Higgins' Journal

The life and times of a young raccoon

Copyright Alex Snow (1998)

Chapter Five: Adventures of a Chicken Eater

Picture shows raccoon climbing cherry tree.

7 June

Higgins took 3 oz. early a.m. while it was cool outside, after spending most of the evening outside in his cage, then 6 oz. at midnight. He refused early p.m. feedings. He had diarrhea in the corner of the bedroom rug today.

For several days now I've offered him tasty bowls of formula mixed with egg-yolk, baby cereal mixed with cherries, finely chopped vegetables, cat chow, and dog chow. Today I read the book Wild Orphan Babiesby William J. Weber DVM., who suggests weaning raccoons on canned dog food. It's worth a try. Dr. Weber notes about bottle feeding: "Some animals just don't like to give it up. They seem not only to enjoy the formula as food, but also the companionship and attention they receive at feeding time. Even some adult animals enjoy a bottle of formula."

Today the inevitable happened. While Higgins and I were taking our evening walk, he jerked the leash out of my hand and rushed up the wild cherry tree beside the chimney. Wild raccoons use this tree as a point of descent from the roof to the garden. In a twinkling he was fifty feet up. I watched with my heart in my mouth as the leash swung around, terrified that it would twist around a branch and snag him, possibly hanging him by the collar.

Fortunately no such disaster occurred. After about 45 minutes he came down, head first, without incident. I consider this a gesture of independence on his part, his way of saying that he knows the terrain well enough to explore it on his own. And so he shall. On future walks I shall let him off the leash to climb a few trees at his leisure. He still needs the leash to keep him near me when we are near the road or the alley, where the cars are.

8 June

Higgins took a 5 oz. plain Esbilac feeding at midday, and 5 oz. at midnight. He was in the house all last night and all this morning. The air-conditioning kept the atmosphere inside at 78 deg. F compared to 90 deg. F outside. He had diarrhea in the same corner of the rug again this afternoon. Another shampooing! I made an appointment with a veterinarian for Monday.

While in the yard he climbed three spruces and one pine. He found some dried out raccoon scat and sniffed it a lot. Raccoons seem to be either feverishly active or zonked out asleep. When Higgins is in a playful or exploratory mood it is hard to hold him. He still sucks furiously on his bottle and gives himself hiccups every time. Burping him helps a bit. He's still very playful in the house, being very fond of water sources, such as the bathtub, washbasin, and kitchen sink. Today he jumped into the toilet and took a quick bath.

9 June

Higgins stayed out all night in his cage, and drank only 2 oz. Esbilac at midday, and 5 oz. at midnight. Despite his low appetite, he's active and seems to have lots of energy. I gave him some spaghetti noodles with a pinch of Parmesan cheese this p.m. He ate eagerly. I had remembered his interest in a macaroni and cheese meal earlier, and the night he paddled in my spaghetti dinner and spread sauce all over my slacks. Also, Mr. Natureman had mentioned to me one time that the raccoon he raised liked noodles. Maybe Higgins is a secret Italian. I'll have to try him on Chianti.

No discernible bowel movements today. I cleaned both litterboxes yesterday, one in the bedroom and one in the cage. They are only damp from urine.

Walked about in the sun this p.m. for a photo session. Not the most comfortable one I've ever been in, the temperature was 91 deg. F. Nonetheless, Higgins had a good time climbing three spruces, one cherry,and one beech tree, right to the tops. He had a hard time with the beech. He climbs far up the trunk first, then descends to the lower, thicker branches and ventures as far out as he can go towards the and of the branch. He crossed the street in front of the house eagerly and dove into the woodlot thicket. He climbed a young beech tree and dropped twigs on my head while I sat on an old log.

He seems to be fond of the Colorado Blue spruce in the front yard. He bites the spots where sap and resin seep out of the branches. This is the same tree he suddenly jumped into when I was holding him in my arms a few weeks ago, the first tree he climbed in. Yesterday he got stuck in it and I helped him down with a ladder. Today he got stuck again. He clambered along a side branch and hung at the end, perilously close to falling. It swayed so much he apparently became afraid of falling. He chittered in fear. Fortunately the end of this branch hung just above my head, so I reached up with my arms to rescue him. I earned myself a scratched face as he skittered down.

