I heard them before I saw them.

“Eeeek, Eeek!”

Their high-pitched shrieks alerted me I wasn’t alone.

Out of the darkness they came.  The motions sensor light clicked on, illuminating their fat, furry bodies.  First one, with the trademark pointy nose and mask across its face, followed by the fluffy, ringed tail.

Then another waddled a few steps behind, with a three small babies bringing up the rest of the group.

I suspected they were on the hunt for food.  Fortunately, for us, we didn’t leave any trash cans outside.  I’d seen many a trash can overturned in Boulder or Nederland, trash strewn across the road.

Raccoons are savvy when it comes to finding food, scavenging for anything and everything.  In more inhabited areas, people think of them as pests, since they frequently can be seen rummaging through garbage.

Besides the mask on their face, they are best known for their agile hands.  Using those hands, they will hunt a variety of creatures.  Fortunately for them, they aren’t picky eaters.  They’ll eat creatures from the water (frogs, crayfish) as easily as they’ll prey on mice or other rodents.  But they aren’t just meat eaters, plucking nuts and berries for food as well.

They also use their hands for a unique trait they have.  They will frequently wash their food before eating it by dunking it in the water.  Apparently, it’s not that they are trying to be clean, but instead need the moisture for swallowing.  Raccoons don’t have saliva glands.

Almost all the times I’ve spotted raccoons have been at night.  One night, as I drove up Canyon Boulevard, I spotted a family of five raccoons padding across the road.  They looked like sneaky thieves getting rid to rob the family home.  Like other predators, they use the cover of darkness to sneak up on their prey before killing it.

One of the strangest memories I have in Nederland was meeting some friends at night.  We were drinking coffee and talking and kept hearing squeaks.  Then the squeak got louder and started to sound more like chattering.  It got so distracting, we stopped our conversation, instead listening to what sounded like a family squabble.

I later found out the noise wasn’t unusual.  Apparently, raccoons are quite the vocal animal, making up to 200 different sounds, including hissing, chirping, purring and screeching.

You may think of raccoons as annoying, but give them credit for smarts.  They are extremely intelligent with sharp memories.  I guess you’d have to be pretty smart and adaptable to survive all the dangers they do, including automobiles.

Though they look cute, make no mistake — they are wild animals.  And like other animal wild animals, they can carry rabies.  Never touch a raccoon, and if you find one dead, contact Animal Control.

Raccoons are a part of life here in the Rocky Mountains, so don’t be surprised if you hear or see these savvy creatures near your house.  If you want to keep a sense of humor around sharing habitat, take a look at this “conga” line of masked marauders spotted by a Denver resident.