Many kinds of wild animals are found in San Mateo County, and
most will occasionally enter urban and suburban neighborhoods in
search of food, water, or shelter. These are a few of the species
that may cause problems for residents of San Mateo County.
Wood rats (Neotoma fuscipes, sometimes called pack rats or trade
rats) are native to San Mateo County and frequently live in
wooded areas near creeks and streams, where they make large,
elaborate nests of twigs and leaves. These nests often
provide shelter for other species, including deer mice.
Woodrats are similar in appearance to roof rats and Norway rats,
but with larger ears and furred tail (though not fluffy, like the
tails of squirrels).
Raccoons are nocturnal animals with brown fur, distinctive black
mask-like markings on their faces, and ringed tails. They are
usually about the size of a cat, but may be larger when well-fed
Raccoons will eat almost anything, but urban and suburban
raccoons often feed on garbage and pet food. You can help
discourage them from visiting your property by harvesting
all fruits and vegetables promptly, keeping garbage and compost
in closed containers, and bringing pet food in at night.
Squirrels are common throughout San Mateo County, including urban
and suburban areas. In the wild they nest in trees and feed on
nuts, fruits, and buds. However, they may sometimes damage
property by nesting in attics.
Squirrels will not usually create their own opening to a
structure, but may enlarge an existing opening by gnawing. You
can prevent this by ensuring that there are no gaps or holes that
will allow a squirrel to enter your attic. You should also use a
chimney cap to keep squirrels and other animals out of your
The opossum is about the size of a house cat, with gray fur and a
bare, pink tail. Although some people think opossums look like
large rats, they are actually marsupials – like kangaroos. A
mother opossums carries her babies in a pouch on her belly
when they’re small, and when they get too big to fit in her pouch
she allows them to ride on her back.
Skunks are small black and white animals. They are not usually
aggressive, but when threatened may spray a very
unpleasant-smelling substance. Skunks often do a ‘hand stand’ on
their front paws with their tail and body in the air before
spraying. If you see a skunk in this position, you should retreat
quietly and slowly to avoid being sprayed.
Several members of the corvid family are common throughout San
Mateo County, these include the American crow (Corvus
Brachyrhynchos) and the common raven (Corvus
corax). Crows and ravens are both large birds with
shiny black feathers. However, with close observation they can be
Ravens are larger and have a heavier beak, and their feathers
look shaggy, especially around their throats. Ravens usually live
alone or in pairs, and make a variety of croaking calls.
Deer are welcome visitors for many property owners, but may
sometimes cause damage to gardens and other landscaping.
Feeding deer is illegal in California. It is unsafe and unhealthy
for both people and deer!
Most deer will be discouraged by a 6′ fence, but if they are
particularly determined you may need a taller fence to keep them
out. Fences built on slopes may need to be taller to keep deer
from jumping over them in a downhill direction and becoming
Coyotes are an increasingly common sight in suburban San Mateo
County, especially in neighborhoods that border our may parks and
A coyote looks similar to a small German shepherd dog or a large
fox. The stand around 18″ tall at the shoulder and have fluffy or
bushy gray to brown fur. More information on distinguishing
coyotes from dogs is available on the
CA Department of Fish and Wildlife website. No wolf
species are found in San Mateo County.