After his midnight feeding Higgins and I had a secret midnight binge. Yesterday I was given a box of chocolates. Once a year a person should indulge in such things. I opened the box and ate one. Higgins showed some interest, but didn't take any. It occurred to me that while I was junking out, he might as well do so too. Out came a bag of miniature marshmallows. He dove into the bag, stuffed five or six of them into his mouth, and grabbed for more. He had NO trouble swallowing these little delicacies! Maybe raccoons have a sweet tooth, like humans.

Higgins' enthusiasm for the marshmallows reminded me of the first time I saw a raccoon eat these sweets. I had only recently been introduced to the American custom of roasting marshmallows over a camp fire. Returning from a weekend's camping, I had a bag three-quarter's full of large-size marshmallows left over. As I lay in the hammock in the back yard, my marshmallows within reaching distance on the ground, I dozed off. I awoke to the sound of the bag rustling.

A large, fat raccoon was shoving its snout into the bag and jamming one marshmallow after another into its chops. My admonition to cease and desist went unheeded in the frenzy, as the 'coon rolled and bounced across the patio eagerly stuffing dozens of the sticky sweet white balls of carbohydrate into its mouth. It finished the lot. This wild raccoon had never risked coming near me previously, nor did it subsequently.

Since that first encounter with the raccoon's fondness for marshmallows, I have successfully used them as bait to lure raccoons away from my garbage cans. (Dog chow and gefilte fish work too.) Even sick raccoons will eat marshmallows. I had a sick little 'coon last year with a separated pelvis and a broken femur. He couldn't walk or climb, just dragged himself along by his arms. For a few days he ate little but marshmallows. Later, as his health returned, he developed a marked taste for blueberries. He recovered well after surgery, and always preferred fruit to other foods.

l0 June

Higgins drank 6 oz. plain Esbilac at mid-day and 6 1/2 oz. at midnight.

He has great confidence in his climbing and exploring abilities, no traces of fear now. He no longer waddles around the yard afraid of every sound. He swaggers. The sudden rush of wind as the air-conditioning compressor turns on no longer frightens him, he runs past it unconcerned. It is incongruous that this self-confident, young-man-about-town attitude belongs to a fellow who still sucks on a baby bottle!

He went climbing in the yard this p.m., visiting all his favorite trees and climbing very high in the green ash. He enjoys the freedom from collar and leash. As he jumps up the base of each tree he sights me and playfully hides around the other side of the tree, scrambling back around and peeking at me occasionally to make sure I'm still there. This hiding behavior is common to tree-climbing animals, like squirrels, and is a good strategy for avoiding predators. Turkeys hide from hunters by sneaking behind tree trunks in a similar way.

Picture shows raccoon climbing down ash tree trunk head first.

Higgins found the raccoon path which goes from the ground up the cherry tree and by a quick leap onto the roof. The gap between cherry tree and roof is only about one foot wide and he leaped across easily. His first visit to the roof must have been enlightening. The local raccoons use my roof as a playlog, covering it with scat. Every autumn I go up there with a broom and sweep piles of shit down onto the flower-beds -- instant fertilizer.

Higgins spent a good while sniffing these reminders of others' presence. While on the roof, he paused on the gable above the louver where twittering sparrows are nesting in the attic. He pawed the air as though trying to reach down to them, but his arm was too short. Beware little sparrows! Higgins' arm will grow longer as he grows older.

11 June

He took 2 oz. plain Esbilac at mid-day, and a grape, some dry cat chow, some boiled egg, and five marshmallows mid-afternoon. At midnight, 6 oz. Esbilac.

