If you accidentally uncovered a den of baby raccoons in your garbage can or recycling bin, don’t panic! Raccoons are excellent mothers and will come back for their babies if you give them a chance. Once a nest is discovered or disturbed, they will move the babies to a safer location.
If you haven’t moved the nest yet
That’s wonderful — just leave the nest where it is. In most cases, just finding the den is enough to scare the raccoon into finding a better spot. Remember that raccoons are nocturnal, so she may not come back for them or move them until it gets dark. Once the mother raccoon returns, check our page on conflicts with raccoons for tips on getting her to move her babies somewhere else.
If you’ve already removed the nest
If you’ve already removed the nest from where you found it, that’s okay. The mother raccoon will probably still come back for her babies.
To keep the baby raccoons safe while you figure out how to help them, put the raccoons in a small cardboard box with a soft towel or t-shirt. Even on a warm day babies can get cold, so give them a heat source:
- a clean sock filled with dry, uncooked rice, and microwaved for one minute
- a plastic bottle from the recycling bin filled with hot tap water
- an electric heating pad set to “LOW” and placed under half of the box.
Don’t give the baby raccoons any food or water — right now keeping them warm, dark, and quiet is more important.
Reuniting the raccoon with its mother
Sometimes baby raccoons can get separated from their mother. If the babies aren’t injured, getting them back to their mom is the best possible option. Raccoons are excellent mothers and will come back for their babies if given a chance! Raccoon moms will also take much better care of their babies than any human possibly could.
Place the box with the raccoons (and heat source) as close as possible to where the garbage can or recycling bin normally stands. Even better, put them right back in the bin!
When a nest has been disturbed like this, we know that the mother raccoon is still nearby. She might be too frightened to come back right away, especially if people are still in the area.
Baby raccoons should be left out for one whole overnight period to see if their mother will come back — raccoons are nocturnal, and most likely to come looking for their babies at night. Make sure to KEEP THEM WARM – refresh the heat source as needed.
Don’t give the babies anything to eat or drink. Besides causing other potential problems, we want the babies to be hungry. If they’re hungry, they will cry, and the cries will call their mother.
What if it’s a really busy area?
In high traffic areas, you can put a sign on the bin to let other people know that the raccoon is waiting for its mother. Here’s one you can print off. In very busy areas, it may make more sense to bring the baby inside and keep it somewhere dark and quiet for the day. As soon as the sun starts to set and traffic dies down, get it outside right away. No matter what, make sure to leave baby raccoons out for their mother for at least one whole overnight period.
What if the baby keeps crawling out of the box?
Older baby raccoons may not stay in the box you put them in. For these babies, cover them with an upside-down laundry basket. Put a brick on top of the laundry basket to keep it in place. The mother raccoon will have no trouble flipping the basket over to get her baby out.
What if it’s raining?
If it’s raining lightly, cover half of the box with a piece of cardboard. If it’s raining hard, bring the baby inside and keep it dark and quiet and warm. Put it back outside as soon as the weather clears up a bit. A mother raccoon won’t be looking for her babies during a heavy rain.
What if it’s during the day?
If you found the baby during the day, put it back out for its mother right away – although raccoons are nocturnal, mothers will still look for their babies during the day. They’re good moms. In very busy high-traffic areas, it may make more sense to bring the baby inside and keep it somewhere dark and quiet. As soon as the sun starts to set and traffic dies down, get it outside right away. No matter what, make sure to leave baby raccoons out for their mother for at least one whole overnight period. Just make sure to keep them warm overnight.
MYTH! If you touch a baby raccoon, its mother will NOT abandon it. Raccoons are excellent moms. All they want is their baby back.
Mom didn’t come back
If you’ve kept the baby warm and waited at least one whole overnight period, the baby is probably orphaned. Mother raccoons almost never abandon their babies, but sometimes something happens to mom and she can’t make it back.
Make sure the baby is contained and has a heat source, don’t give it any food or water, and contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice.
While you are waiting to hear back from a wildlife rehabilitator, keep the baby raccoon contained in a dark, quiet place. Make sure it has a heat source. Don’t give it any food or water until you have spoken to a rehabilitator. Further temporary care instructions can be found here.