Woodchucks, also referred to as ground hogs are common throughout Illinois. They are large bodied rodents related to squirrels that can weigh as much as 10 pounds. Fur color can vary but most specimens appear grey, brown or yellowish. The legs are short and stout and the feet have large curved claws used for digging. Woodchucks have stout heads and the teeth are similar to other rodents, as they are often chisel like and yellow in color. The tail is dark brown, well furred and short. Our office receives many inquiries about beavers and often times the animal customers are wondering about turns out to be a woodchuck. Beavers have a large flat hairless tail, while a woodchuck has a short furred tail. The tail will help to identify what species you are observing.
Woodchucks inhabit areas of dry soil in open woodlands. They construct burrows near thickets, fence rows, stone walls, pastures, rocky slopes and open clearings. The burrows provide an excellent home for woodchucks. The burrow provides protection from predators, an area to raise young and a place to hibernate. The burrows may have as many as five entrances and are always located in a well drained soil. The main entrance usually descends at a moderate angle and is often surrounded by fresh soil. The burrow can descend as deep as five feet and travel 66 feet in length. Customer inquiries for woodchuck removal often involve specimens denning under front stoops, decks, sheds or in heavy vegetation on or near the resident's property.
Woodchucks are most active at sunrise and sunset but may be observed at any time during the day. Vary rarely are they active at night. They spend most of their time in their burrows resting and raising their young. They are often observed sunning themselves on posts, woodpiles, rock outcroppings etc.. Illinois woodchucks are true hibernating animals. They enter hibernation in late fall, October or November and emerge from hibernation in late February or early March. Woodchucks stay near their dens and only stray 50 to 150 feet from the entrance.
Woodchucks are herbivorous and their principal foods are clover, alfalfa and grasses.
Male and female woodchucks look similar but the males are often larger. Woodchucks reach breeding age at two years of age and breeding takes place in March and April. The gestation period is approximately 32 days and an average litter of 4 (2-6) are born in May and June and the young are often weaned by July. Young of the year disperse from the birthing den the same year they are born.
Damage from woodchucks result from their burrowing and foraging activities. Burrowing may cause damage to lawns, canal breaks, irrigation ditches and farm fields. Burrowing under stoops may result in the collapse of the stoop and the creation of a den other animals may adopt. Foraging damage includes damage to lawns, gardens and row crops. Occasionally woodchucks will also choose to gnaw on the wood trim found on garage and front doors of residential homes.
Recommended control for this species is live trapping and relocation to suitable habitat.