I took Higgins to the veterinarian about the diarrhea. A stool specimen revealed no parasites or infection. The vet advised 3 ml. kaopectate four times a day. He says Higgins is socially retarded due to lack of sibling contact. He also suggested offering a variety of solid foods and cutting down the bottle feeding by a half each day. He gave Higgins a parvo shot , and gave me two doses of deworming medication to give Higgins orally, one later today and one in three weeks, just in case.

This evening I took Higgins out twice to teach him about the great outdoors, from five to six p.m. and again from eight to nine thirty. I usually take him out only once each evening for a lesson in nature's ways, but I felt he needed a reward for going to the vet and taking his worm medication!

He climbed high in the green ash, where a blue jay repeatedly "buzzed" him by flying down to within inches of him and taking off again. I lay on my back on the grass under the tree and watched the performance. The jay successfully deterred Higgins from climbing further in the tree. Higgins ran off into the fern patch, which was being dowsed by the water sprinkler I had set on the parched lawn.

He dug merrily in the mud while I leaned against the fence and offered advice. Later, he climbed the apple tree and pulled leaves off it, and then the Colorado blue spruce, while I chatted to the next-door neighbor. He spent a while bouncing and dancing through the weeds beside the air-conditioner, pulling and tugging the ones that smelled good. Finally, he climbed the neighbor's cherry tree while I picked strawberries. Now that's what I call teaching!

l2 June

Two current measurements: tail 8", front paw 2 1 /2". Higgins took 6 oz. Esbilac at midday, and about 3 oz. with some solid food at 11 p.m. I gave him two doses of 3 cc. kaopectate; hope it helps. Much to my surprise, he likes the kaopectate. He dug into the bottle with his hands and licked the stuff off his fingers then pushed his nose into the bottle for more. I know people who have had fits trying to get dogs to take the stuff.

I let him into the house all afternoon because it was so hot, 94 deg. F even in his shaded cage. It has been a roller coaster spring this year. Higgins must be wondering what kind of crazy world he's living in. We had record heat in late April followed by record cold at the end of April and through May, then scorching heat in June.

The only disadvantage of letting him spend four or five hours alone in the house was that he had diarrhea in the corner of the white bedroom carpet again. Maybe I ought to start buying carpet shampoo wholesale. I guess the kaopectate takes a while to work, maybe 24 hours, since he has only one bowel movement in 24 hour normally.

I took him out this evening when the temperature had cooled to a positively frigid 83 deg. F. He explored the yard and woodlot with me for two hours, until we were both too hot and tired to do more. He tends to stay near me. I call to him regularly to make sure he knows where I am. I don't follow him into the woodlot any more because of the dense undergrowth. He can get beneath it more easily than I can hack through it. My crashing about seems to bother him anyway, he prefers sneaking along.

Two interesting things happened at the 11 p.m. feeding. First: we had three bowls on the front porch. One had boiled egg and cat chow, one had apple, grapes, cat chow, and marshmallows, and one still inside his cage had water and an ice cube. He picked up a piece of boiled egg-white from one bowl and carried it about a yard into his cage to drop it in the water bowl and "douse" it, then he ate it.

He has previously dropped cherries, cat chow, dog chow and so forth into a water bowl in the kitchen and then paddled about catching the stuff, but this is the first example of bone fide adult-raccoon-style dousing.

Second: while he was wandering around the porch, climbing on the log pile, exploring the top of his cage, batting the juniper bushes, and so on, I became bored and started eating the chopped apple from his bowl. He became very interested in my chomping. He climbed onto me and poked his snout at my mouth. My surprise at feeling his claws on my lips caused me to say "ow" and as my mouth opened he shoved his head in and made a grab for the apple inside. I put him down at the food bowl and he ate some apple. I poured formula into the bowl and he lapped that too.

What occurs to me is that maybe his interest in the contents of my mouth relates to the way mother raccoons feed and wean their babies. He has poked his nose into my mouth several times. Perhaps raccoon mothers provide recalcitrant youngsters who don't wean easily with pre-masticated food directly from their own mouths.

