Story and Photos by Joan Herrmann

Whereiwander… today is within our meadow, woods, and our neighbors’ pond. It has been a rather strange winter with a lack of snow and lots of rain. The temperatures have vacillated from mid-forties to single digits several times within one week. During these milder spells, I have seen both the chipmunks and our resident raccoon coming to the bird-feeding area looking for leftovers. Both the chipmunk and the raccoon survive winter in a state of dormancy. This means when the temperatures rise, so do the dormant mammals, and they replenish their need for food. At the return of colder temperatures, they retreat back to their “dens.”

The Northern Raccoon (Procyon lotor) which is pronounced,( pro.cee.on lo.tor) is its scientific name which is a Latinized/Greek for “Dog-like Washer”. Their common name, Raccoon, came from the English translation of a Powhatan word. They believed that the raccoon was actually washing its food before eating it. This is generally not true; they will dip their food into water if it is available, but they eat it clean or dirty. They will also take advantage of the heated bird bath on our balcony, and I can always tell when they have been using it because the water will be quite dirty from their bathing in it.

The raccoon will generally return to its den to rest for the day. The den may be within a hollow log or within a tree cavity. Raccoons may be found throughout the Adirondack forest and also within city parks. However, no matter which location they choose, they still prefer to have a source of water nearby. Urban raccoons have been known to live under a porch, in a culvert, or even in a house chimney. Raccoons are basically nocturnal, but you may see one in the daytime or before dusk, depending on the weather or its need for food. Among the Order of Carnivora (carnivores), they are true omnivores. A look at a raccoon’s skull, which is rectangular in shape, will show four types of teeth: incisors, canines, premolars, and molars. These types of teeth help it to survive without the strict regimens of a carnivore (meat-eating) or herbivore (plant-eating). The raccoon’s diet is quite diverse. In spring and summer, it will consume crayfish (crabs), worms, slugs, insects, nestlings, frogs, snails, turtles, and turtles’ eggs, chickens, and their eggs, in addition to berries and garden vegetables. A raccoon may be an opportunist while being watched by a photographer; one was seen sitting behind a snapping as she was laying its eggs. As the turtle dropped her eggs into the hole, the raccoon grabbed it and ate it.

In our area, the females are ready to mate in January or February. The female will den up alone or with her offspring of her last litter. Male raccoons den up alone may travel as much as ten miles looking for a female, and may even mate with more than one female. The males do not help with the rearing or feeding of the young. The female’s gestation time is about sixty-three days, and she will give birth to three to four babies. The babies are called kits or cubs. A group of raccoons is referred to as a nursery or gaze. The kits are born with a light layer of fur that will grow quickly, and they will begin to resemble the adult in about two weeks, with the “bandit masked” face and bushy banded tail with dark brown and tan stripes. Although they are only four inches long and weigh about two ounces when born, by the end of the summer, they will weigh close to the fifteen to twenty-five pounds of an adult. They will be about twenty-five to thirty-five inches long, excluding their tail.

The eyes that are closed at birth will begin to open at three to four weeks. Their mother will stay with them for the first few days and then start to forage for her food again. At five weeks, she will leave them for the entire night while foraging. They may become curious at this age and begin looking out of the cavity where they are denned up. They make purring, growling, and whistling sounds, and occasionally, one may even fall out of the tree cavity. Most often, they are not hurt, and the female will carry them back much the same way a domestic cat carries her kittens, with her teeth on the nape of their neck. After ten weeks, the kits are fully weaned, and they start eating solid foods. At three months, they are able to find and eat their own food while foraging with their mother. They will probably stay together throughout the summer and fall and will mostly likely den up together their first winter.

Raccoons will establish a communal bathroom where several will deposit their scat. One of these may be found at the trunk of a tree or on a well-traveled path. The scat usually contains seeds, insects, and crustacean parts. It is very important NOT to handle it or smell it, as it may contain a parasite, which is dangerous to humans. The parasite is Baylisascaris procyonis, a roundworm, and its egg is passed in the feces of infected raccoons.

All wild animals are fun to see and photograph, keeping in mind they are usually quite fearful of humans and are best observed from a distance. Looking forward to seeing you where you wander.

Joan Herrmann has taught and done programs for Schools, Garden Clubs, Libraries, and Nature Centers for about 38 years as a Professional Nature Photographer, Naturalist, and Outdoor Educator. After moving from the Rochester area in 1995, she began her Photography business, Essence of Nature, and became a co-owner of The Artworks in Old Forge, New York. As a docent at Munson, Williams, Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, New York, she has been educating children and adults for nineteen years.

In 2007, she began working with the Black River Outdoor Educational Program (BROEP). In 2013 and 2014, she did a week-long summer program at BROEP with Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC).

Using her love of nature and photography, she created a Flora/Fauna outdoor educational program teaching students (ages 6 to 14) the joys of nature and creative photography skills.

Joan’s love of nature has been a lifelong study of Birds, Wildflowers, Mosses, Ferns, Trees, Amphibians, Reptiles, Grasses, Insects, Spiders, Tracks, Scat, and Galls. She has assisted in cataloging all trails used by the hiking Coaches and photographed and identified seasonal Flora.

Since October 2016, she has written a bi-monthly nature column with Adirondack Express Newspaper. In October 2019, she began a bi-monthly column with the My Little Falls newspaper. You may reach her at