This is the ongoing story of Heidi and friends, raccoons and the occasional opossum who frequent my backyard wildlife buffet. Everyone welcome, old, new, & previously unmet friends alike.
Normally, this would be the time when the magic of the new year begins, the time when the moms are all giving birth to their new families for the 2012 season, the time when appetites shift into overdrive to meet the needs of all those hungry kits. But this year in Heidi Land, things are amiss. The raccoons who would normally be assembling daily at the buffet for dinner are now missing. Favorite treats left out for them now lie uneaten even at this time when we know they should be hungrier than ever. Even the cats who know to stay clear of the raccoons, now lie about patio in the evenings napping casually. We last glimpsed Heidi in January when she was apparently cavorting with 2012 suitors. Having not seen her since, we are forced to wonder if something may have happened to her, especially at her advanced age. Above all we wonder, "where ARE the raccoons?" This mystery continues.
Prior Thread: http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/t/1174498/
Original Thread in Series: http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/t/603944/
The photo below is of Heidi & kits taken a few years earlier.
This post edited to add Heidi threads' cover template including links to prior and original threads in the series.
This message was edited Mar 22, 2012 7:53 AM
Heidi Chronicles 2012 - A New Chapter Begins?
This is the ongoing story of Heidi and friends, raccoons and the occasional opossum who frequent my backyard wildlife buffet. Everyone welcome, old, new, & previously unmet friends alike.
I haven't written since that night some months back when Heidi & her beau were out there making noise. Just haven't seen her or any of the raccoons since then. I've been super busy at work, as many of you may know.
A few weeks ago my landscaper came out over a course of several days during which he cleared the growth in the backyard, slaying virtually everything right down to the ground, everything except large trees, that is. Over the past few years, I haven't had the time or energy or freedom from pain necessary to do much work out there. As a result, it had become an overgrown mess, and I had become to afraid of the copperhead to even venture out there much at all. Thus I had him cut it all down. He did a great job, and I was thrilled with the results, but I did realize such a drastic change coupled with the loss of cover previously provided by all the shrubs and weeds alike would undoubtedly spook the raccoons for a day or two.
A day or so after he finished back there, I suddenly looked up and noticed that, OMG, he had cut every single branch along the forest edge, every branch that was hanging over the fence. He hadn't just cut them back to the fence as I usually do. He had cut each branch off flush with the tree that bore it, despite the fact that those trees were on the other side of the fence. It looked great. I was amazed at what he had managed to do back there, but my 2nd thought was, "how will the raccoon get over the fence now?"
The raccoons can't climb the horizontal fence boards. Despite those amazing claws the raccoons boast, for some reason they cannot get a decent hold on those particular boards. The boards appear to be to hard or something. It's as though their claws don't penetrate the wood, and thus they are unable to secure a decent grip. The wood is pressure treated. That may have something to do with it. I don't know. It's just something I observed over the years. The raccoon don't even try to climb the horizontal boards unless it's an emergency, like when fleeing from the dog or something. When they are forced to try to scale the fence, it never goes well. I've seen Heidi and several others get part way up the fence and then fall back to the ground. I don't recall ever seeing one succeed.
They can and do climb the vertical posts. Those they can climb with relative ease. Unfortunately, the vertical posts are only available on the inside of the fence. On the outside the posts are covered by the vertical boards which are nailed over them. As a result, while the raccoons can easily climb the posts to get out of the yard, they cannot do so to get into the yard. In the past they have always used the tree limbs to climb down to the top of the fence (from the outside) from which they would then climb down the post to get into the yard. They took the same route in reverse when leaving: climb the post on the inside and then grab a tree limb to climb up into the trees. With ALL of the tree limbs gone, I was a bit concerned about how they would manage to get over the fence. The only thing that gave me comfort was the knowledge that they are raccoons, and raccoons are not easily prevented from doing much of anything, as we all know. I figured, it just could not be that easy to keep them out of a yard - but I must admit that I was worried, especially since I hadn't seen any of them around in weeks.