Perhaps too, Higgins is expressing the imitativeness common to raccoons, a sort of "monkey see, monkey do" way of learning. He saw me eating apple so he ate some too. Perhaps baby raccoons learn what to eat by smelling it on their mother's breath. He does sniff around my face a lot. Maybe I'll try to wean him by eating all the foods he should have and letting him sniff my mouth. (I've always wondered what dog chow tastes like!).

l3 June

Higgins took about 4 oz. Esbilac at midday, mixed with solid food boiled egg, chopped apple, grapes, and cherries. I ate some too. I tried him on Nine Lives chicken and cheese cat food, which he seemed to like a lot. He picked out the chicken and left the cheese. The midnight feeding was an exact repeat. Feeding time has become quite a production. It used to take 15 minutes or less when he was on the bottle, with an hour of playing afterwards. Now it's two hours of feeding, playing with food, and distributing masticated bits all over the place, followed by 45 minutes to an hour of of cleanup time in the kitchen.

Higgins seems to enjoy my presence when he is eating. He becomes worried if he doesn't know where I am, and goes looking for me. This was the cause of an upset after lunch today. I walked out of the kitchen for some reason or other. He ran along the countertop onto the stove towards the door. On one of the stove's burner's was a pot of hot water with boiled eggs in it. The burner was off, but the water was still fairly hot.

He bounced right into it, got a shock from the hot water, and scrambled around wildly to get away from it. I arrived back in the kitchen to find raccoon, eggs, and water flying in all directions. He was upset, but not harmed.

On our evening exploring trip Higgins found some chicken skins on the back patio, put there for the nightly local raccoon visitors. It was nice crackly barbecued chicken skin from the outdoor grill. He acted as though he was mighty happy to have found this treasure, and merrily ate the lot.

For some time I've wondered what would tempt his palate away from the bottle. I think I've found it: chicken. As it happens, one of my neighbors a few houses away keeps a dozen chickens in a coop. Once Higgins gets to know the neighborhood . . . Hmmm.

After I put him back in his cage on the front porch, a storm sprang up. More high wind than rain, and some thunder rumbles. He seemed agitated, so I sat on a log beside the cage with him. I noticed a small green leaf moving oddly in the dim light, and realized that it was a little green beetle. " Ah," I thought, "Higgins would love to play with it." I picked it up and poked it into the cage.

After only a second he dropped it outside the cage, so I thoughtfully pushed it back in again. As I did so, I suddenly noticed a truly foul smell on my fingers, and saw that Higgins was forcefully pushing the bug out of his way. How was I to know it was a stink-bug!!! Entomology is not my field!

Well , he needed the education. And he needs plenty more. We'll have to study more ornithology, for example. So far he knows only sparrows, cardinals, and blue jays. And he ain't too fond of blue jays. This evening while he was climbing the tall spruce next door, he was repeatedly "buzzed" by two blue jays, who actually knocked him on the head so he lost his balance. They did this in complete silence, which was curious. Usually, blue jays caw and squawk while pestering animals like cats. I suspect these two jays have a nest in that tree.

The trees Higgins likes to climb best have rough scaly bark that he can hold on to, and a fairly wide diameter to the trunk. He has climbed skinny trees with smooth bark, but he tends to slip downwards unexpectedly, which seem to frighten him.

I got three 3 cc. doses of kaopectate squirted down his throat today, but no noticeable bowel movement occurred. It's hard to tell, as he runs around in the yard and I'm not watching him every second, so he might have relieved himself outside.

l4 June

Higgins took kaopectate at lunchtime along with the same food as yesterday, plus a sardine. This evening he grabbed a few bits of my macaroni and cheese. He had a "semi-soft" bowel movement, better than before.

He climbed high in the cherry tree tonight, where he sat for 2 1/2 hours surveying the lay of the land. A couple of wild raccoons and a gray cat passed beneath the tree on their way to the food bowl on the back porch. I'm not sure if Higgins could see them from his vantage point. I aimed a flashlight up into the tree once in a while, and was greeted by two yellowish orange dots of fire gleaming at me. Maybe he has decided it is time for full-scale nocturnal life.

