Why do country people dislike the woodchucks?
We all know the woodchuck or groundhog, because folklore says that he is able to predict the end of the Winter! Each Spring the media delights in bringing us live broadcasts of woodchucks like ‘Punxsutawney Phil’ and his ilk being hauled from his ‘burrow’ to see his shadow- or not, to declare the arrival of an early or late Spring. That is, what a lot of people believe.
You do not see them in the wintertime because they hibernate from October to April in their special winter quarters. These are below the frost line where the temperature is stable and well above freezing. In Spring they emerge with some remaining fat to live on until the warmer Spring weather produces abundant plants for food.
One of the woodchuck's most distinctive behaviors is its habit of standing upright on its hind legs to watch for danger. If a threat is sensed, woodchucks will let out a high-pitched, whistling call to warn the rest of the burrow and then dive back into their burrows. This is why they are known as "whistle pigs" in some areas.
So why are they so hated by landowners? Well, It is not what they eat- most of the time, it is what they do. Woodchucks are well adapted for digging, with short, but powerful limbs and curved thick claws. They dig their burrows for sleeping, rearing their young and hibernating. The burrows have usually two to five entrances, providing them their escape routes from predators. Their burrows are particularly large, with up to 46 feet (14 meters) of tunnels buried up to 5 feet underground. They are marvels of engineering. When possible, they are built into a slope, with at least one opening high on the slope and the others further down. Excavated dirt may be mounded high around the highest opening to help enhance air drafting from breezes, which pulls fresh air through the system, pulled in from the lower openings. And there is the rub!
They not only eat the grass on your back lawn- and perhaps some of your expensive landscaping, they are also fond of vegetable gardens. After destroying my young plants, we decided to fence in our garden and replant everything.
And most people don’t know that they can also get rabies! They are docile, shy creatures that are not normally threats to pets or people. They can be very cute to watch as they stroll about munching the grass. So you might be tempted to approach one that appears in distress. Don’t! If they are infected with rabies, it usually is manifested by listless, sluggish behavior- not ‘rabid dog’ frenzy. It may appear partially paralyzed and have difficulty moving about. Do not approach it! Call an animal control expert to evaluate it immediately. The fact that is slow and disabled may attract a dog attack, which will infect the dog.
In more suburban settings, garden supply stores sell large “Havahart” style live traps- but then you will be dealing with a live woodchuck to dispose of. Depending on the time of year, this may be more inhumane than you might consider if you think it through. Given the time of year, without enough time to establish a new territory and dig a deep enough shelter, you may be condemning it to exposure and starvation. You can always hire a local pest removal business.