Kitty had even taken up residence on the patio in recent weeks. She would sit out there for hours at night. It almost seemed as though she were laying claim to the patio and standing guard over it. Whereas she used to come and go via the front door only. Now she had begun to use the patio door even at night. The one thing I knew for sure was, as long as Kitty was hanging around out there on the patio so freely at night, it was a sure sign the raccoons were not coming around anymore, at least not lately. I raccoons had been coming to the patio nightly like they used to, Kitty would know that. She would smell their scent out there and would not be lying around on the patio chairs so calmly. That was for sure.
But where were the raccoons, and why were they not coming around to check for food? Had something happened to Heidi? Were the others perhaps afraid to come here w/o her? Were they still hanging back in fear of all the changes in the backyard, plus the smell of the men who had worked back there? Or were they really unable to get over the fence now that all of the branches were gone from the fence area? If something had happened to Heidi, might this mean that my time with the raccoons was over, that in her absence the others would never come back and hang out with me as the group had done in prior years? Could it actually be over?
About 4 days ago I put out a section of watermelon. The next day it was untouched. I could not believe it. Even more incredibly, it remained untouched the next day and the next. Now it was for certain. The raccoons were not coming into the yard at all - nor were the opossums. One of their coveted treats had sat untouched for 4 days. Now it was definite, but what did it mean? And where were the raccoons if not here?
I had begun to accept that, for whatever reason, the raccoons were just gone - and maybe not coming back. Kitty was using the back door for all her comings and goings. I had even worked out a communication with Kitty using Widget's door 'bells'.
You've likely seen the doggy door bells by now. It's a fairly simple contraption, something one could easily make in 30min or less using about $5 in materials or purchase at the 'ouchie' price of $20-30 and up, a contraption composed of a strap or straps with 'jingle' bells attached at the ends and sometimes also along the length of the strap(s). The strap(s) hang from a doorknob where they are designed to ring every time you open the door to let the dog out. In theory, the dog is supposed to associate the sound with going out and learn to ring the bells himself when he needs to go. After some 7yrs, Widget STILL hasn't made that association, but I don't think he's the sharpest tool in the shed. Then last week, one night before bed I stood at the back door shaking the bells by hand to see if Kitty, having surely heard those bells many times while coming and going through that door, would 'get' my message now. I was checking to see if she wanted out and was trying this new method of communicating that to her. With Kitty it worked better than I had dared imagine. Almost instantly, she came running from somewhere far away in another part of the house.
For those who may not know, Kitty is a semi-feral, female cat I adopted 2yrs ago. Ours is a rather unusual relationship. When it's her idea, she will come to me, take treats from my hand, and even permit me to pet her - a little. Otherwise, except for breakfast time, she will generally not come when called. It's as though she things it's a trick. This makes it more than a little challenging dealing with her. Lately, she comes inside, eats, and then hides out 'who knows where' in the house. This new 'bell' thing makes it easy for me to communicate to her, no matter where she is in the house, that I'm about to open the back door if she wants to go out.
After that the ringing of the bells became a nightly event. Each night before bed I would ring the bells to see if Kitty wanted out, and virtually every time she would come running. Ours was something of a perversion of the original design, but it worked. With the raccoons all absent from the area as evidenced by that still untouched watermelon rind, the 1st time or two I enacted this new method of calling Kitty to go outside, I even opened the patio door w/o even bothering to turn on a light inside or out to be sure just what might be out there. I just opened the door some 8in and watched as Kitty's dark shadow disappeared through the gap before closing it again.
I must admit though that holding the door open even a few minutes w/o turning on the patio light to be sure who or what was lurking there left me a bit uncomfortable. After all, in recent years on multiple occasions Heidi and some of the friendlier kits had stepped right up onto the kitchen floor looking for all the world like they would be happy to come on inside had I not quickly pushed the door closed again blocking their path. Just in case a friendly raccoon might be standing on the other side of the door, I decided it best to always turn on the light to check before throwing the door open to wait for Kitty to make her way across the kitchen and out, a time frame more than sufficient to allow a raccoon to wander inside.