Eventually, he came down and feasted on macaroni and cheese, Nine Lives cat food, chicken, grapes, and about 5 oz. Esbilac poured in a saucer. After exploring the woodpile beside his cage, and a short wrestling bout of the "monkey on a branch" variety, he disappeared up the green ash.

Eating solid food during the last few days seems to have given him a lot more energy. He scrambled around inside the house all afternoon, then climbed up in trees all evening. I left food, mostly chicken, boiled egg, grapes, and cat chow in his cage with his water bowl, leaving him the freedom of the night. This is his first night out alone.

Picture shows raccoon peeking out of hole in log inside cage.

15 June.

Higgins was in his cage asleep at 8 a.m. today after his night on the town. All the food in his bowl was gone, except the grapes, and the water bowl was dry. I suspect that a cat may have sneaked in and eaten the food. A raccoon probably would have eaten the grapes, and would almost certainly have left water in the bowl with traces of food in it from dousing. It all looks too tidy to be raccoon's work. Higgins seemed real pleased to see me, very affectionate. He came into the house for a 1 oz. bowl of Esbilac, some macaroni and cheese, and kaopectate.

He scurried around the house, visiting all his favorite places and playing "monkey on a branch" with me. He checked over every inch of the bathroom, including the toilet, and did something he hadn't bothered with in days: slipped down under the covers of my bed and took a little rest. I put him back out in his cage after about 11/2 hours and he slept all day.

I awoke him at about 8.45 p.m. He ate heartily of macaroni and cheese, Nine Lives chicken, boiled egg, grapes, and several ounces of Esbilac in a saucer, and kaopectate. He showed no inclination to play outside. When I carried him out, he followed me right back in again.

Whoever ate his food last night seems to have put the fear of the devil into him! He played in the house in all his favorite haunts, spending most of his time in my bedroom preventing me from going to sleep. He ate a daddy longlegs on the bathroom floor. Along about midnight I put dog chow and cat chow in his food bowl, plus water and ice cubes in his water bowl, and carried him out to the cage. He followed me back in again, fast.

So we played awhile, mostly "monkey on a branch". He loves wrestling. Finally, at 1.30 a.m. I was too tired to play any more. I went out to check his cage before putting him in it and realized that I must have left the cage door open. The food bowl was empty and floating in the water bowl were some dissolved pieces of dog chow and some pine shavings from the cage floor, evidence of raccoon dousing. The unmitigated gall! Poor Higgins.

When I got more food and water together and put him in the cage and shut the door, he grumbled and chittered to himself. His territory so invaded! His goodies eaten! I left him to meditate on the wickedness of thieves. I don't think he's going to feel too safe in that cage for a while yet.

16 June

Higgins took two sizable feedings of 3 or 4 oz. Esbilac in a bowl, and a mixture in another bowl of chopped apple, boiled egg, Nine Lives chicken, dog chow, cat chow, grapes, blueberries, a couple of marshmallows, some leftover macaroni and cheese, and kaopectate.

This afternoon a light misty drizzle settled in, cooling the air and dampening the ground. Higgins and I went exploring while no one else seemed to be about. He stayed mainly on the ground, scampering in the dim evening light like a tiny roly-poly wraith, a blurred shadow among the weeds.

The undergrowth in the woodlot is so dense that the ground is hardly wet under the jewelweed and brambles. He batted some unripe may-apples around and sat under the umbrella of their leaves listening to the soft splish-splashing of the rain. Then he slipped quietly back to the yard and climbed the blue spruce. Beneath its thick foliage all was dry. I sat below while he decimated an old abandoned birds' nest, robins I think, and dropped the debris on my head. What else can you do on a wet afternoon?

At night after I fed him, I left the cage door open. Only a bowl of water sat inside, no food to attract the local thieves. Today I sterilized the baby bottle for the last time and put it away in a cupboard. He drinks out of a bowl now, like a real grown-up!

