Raccoons are highly intelligent, opportunistic mammals that have adapted well to the urban environment and thrive alongside human habitation. An absence of predators along with access to food sources such as garbage, compost, and pet food have allowed raccoons to thrive even in the most urbanized areas. They can actually occur at much higher densities in large cities than they do less developed areas, such as upstate forests.
Raccoons are primarily nocturnal animals, but because they have fewer predators in the urban environment, it is not unusual to see raccoons out during the day searching for food.
Raccoons are omnivores, consuming a varied diet of fruit, vegetables, insects, small rodents, and fish as well as garbage, compost and pet food when available.
Most raccoons are healthy and pose no risk of transferring disease to humans. Raccoons can carry rabies (risk to humans and pets), distemper (risk to pets) and roundworm (risk to pets, some risk to humans), but the incidence of rabies in the New York City raccoon population is very small. In fact, since 2014, the City of New York has been cooperating with the federal government to vaccinate raccoons on Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens against rabies. This has made the raccoon population healthier and even safer for humans. But no matter what, it’s important to report all sick or injured raccoons to 311.
Raccoons are protected by law. Trapping raccoons requires a license from the State Department of Environmental Conservation. Before hiring a licensed trapper, property owners should eliminate whatever food or shelter is attracting raccoons to their property. For more information about keeping raccoons away from your home and property, read this printable tip sheet from NYC Health.