This was just a precaution, of course, as I had seen no indication of raccoons in the area in months. It had been so long that I now wondered if they would be coming back at all, and if Heidi was even still alive. If she was alive and did return, would she even still remember me? It had been close to a year since I even interacted with her. Would she still trust me after all this time?
Over the weeks and months these thoughts had traversed my mind more than a few times. I wasn't sure where to even begin now to try to get them back, much less tame enough to walk around me as they had in years back. I didn't really want to sit out there at the forest edge alone, perhaps for days, just holding a bowl of kibble and waiting. I have a lot of work to do and was hoping it would not come down to that, but I just didn't know. It was quite strange that nothing had touched that watermelon rind for 4 days. Yes, it was getting 'ichy', but I knew raccoons and opossums would gladly eat it anyhow. Perhaps they were still upset by the sent of the men in the backyard and what to them must have seemed like the total destruction of the backyard habitat.
Last night, as had become my new bed-time ritual, I walked to the patio door through the near darkness of a kitchen lit only by the remaining rays of a small, single bulb lamp in a room down the hall. Standing there in the darkness, no patio light, no kitchen light, just barely enough light in the room to make silhouettes of large objects visible, I grasped the strap of the 'dog bell' and shook it vigorously for several minutes its numerous 1in bells ringing noisily. I was just about to conclude she wasn't interested tonight, when Kitty's shadowy figure rounded the corner headed my way.
As on the nights before, I was tempted to just open the door 6-8in until she went through, but giving way to inner visions of a raccoon walking through to the inside instead, I reached up and switched on the dim patio light while simultaneously opening a small gap in the door for Kitty to exit. Kitty was upon me now and just about to head through the gap a short distance ahead of her. My brain gripped by the confusion of wrestling with not one but two brown tabby coats, one on either side of the door, I removed the gap in the door just in time to avoid major turmoil.
The brown tabby coat outside the door covered not another cat but a raccoon. Excited to finally see a raccoon, I stooped down in front of the door for a closer look and found myself eye to eye and almost nose to nose with none other than Heidi herself. I could almost swear that the gleeful, ear to ear smile I felt tugging at my own face was mirrored back at me by a similar smile emanating from Heidi's eyes. I was so happy to see her again, and I could see and feel an equivalent happiness beaming back at me from her. Like old friends seeing each other again after 'years' apart, our conjoined happiness was for the moment almost tangible.
The cat suddenly all but forgotten, my focus now was entirely on Heidi. I was just so thrilled to see her again - and she looked so good still. I wanted to communicate with her. I wanted to invite her to stay. I wanted to tell her I would be right back to get her some food. I was just so happy. But would she be afraid of me? Would she run back across the lawn when I stepped outside?
I had just finished telling her, verbally this time, that I would be right back when suddenly Widget spied her through the glass and began barking loudly and clawing at the door violently. Heidi stepped back a few feet from the door and stood looking back at him as though a little unsure as to how to proceed. I bent down, scooped Widget up, and reassured Heidi i would be right back. It was the most truly magical moment as everything about Heidi told me that she understood every word I had said to her, not that she understood English, of course, but that she, nonetheless, fully comprehended everything I was saying to her just as I understood the words she spoke to me with her body, her face, her eyes. We had been through this "I'll be right back to feed you" drill before, and Heidi understood that I was going to get her something and that she was to wait. She understood it just as well now as she had the night I had to go all the way out to the car to drag a large bag of feed inside 1st. She had waited then and she would wait now.
After tucking the dog safely away in a room, I returned to find Heidi standing nose to door, patiently watching and waiting.
I filled a shallow dish with kibble left from last year and opened the door and headed out onto the patio. No sooner had my foot moved through the doorway, piercing the patio space outside than I new fully that nothing had changed between Heidi & me. Nothing at all. She stood right there maybe 2ft in front of me even as I stepped through the door way and moved toward her. I walked right up to her, leaned down, and set the bowl of kibble at her feet. I took a step back to give her some space. Before going back inside, I lingered there a moment while she ate. I told her how happy I was to see her again and invited her to come back tomorrow. Then I tuned and came back inside.
Nothing had changed at all between us. She still remembered me well. It was as though she had never left.