17 June

Higgins was snoozing in his ideal raccoon log in the cage this morning. He gladly came into the house away from the heat and humidity. He feasted on his usual mixture, plus some more blueberries, which he really seems to like. He has red abrasions on his two middle fingers. I put medicated ointment on them. He spent the afternoon in air-conditioned comfort in his soffit.

His measurements are now: rear feet 3 3/4", tail 8 3/4", body 11", head 5", ( i.e. nose to tail = 24 3/4") and between the base of his ears is approximately 3 3/4".

After a couple of days of almost normal bowel movements, he had diarrhea again this afternoon. It was dark, bluish purplish black diarrhea. I suspect the blueberries. I shall cut out the fruit for a couple of days and increase the kaopectate. I gave him three 3 cc. doses of kaopectate today, and no fruit at the midnight feeding.

We still play "monkey on a branch" after every meal. His wrestling has become energetic. I think this activity substitutes for the play of littermates in the den. I always know when he wants to play this game because he grabs my fingers in his mouth and shakes them from side to side while looking at me pleadingly.

Tonight I again put only a water bowl in his cage, no food to attract other animals, and left the door open so that Higgins can get in if he wants to. He went off adventuring through the night.

18 June

If it comes from a chicken, Higgins likes it. He grabs whole eggs and cracks them in his teeth, he devours boiled eggs voraciously, and he tears off strips of chicken skins and hides in a dark corner growling and slurping them down. He is definitely a chicken 'coon. Today he ate the skin off three chicken breasts along with his evening meal of chow, boiled egg and formula.

Although he seems to have accepted gentle rains, Higgins is still afraid of heavy rain. It stormed this evening,with plenty of thunder and lightening, though only for a short time. He was afraid, so I sat beside his cage for a little while and talked to him.

He would not be calmed, so I picked him up and cuddled him. He climbed up onto his favorite perch, my shoulder, and watched the storm from there. He peeked out from behind my ear, nibbling and pawing my earlobes and hair. After the storm abated, he wandered around the yard feeling all the wet vegetation.

I had him off the kaopectate today, though I wasn't sure how his bowels were. He must shit outside, as the litterbox is clean. This evening, however, I found diarrhea, of all places, under the laundry 'chute in the basement. I had opened the 'chute door on hearing a noise inside, and found him staring enquiringly at me from among the dirty socks and underwear. Surely there must be something wrong with him. One more day of this and I'll have to check with the vet again. I continue to leave his cage door open at night with a bowl of water inside.

19 June

The red abrasions on Higgins' right hand fingers are healing up some, but apparently still hurt him. He spends quite a while at his bowl dipping his hand into the milky formula and licking the injured fingers. He does not always lap the liquid with his tongue, he sometimes puts his whole mouth into it and drinks like an adult. The virtue of the way raccoon noses work is that the animal's mouth can be under water while the nose is above the surface. It is an excellent adaptation for swimming. The crescent-shaped nostrils are on top of the nose.

He seems to have developed a real fascination for the laundry 'chute. Today he disappeared after his brunch and playtime, and for a while I couldn't find him anywhere. Then I thought to look in the 'chute. There he was, burrowing in the clothes and wrestling with a pair of underpants, happy as a lark.

I gave him kaopectate today, three 3 cc. doses, and the only fruit he ate was a little apple. He ate chicken (real stuff, not Nine Lives processed stuff), boiled egg, macaroni, and dog chow. He picked out the chicken pieces to eat first, then nibbled at the other stuff. He drank about 5 oz. formula in three feedings: at a 5 p.m. snack of marshmallow and Esbilac, as well as brunch, and at midnight.

He eats most of his food directly from the bowl, but he runs off with the chicken. He hides with it. He guards it. If I approach him to give him something, or stroke his neck, or whatever, he runs farther away and guards the chicken piece even more. The macaroni he douses in his bowl of formula.

I left no food in his cage overnight again. I have seen no evidence of marauding visitors since I began this practice. Leaving him without food may also encourage Higgins to look for food on his nocturnal forays. I know he has found the cherries out there, wild and cultivated, but I'm not sure what else he may get. He had diarrhea again this midnight.

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