in some cases.

They can remember complex routes to food weeks after only travelling them once before. In the wild this manifests as raccoons being able to repeatedly return to reliable food bonanzas over large areas.

Urban-dwelling raccoons demonstrate remarkable adaptability and intelligence. They quickly learn how to take advantage of city environments stocked with garbage as food.

Raccoons pass learned behaviors about how to thrive in proximity to humans down to their offspring. Their manual dexterity, memories, and intelligence allows them to flourish in cities across North America.

What are the personality characteristics of a raccoon?

Curious – Raccoons are very curious animals, exploring new objects, environments, and potential food sources. Their curiosity often gets them into trouble.

Intelligent – Raccoons are known for being clever problem-solvers with good memories. They find creative solutions to obtain food.

Mischievous – Raccoons have a reputation for getting into mischief as they investigate and try to open food containers, garbage cans, etc. Their antics are usually driven by curiosity.

Adaptable – Raccoons are highly adaptable mammals, able to adjust to new situations and urban environments along with humans.

Aggressive – Raccoons can be aggressive in defending themselves, their young, or food sources. They use growls, screams, and bites.

What is unusual about racoon behavior?

Dexterous paws – Raccoons have extremely sensitive paws that allow them to dexterously manipulate and examine objects.

Nocturnal but not territorial – Unlike many nocturnal animals, raccoons are not territorial and have large home range overlaps.

Vertical climbers – Raccoons regularly climb trees, buildings, and other vertical structures in their environments.

Communal denning – In winter, unrelated raccoons occasionally den together in hollow trees and rock crevices for added warmth.

Intelligence equals primates – Raccoons rank near primates in problem-solving and memory tasks, indicating high intelligence.

How do raccoons act towards humans?

Habituated to humans – Urban raccoons grow accustomed to being around humans and human activity and are less fearful.

Opportunistic food stealing – Raccoons will take advantage of any opportunity to get human food waste or break into pet food containers.

Can be aggressive – Cornered, sick, or startled raccoons may act aggressive towards humans by hissing, biting, scratching, etc.

Generally avoid direct contact – Raccoons normally avoid close interactions with humans if possible, but may occasionally beg for food.

Carrier of rabies – Rabid raccoons exhibit unnatural behavior like aggression, staggering, and daytime activity.

Final Words

Raccoons exhibit a wide range of behavioral adaptations related to their habitat, diet, society, reproduction and intelligence. Key traits include their adaptability to a wide range of habitats, omnivorous diet, solitary and nocturnal habits, promiscuous mating, altricial young and impressive intelligence. Their amazing cognitive abilities allow raccoons to thrive in a variety of environments.


What are the different habitats occupied by raccoons?

Raccoons occupy a wide variety of habitats including urban areas, forests, marshlands, and more. Key features they seek are access to water, dense vegetation or structures for hiding and denning, and abundant food sources.

What food items do raccoons commonly eat?

Raccoons are omnivorous and eat a diverse diet including invertebrates, plant material, small vertebrates, and human food waste. Some specific items are insects, crayfish, nuts, berries, rodents, and garbage.

How do raccoons interact socially and what are their activity patterns?

Raccoons are mostly solitary and non-territorial. They have overlapping home ranges and rest alone most of the time. Raccoons are nocturnal, with peak activity at night.

Describe key elements of raccoon reproduction.

Breeding occurs in late winter with promiscuous mating behavior. After a 2 month gestation, an average of 4-5 altricial kits are born. The young rely on the mother completely at first. They are weaned at 12-16 weeks and disperse around 1 year old.

In what ways are raccoons considered to be intelligent mammals?

Raccoons have excellent dexterity and touch with their paws. They are great problem-solvers and can unlock latches, garbage cans, etc. Raccoons have good spatial memory and adaptability as shown by their urban living success.

About Dean Eby

An avid outdoorsman, Dean spends much of his time adventuring through the diverse terrain of the southwest United States with his closest companion, his dog, Gohan. He gains experience on a full-time journey of exploration. For Dean, few passions lie closer to his heart than learning. An apt researcher and reader, he loves to investigate interesting topics such as history, economics, relationships, pets, politics, and more.

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