Apart from the obvious fact that Heidi was back, a few other things about last night really touched me. When I turned the patio light on last night, Heidi wasn't just standing on the patio. She was standing with her nose in the gap in the door (remember I had opened in enough for the cat to pass through. What's so incredible about that is only moments before I had been vigorously shaking a bunch of noisy bells over her head, the kind of thing that should have made any wild raccoon run for cover, but she had stayed. Over the years she and I have established a lot of trust, enough that she stood her ground even as I shook those bells for all they were worth only inches from her.
When I turned on the light Heidi was standing there, nose in the door gap, trying desperately to get my attention, and absolutely knowing I would feed her if I saw her. When I spoke to her through the then closed door, called her name, and promised to come back with food, she had totally understood. I could see it as 'loudly' as if she had screamed, "ok", out loud. I wish I could have shown you that awesome moment. We communicated as well as if I had been dealing with my dog Widget - as apposed to a wild raccoon.
It's about 2 months since I saw her out there cavorting, so I'm guessing she probably had the kits already. As happens once the nursing begins, she was hungry, very hungry, and she knew where to come for help.
I just wanted to reach down, scoop her up, and give her a huge hug! I'm just so happy she is still alive and healthy even now and at her advancing age.
Bottom line: She's BACK!
OHHHH Cheryl, seeing this post today just made my day! I have been afraid to ask, but this is wonderful news. I have sat on the edge of my chair, reading each post, and waiting. And yes, I can just see that smile...of YOU and of Heidi...and now of me.
Thank you for making the new thread, and I can't wait to hear more Heidi encounters. Maybe the "herd" thinning out is a good thing, and you can enjoy Heidi and the new kits more.
I wonder how she got in and if her kits will be able to join her at your diner. I thought about using a thick piece of rope, sort of like a bridge from the Heidi tree to your fence.
I am so very glad that she can get to you and has not been scared off by all of change in the back yard.
You've made my day too! I'll bet those bells will call Heidi, now, as well as Kitty - how convenient for both of you! Like Birdie Blue, I have all sort of visions of helping the raccoons to climb the fence - ladders on both sides?
Either that or remove a bottom portion of a fence board or two so they can have a "door" to get through.
Great to see you. I was hoping Heidi still had a few fans out there. I would love it if Heidi and her kits were the only ones at the buffet this year. It would be like that very 1st year when it was just Heidi and her family (Trouble, Fraidy, etc). I doubt that will happen though. Word - or smell - is likely to travel, and others follow.
I was incredibly happy to see her, too. Your idea would work. I've seen kits in the past climb very narrow limbs by hanging under them (from all 4's) the way men often do (on TV) with ropes strung horizontally between structures. I figure kits could hang under the rope much the same way.
Unfortunately, I cannot reach the Heidi tree nor any of the others on that side of the fence. Those trees, while close to the fence, are more than arms length away, more than my short arm's length, at least. Also, the fence is 6ft high, while I am only 5'2". To make matters worse still, I can't even stand up close to the fence - not more than a minute or so and not w/o holding on to the fence for stability, that is. The fence is at the top of a steep berm. That is, the ground on this side of the fence is like a small hill. From about 6ft back all the way to the fence the ground is at about a 45 degree slope/grade. I can walk up the hill, but I have to hold on to the fence for stability to stand there for even a minute or so. And due to the slope, the fence is effectively higher than 6ft relative to me even when I'm standing right up close to it.
For all of these reasons, I was quite surprised to see that the landscaper managed to cut those limbs off at the tree. I don't know how he did that, whether he had a saw on a long pole or he climbed the fence or what. I'll have to ask him when I see him again, because I'm quite curious. But, he is quite young and healthy and male (i.e., stronger). He doesn't have bad knees or a back injury. Also, he had another guy out there to help him. It would be very dangerous to put a ladder, for instance, on that slope and climb it, but not as bad with a strong guy to hold the ladder steady. Either way, I can't get a rope attached to the tree.
