Friday, November 4, 2011
There's a lot of wildlife out there these days, even in urban and suburban settings. If you've got a back yard (especially if you have trees), you've probably got some wild animals around you. Raccoons are ubiquitous in Chicagoland -- especially in the suburbs. In an urban or suburban setting, they've got everything they need: access to plenty of food (often stolen from dog and cat bowls, dumpsters, garbage cans, and gardens), trees and cover.
Every summer around late June or early July, when the new baby raccoons become strong and mature enough, they emerge from their dens and follow their mothers around, as their mothers teach them to hunt. By fall, raccoons should be well on their way to fattening themselves for winter. Once November rolls around, they should have enough accumulated body fat to survive a string of cold nights with no food. And while November in Chicagoland isn't usually all that cold, December and the hard winter months of January and February are right around the corner. Raccoons don't hibernate, but they become dormant on cold winter nights, living off their stored body fat. So raccoons need to spend November furiously fattening up in preparation for winter.
This summer, the baby raccoons didn't emerge in these parts until late August. That's extremely late in the season for babies to start learning to hunt, but it was probably the result of an abnormally late mating season (thanks to last year's abnormally cold, snowy February/March). Since raccoons don't come out when it's much below 32° degrees, they likely spent most of last spring's mating season (February & March) in cold-induced dormancy. So the babies were born abnormally late, emerged from their dens and learned to hunt abnormally late, and are abnormally late in fattening up for winter.
Two weeks ago, a Drive and Dish photographer captured the above picture of a raccoon mother taking her five babies up a maple tree in a suburb of Chicago. By late October (when the picture was taken), baby raccoons, or kits, should be bigger than the ones shown above. Here's to hoping they fatten up quickly and make it through the winter.
Photo: © 2011 T.S./Drive and Dish.