As it turns out the pile of trash bags was a bit too low for the raccoons to use as a ladder to get back out of the trash cans so they were stranded in a pile of popcorn, candy, and bread - not bad by a raccoon's standards! Can't blame them for jumping in, but still poor planning. Watching them helplessly try and escape I realized two things: 1) raccoons can't jump to save their life, and 2) their front arms are strong but they can really only use them to hang on, not pull themselves up. I found this out by dangling some rope down into the dumpster so the raccoons could climb out. They were able to reach the bottom of the rope to latch onto but couldn't manage to pull their fat (and I mean really fat) bodies up. They had to swing their hind legs out to the side and grab onto another rope with their hind feet. They fell a couple of times while trying to figure out a system. I wound up putting a pallet in the dumpster to set them free.
Ecological notes: About 3 weeks ago a couple of friends and I spotted a family of 4 feeding in the bins. Tonight I only spotted 3. One was awfully shy and hid under a sheet of cardboard. This time of year, in preparation for winter, family groups (consisting of the mother and first year kits) typically split up. This avoids competition for food during the lean winter months. In Samuel Zeveloff's awesome book Raccoons: A Natural History, he says that in colder regions, the family group will last through the winter. From what I found there seems to be disagreement over what the gender/familial relationships are within groups of raccoons. It was hard for me to tell what the gender breakdown was as males and females look the same, but I would assume that the boldest of the three was mom (pictured above, she was also the biggest), and the others were her offspring.
Where: Dumpsters behind Centennial Field in Burlington