A ladder might be more doable. They would only need a ladder on the back side of the fence. That is the only surface they can't climb. On the inside of the fence, they can easily climb down the vertical posts. The posts are made of a different type of wood which they can cling to quite nicely. The problem is they can't climb up/down the outside of the fence because on that side the fence posts are covered by the horizontal boards. They have always used the trees/limbs to navigate that side - but now the limbs are gone.
If I could get a ladder up against the top of the fence, I could probably manage to slide it over with the fence bearing its weight. Unfortunately, I only have an 8ft step ladder, an expensive one (highest rating) that I would not want to loose. I like this idea, if I had an old ladder around here. I'll keep it in mind. We have a good 2 months now before getting the kits over the fence becomes an issue.
I need to go out there and double check. There used to be one more tree/limb at the far corner of the fence that a few of them used to access the yard. Since that tree is over towards the neighbor's property, maybe he didn't totally 'slay' that one. I need to check. If that one is still in tact, that may be how Heidi is getting in. It would also work for kits. I'll let you guys know what I find.
Tonight I got busy and almost forgot to feed Heidi. Can you believe it? When I thought about it, I jumped up and rushed to the patio door. It was wet out. No sign of Heidi hanging around near the patio. Bummer. I felt especially bad remembering that I had told her to come back tonight. Sure, I know she didn't really know what I was saying, but still...
I decided to put a small amount of food out in case she might come back by later. When I opened the door to go out, Kitty sneaked along up close against the house to come inside. The difference in Kitty's behavior now that raccoons were coming around was clear. Where before she had lain about the patio for hours in a leisurely manner, now she was reduced to sneaking along up against the building to get to the door from her hiding place in the foundation shrubs (away from the patio) - a sure sign the raccoons were 'back'.
I had barely let Kitty in, put the dish of food out, and walked back to the work area of the kitchen when I heard something outside, something that sounded like animals arguing. Opossums maybe? I turned on the light to find Heidi eating from the dish I had just put down and another, smaller raccoon, probably a yearling, perhaps even one of her own, sitting a respectable 5ft away and watching Heidi eat.
It seemed the word had already gotten out. It also seemed Heidi had actually been nearby the whole time (when I went out earlier). She had probably been sitting in one of the trees just over the fence, the Heidi tree maybe, where she could safely monitor things to see when I came out to feed her. She used to wait on the fence top back when there were limbs and foliage up there for cover, but I highly doubt she would sit up there now on the naked fence.
Before leaving, I grabbed a big handful of kibble and took it out for the other raccoon. Even before I opened the door, I could predict what would happen. I knew Heidi would continue to eat as I walked past her. I also knew the other raccoon would leave/hide as soon as I stepped outside, and that's exactly what happened. The 2nd raccoon went some 10-15ft away and hid behind shrubs. Heidi stood at her dish eating as I walked w/in 1ft of her. I put the kibble down in the spot where the other raccoon had been sitting. By the time I got back inside, the other raccoon had returned to the spot to eat the food. Very predictable.
Honestly, I had begun to fear that Heidi wouldn't be with us again this year. I guess it's just so incredible that she has remained strong and healthy all these many years now. Just the years I've been writing this thread series exceed the avg lifespan of a wild raccoon - and she was a seasoned adult before I started writing. It's amazing, and we are quite lucky to have her with us for yet another season. I am especially lucky having her right here in front of me where I can see her behavior and responses all of which remind me very much of Lassie (from the old TV series). She is just so bright and perceptive.
Hey Cheryl - yer crazy, I told you before, right? :D
I am thankful Heidi found her way back to you and thankful that you share your story here.
It's nice to know I'm not alone in being crazy.
I like the ladder idea. Ha ha - thought about putting a swinging kitty/doggie door in the fence so the critters can come thru?
I'm sure you'll figure it out - and the critters too.
Thank you for feeding the critters. I can't avoid feeding the critters here - it starts early when the crow I rescued last season sits in the mulberry tree and hollers for breakfast.
Have a great weekend - looking forward to more news of Heidi and the kits.
