The raccoon is famous for its black bandit mask and ringed tail. The mask suits the Raccoon, because it is well known as a looter of people’s gardens, cabins, campsites and, yes, even garbage cans. A Raccoon is likely to investigate tasty bits of food and any shiny object it finds. Despite its roguish behavior, however, the Raccoon has never been associated with ferociousness or savagery—it is mainly a curious and docile animal unless it is cornered or threatened. Testing a Raccoon’s ferocity is an unnecessary and simple-minded act, and Raccoons have been known to wound and even kill attacking dogs.
Raccoons are among the most frequently encountered wild carnivores in many parts of Ontario. They are most often found near streams, lakes and ponds and favour woodlands. When Raccoons are seen, which is usually at night, they quickly bound away, effectively evading flashlight beams by slipping into burrows or climbing to tree retreats. Should their tree sanctuary be found, Raccoons remain still at a safe distance, waiting for the invasive experience to end.
One of the best-known characteristics of the Raccoon is its habit of dunking its food in water before eating it. It had long been thought that the Raccoon was washing its food but biologists now believe that a Raccoon’s sense of touch is enhanced by water, and that it is actually feeling for inedible bits to discard.
Long, cold winters are an ecological barrier to the dispersal of this animal, because it does not hibernate and SO requires year-round food availability. It may sleep for extended periods in parts of its range, but it still comes out on warmer nights.
The Raccoon fills the role of medium-sized omnivore in the food web. Besides eating fruits, nuts, berries and insects, it avidly eats clams, frogs, fish, eggs, young birds and rodents. Just as a bear does, the Raccoon consumes large amounts of food in autumn to build a large fat reserve that will help sustain it over winter.
Rabies, Distemper and The Mange
Rabies, as you are well aware, is a problem among the Raccoon population in Eastern and Southern Ontario.
At one time, Ontario was known as the ‘Rabies Capital of North America’ due to the high number of rabid animals reported. Since 1992, the number of rabies cases has been reduced by 95% in part by rabies control and educational programs as set forth by the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Mississippi Lake has not been put on the High Risk Zone map, but be aware that we are situated just North of the zone which already encompasses Smith Falls and Kemptville.
For or information, please check out the Ministry of Natural Resources website at
The River Otter
It may seem too good to be true, but all those playful characterizations of the Northern River Otter are founded on truth. Otters often amuse
themselves by rolling, sliding, diving or “biwly surfing,” and they may also pushand balance floating sticks with their noses or drop and retrieve pebbles
for minutes at a time. Unlike most members of the weasel family, river otters are social animals, and they will frolic together in the water and
take turns sliding down banks.
With their streamlined bodies, rudder-like tails and webbed toes, river otters are well adapted for aquatic habitats. The large amounts of playtime they seem to have results from their efficiency at catching prey when it is plentiful. Although otters generally cruise along slowly in the water by paddling with all four feet, they can dart after prey with the ease of a seal whenever hunger strikes. Otters can hold their breath for as long as five minutes.
Year-round, river otters live primarily in or along wooded rivers, ponds and lakes. They may be active day or night but tend to be more nocturnal close to human activity. In winter, Northern River Otters are found on lakes with beaver lodges or on bog ponds with steep banks containing old beaver burrows, through which they can enter the water. The permanent den is often in a bank, with both underwater and above-water entrances. Also, riffles and waterfalls with pools provide important access to water in the winter.
Crayfish, turtles, frogs and fish form the bulk of the diet, hut otters occasionally depredate bird nests and eat small mammals, such as mice, young Muskrats and young Beavers, and sometimes even insects and earthworms.
So keep your eyes open for these fun and playful creatures. They are really a joy to watch.
Features and Habitat
Most of the following text was taken from the Environment Canada website, "National Wildlife Areas of Ontario - Mississippi Lake". Please visit
Marsh, Swamp, Hardwood Forest
The heart of the Mississippi Lake National Wildlife Area centres around the wetlands in McEwen Bay, where clear, brown water streams in from the Mississippi River. Muddy silt and debris support rich stands of wild rice, cattail and other plants, well sheltered by a peninsula and island at the mouth of the bay.
The west side of the bay is an agricultural field where hay is grown. The open field, along with the wild rice, attracts thousands of grazing waterfowl each autumn.
Along the rest of the shoreline, aquatic plants give way to flooded scrub thickets. Rising up to the rolling terrain of the uplands (higher ground) are many types of wooded habitats, from woody swamps to hardwood forest dotted with limestone outcrops.
Importance to Wildlife
Plants, birds, bugs, snakes and frogs
The small bay is one of the few natural areas left on the Mississippi Lake shoreline. The thousands of migrating waterfowl that use the lake during migration for staging (resting and feeding) take refuge in McEwen Bay.
Many mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates take advantage of the plentiful habitats on the property. From spring through to autumn, songbirds such as orioles, warblers, vireos, thrushes and waxwings nest or stop in on migration.
In spring and summer, the marshes provide some of the best habitat for bullfrogs in the region. The bay is also an important fish nursery, for spawning and shielding young fish in the vegetation.
Biodiversity represents the variety of all living things found in a given ecosystem. The list below highlights some of the key species that are a part of the ecosystem at this National Wildlife Area.
Birds include Ospreys, Great Blue Herons, Soras, Virginia Rails, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Bitterns, Belted Kingfishers
Waterfowl include Blue-winged Teals, Mallards, Black, Ring-billed and Wood Ducks
Mammals include White-tailed Deer, River Otters, Porcupines, Muskrats and small rodents such as voles and shrews
Reptiles include Snapping Turtles and Painted Turtles
Fish include Yellow Pickerel
Trees include willows, dogwoods, cedar, maples, elms and ash
Spring and autumn