I've been feeding Heidi for 8yrs now (this will be the 8th yr.) - so I know she knows the way here as this is practically her 2nd home. I've been feeding Heidi plus pretty much all of her living daughters and grands and a couple of opossums on occasion. Some years the group was huge with 25 or so adults, each of them sporting 1 to 5 kits. In years past, I used to sit on my garden scoot out back facing the forest at night, a bucket of dog/cat food in my hand along with a plethora of treats: grapes, eggs, cookies, marshmallows, etc. As the raccoons arrived, I would fill a dish with kibble for that one. I would place the dishes in a circle in front of me, with my seat as part of the circle. Some nights back there I was totally surrounded by raccoons, like being in a herd of cattle, but they were all amazingly well behaved. Occasionally one would try to sneak up beside me to steal the food. They are the ultimate ninjas. lol.
As for being crazy, I guess sitting in the backyard at night surrounded by wild raccoons would qualify. My only comment is that I sure have truly enjoyed being crazy. :-)
Watching the tiny babies play, having them stand at my knee and take treats in their tiny hands; watching Heidi learn to communicate with me and seeing her go from a completely wild animal to one that will take a cupcake from my hand; learning to recognize them; learning their unique personalities; and finding out they really don't all look alike after all - it was all pure magic. I would not have missed one minute of it for anything.
Good to have you back with us.
You know there are people who rant and rave about how dangerous raccoons are.
I direct them to your thread. :D
Cheryl, regarding the raccoons and you being crazy. I would trust those raccoons more than I would MANY people!
I think part of the reason dear Heidi (and Fraidy) and several others are still with us...is because of your great care, no doubt about it.
How about throwing a good sized rope over the fence, attaching it somehow to your side to eliminate shifting. With the leading end weighted with something you may even be able to get it over a limb, then by tying the weighted end onto the main rope it could be secured (lasso up a limb as the 'entrance' to your diner) on the limb end and just need an attachment on the fence or ground on your side. A boat hitch where the rope gets wrapped around the top and bottom in a figure eight pattern is really secure. Cost should be minor too!
I am thinking maybe a part of a childs swingset. They have "ladders" that climb up to forts and such, and many are made of wood. Another thing.....a wooden trellis of sorts!
So glad that she came, and even with Widget and those bells; waited for you! I am thinking that the rope ladder may be the safest way to go as a doggie door might let a small 'gator into the yard as easily as it would Heidi or Snowball & their families. Maybe just nailing the rope to the fence post as high as you feel like and throwing it over for them to climb?
Edited because I must have had this page open for a day before I got around to posting and missed some posts☺
The kind of rope ladders that are sold as accessories to kids play structures would be great! Again, attaching it to the top rail of the fence or to the fence post should be easy enough with screws or nails.
This message was edited Mar 24, 2012 10:22 PM
So very delighted to hear that Heidi is still with you. What an enormous relief!
Cheryl... really warmed my heart to hear of Heidi's return!! fabulous... especially since we all worry about her coming back each year.
I know what you mean about most people thinking raccoons are very mean and aggressive. To be honest, before I actually got to know them (raccoons), I thought that, too. My parents believing it was for my benefit, had raised me to believe they were mean and dangerous. They probably believed it, too. I think that's how the idea got started to begin with, and now it seems to have a life of its own.
It's nearly impossible, I find, to divest people of the notion that raccoons are mean. Even when I tell people (in person) about my experience with wild raccoons and how they are neither mean nor aggressive, people refuse to believe me. People who themselves have never even met a raccoon will, nonetheless, argue vehemently with me about how vicious they are. I still try to tell people the truth any time the subject comes up, but I've learned to accept that many people will refuse to believe what I'm telling them.
Make no mistake, raccoons are capable of mounting an impressive defense if they believe their lives are in danger. You really can't hold that against them. From my experience with them for some 8yrs now, they are anything but aggressive. I have found that raccoons will choose to avoid a fight if they can possibly do so. When afraid, they always move away from me, always. They never strike out in fear as a dog or cat might do. As long as I leave them an escape route - which I always do, they will move away if they feel threatened.
It was this observation, that they will always chose to move away when afraid, which allowed me to experiment with reaching out to touch them or offer them food (when the time seemed right) with very little fear of being scratched or bitten. There is no doubt in my mind that raccoons have long been unjustly maligned in our culture.
Thanks for the good words. As for the raccoons, I think you are right that they are much more trustworthy than many people. For starters like with all animals, their rules are simple, and they don't play games. They either trust you or they don't. They don't pretend to trust you one day and then attack you another - as some people will unfortunately do. I've been able to sit among them, even as they are arguing with each other, without danger because I know the rules - always leave them an avenue of escape.
Good to see you back with us. Thanks for the ideas, Everyone (includes Sheri & Debbie). You guys have some very good and creative ideas. I will definitely mark them and keep them in mind. I'm not going to take any action on this right now. I've decided Heidi probably is still carrying her kits, so there is plenty of time still.
Bottom line, as creative as you guys are, raccoons are also incredibly creative in their own right. I think I'm going to wait to see if they can solve the problem on their own 1st before I do anything. I have a lot of confidence in their ability to work this out.
Great to see you back, too. Yes, isn't it wonderful that Heidi is still with us!
Great to see you with us, too. I know just how you feel. I was afraid Heidi wouldn't be back this time. I'm thrilled that she is still with us. I often think (and speak) of Heidi as though she is very old. I guess that isn't really the case. I've read that while the avg lifespan of a wild raccoon is 6yrs, pet raccoons often live well beyond 10yrs. This seems to suggest that wild raccoons die relatively young.
I guess Heidi is (age-wise) like a wild/pet hybrid, having some of the benefits and liabilities of each. She gets better and more consistent nutrition than wild raccoons and generally has to travel less in search of food, thus being exposed to fewer risks (crossing highways, encounters with raccoons outside her group, fights, encounters with humans and domestic dogs, etc).
Whatever the reason she is still here, I, too, am thrilled.
Last night was pretty 'ordinary'. I gave Heidi her food and then put food in the usual spot for the other, younger raccoon who I suspect is her daughter. On my way back inside, I stopped by Heidi, who was eating. I reached down and placed my hand, outstretched, palm down, such that my longest finder tip was maybe 3in from her face (which was down in the dish at the time). She raised her head from the dish and in a leisurely manner not unlike a pet reached her nose up to gently touch my finger tip. She sniffed my hand for a minute or so before dropping her head back into her dish to continue eating, having apparently determined that the hand held no edible treats. She showed no sign of concern about the presence of my hand so close to her personal space as she ate. I withdrew my hand, said a few words, and exited.
Tonight I fell asleep early and almost forgot all about Heidi. By the time I awoke and remembered it was 1.5hrs past the established feeding time. I hurried to the patio door and threw on the light to see a desolate scene, not a creature in sight. I opened the patio door, and just for kicks called out into the night air, "Heidi, Heidi" in a low voice. A few seconds passed, and then just as I was about to accept that I was truly too late, I pudgy Heidi waddled into view some distance across the yard and race-walked straight for the patio and all the way up to the door.
I laughed with delight as I saw her rushing toward me from where she had been waiting amidst the shrubs/trees across the yard. It was all the more adorable how she rushed right up to the door so fast and with such determination that I found myself pushing the door gently closed at the last minute fearing she might just come right on inside with me. Through a gap in the door I greeted her and told her I would be right back. It was quite clear that she had wanted me to see her (so I would not leave w/o feeding her), so I spoke to her to let her know that I understood she was there.
I had been standing there in my bare feet not really expecting her to show up, so I had to go for my shoes before I could return to feed her. I still chuckle to myself at the vision of her making a bee-line for the door in response to my call. I hadn't expected that at all. :-D
The other raccoon was not with her. I'm guessing unlike Heidi the other raccoon lacked the confidence in me to 'waste' her time waiting so long beyond the normal time.
Hmm. I did mention, did I not, that Heidi appears to be still, shall we say, very much 'with kit'? She seems quite, em, let's call it pudgy, and she waddles when she walks - the faster she goes, the greater the waddle.
The extremely pregnant are known to be quite hungry and sometimes a bit cranky, as well. I recall one particular spring evening several years ago when a near term Heidi, looking roughly equivalent to a beach ball with a head, could be heart grunting, grumbling, & fuming up a storm from some distance before she finally waddled down a limb and plopped onto the ground this side of the fence.
If last night was any indication, she may be getting near term again as she bore a gynormous appetite and was noticeably cranky - and impatient. I went out an hour early not really even expecting her to be there, but she and her guest were standing upright at the door when I turned on the light. They almost looked as though they had been trying to flag me down in the darkness.
I stepped out, bag in hand. I could already tell that Heidi was not her usual calm, still self. She seemed jumpy. Not scared. Impatient. Talking to her all the time, I reached down for her dish, to empty it of any collected rain water. Instead of waiting quietly as she normally does, this time she stepped right up to w/in inches of me and placed her cold, wet nose against my arm as I worked.
I had no sooner celebrated this gesture of apparent familiarity when a grunting & grumbling Heidi reached out suddenly and grabbed the dish I was filling snatching it to her and out from under the bag from which I poured, leaving kibble to spill out upon the concrete even as she began eating. Undaunted by this uncharacteristic grumpy and indignant behavior and of of the Queen's unwillingness or inability to wait until I finished filling the dish before eating, I simply moved the bag over a few inches and continued pouring into the dish at its new location. Not at all happy to share her dish with the bag 'spout', once again she snatched her dish out from under it all the while still grumbling raccoon obscenities. Make no mistake, her behavior was not at all aggressive or threatening in any way - just very, very cranky, perhaps the expression of 4 swollen ankles, an aching back, and a gaggle of young'ens resting on her bladder while all screaming out for more food.
I could see that on this night the Queen was not in her usual calm, respectful, and appreciative mood. "Ok", I said, understanding that ladies in her condition will sometimes get a bit out of sorts, "I hear you". With that I poured the rest of her meal onto the patio floor as she sat inches away at her dish stuffing her face with both hands as though she had not eaten in days. Madam was, shall we say, in a bit of a mood. I bid her well, poured food for her companion, and went back inside, still shaking my head at Ms Heidi's most unexpected tantrum.
Hormones! ;-) Is she coughing at all? That often seems to accompany her late term pregnancy...
>>all the while still grumbling raccoon obscenities.
Oh that is funny.
Well, we can certainly understand hormones. LOL.
I haven't noticed any coughing yet, but I haven't been staying out there with them while they eat as I used to do. I've just been going out to speak to them a few minutes while I put down the food and then coming back inside. My guess is that she probably is coughing. The pollen levels here are maxed out now. I myself am taking 24hr allergy meds right now and still experiencing sinus issues, sore throat, sniffles, etc. I'm thinking the seasonal pollen probably plays a part in her coughing spells. That it coincides with her pregnancy may just be coincidental. In the beginning, I used to fear that the coughing had something to do with the strain of carrying all those kits at her age (and that was probably 5yrs or more ago) or that she was had some serious illness. Then I noticed that she often continued to cough long after the kits had arrived at the buffet. I'm thinking it's probably just coincidence that the pollen gets maxed out when she is pregnant. On the other hand, you certainly do have a good memory.
Yeah, just imagine carrying triplets and having to go out climbing a mile or so of trees every day, in your last month even, before breakfast. That has to be rough. I guess it's amazing she manages to be in such a civil mood 99% of the time.
Edited to add a few words.
This message was edited Mar 28, 2012 12:22 AM
Thankfully, tonight the Queen was in a much less temperamental mood.
As I approached the patio door in the dimly lit room, I could just barely make out the soft lines of her face up against the glass and surrounded by the palette of total darkness outside. Tonight was fairly normal. No grumbling. No snatching. No tantrums.
Having replayed the highlight reels from last night a time or two now, I've come to the conclusion that (on that night) she was hungry, impatient, and feeling especially awful. She wanted to start eating ASAP, and she did NOT want that bag 'spout' in the bowl pouring food while she was eating. As I was apparently taking too long, I think she was trying to say, "Oh, get out of the way already. I'm starved!"
Whew! Glad Madam does not stay in that mood often.