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Groundhogs (aka Woodchucks)


Groundhogs and woodchucks are the same species.  They are just called by both names.  Groundhogs in Missouri and Illinois live just about everywhere.  They often are in medians of highways, at highway exit ramps, in the grassy areas around shopping plazas, and people just don’t notice them.  They live underground and eat mostly grasses, clover, dandelions, and other weeds and vegetation.  They are much like goats when it comes to being natural ‘grass mowers’.  There are many property owners who love having groundhogs on their land because they control weed populations, they keep the grass somewhat mowed, and they till and aerate the soil for the next season.  They keep to themselves for the most part, and go to ground when people, pets, and yard workers approach.  The most common calls we get concerning woodchucks are citizens concerned about the damage a groundhog may be causing by burrowing under a shed, driveway, or patio.

There’s a groundhog living under my porch/shed/driveway/patio.

Groundhogs and skunks both like to burrow under cement slabs like driveways, patios, and shed foundations.  They also like the underside of a porch, set of wooden or concrete stairs, or anything flat to the ground that will help conceal the front door to their home.  As worrisome as it may seem, they do not cause much damage in their burrowing.  They tend to burrow in and leave the foundation and cement structure alone and undamaged.  Often, the groundhog you are seeing on your property is actually a mother with children still in the burrow.  If so, the children will be present for about 30-45 days, and this is the time to keep pets and children away from the burrow site.  Groundhog mother can be quite defensive when their children are in danger.  The other time that you may notice groundhogs more is late October – December when they are getting quite large and obese in preparation for the long winter hibernation they endure.  If you are seeing a groundhog in late fall, if at all possible please try to be tolerant of him, knowing that he will be going to ground soon anywhere and won’t bother you much at all.  If you truly wish to relocate the animal, it would be better to do so when he/she comes up from hibernation.  The food source he/she is using prior to hibernation is essential to her survival, and relocating her may impede her chances of making it through winter.

In some cases used cat litter with cat urine poured anywhere near the groundhog’s hole/burrow is very effective in deterring groundhog families from making their home right next to yours.  You can also try blood meal around your home or garden, and silver mylar helium balloons often work at scaring a groundhog away from whatever area you wish to deter them from visiting.  Eventually though, most groundhogs will grow used to these deterrent methods,  For the long term, tolerance and patience is the best way to handle groundhog conflicts.

Traps can be rented from your local humane society or wildlife rehab center, and if necessary you can attempt to trap and relocate a groundhog.  Once trapped, you will have to contact your local department of conservation to find out where you can legally release the animal.  Remember though – wildlife centers, conservation departments, and animal control groups will not ASSIST you in relocating this animal, or any other wildlife.  It will be your responsibility to incur the cost of renting a trap, the trouble of setting and baiting the trap, and driving the live animal from where you trapped it to wherever it is that you’re allowed to relocate it.

There is a groundhog circling around, acting drunk, and I think he might have rabies.

It is very rare for rodents to carry the rabies virus, however, it is possible.  You should always use extreme caution near wild animals, and keep a close eye on your pets when wildlife contact is possible,  Also, your pets should ALWAYS be current on their rabies vaccinations.  Groundhogs are also susceptible to the neurological effects of the roundworm parasite.  Roundworm infections are often the cause of groundhogs being hit by cars.  Considering the fact that groundhogs grow up and live so close to major roadways their whole life they are very accustomed to the danger of cars and traffic.  When a groundhog gets hit by a car it is highly probable that something else was going on with that animal to make them risk going into a roadway.  If you believe that you are witnessing a neurologically impaired groundhog, please call the hotline @ 1-855-WILD-HELP to be directed to the nearest wildlife rehab center that can assist.

I have a groundhog that is eating and destroying my garden!

Simple chicken wire fencing is usually 100% effective in deterring groundhogs from entering your garden.  They do not climb very well but they can dig under fencing.  Whatever fencing you use should be partially placed under the ground so that they groundhog cannot dig under the fencing material.  You can also place motion activated sprinklers in the garden area in order to deter them from approaching the garden area.

I found a nest of baby groundhogs and Mom is not around.

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Usually groundhogs breed in their second year, but a small proportion may breed in their first. The breeding season extends from early March to mid- or late April, after hibernation. A mated pair remains in the same den throughout the 31–32 day gestation period. As birth of the young approaches in April or May, the male leaves the den. One litter is produced annually, usually containing 2–6 blind, hairless and helpless young. Young groundhogs are weaned and ready to seek their own dens at five to six weeks of age.  Kids will be kids however, and occasionally wander from the nest site when Mom is away getting groceries.  If you believe that you see a groundhog baby all alone, watch from a distance for a while before assuming that Mom is no longer caring for him.  If you can find a burrow nearby that you believe the groundhogs maybe living in, try placing or coercing baby to go closer to the hole and hopefully reunite with Mom.  If none of the above works, give us a call at the hotline for further instruction.  If the baby you see is bleeding, covered in bugs, flies, or out in the open acting lethargic, please skip all of the above steps and immediately call the hotline @ 1-855-WILD-HELP.

… A Word about Poison …

We at the Wildlife Hotline are strong opponents to poisoning wildlife.  First off, it is not a legal way to handle wildlife conflicts.  Secondly, poison never ends up only affecting the animal that you intended to poison.  These animals are part of the circle of life, and if poisoned a predator comes along and eats the dead animal which then kills the predator, which gets picked apart by birds, which then kills the birds, then the birds are found by a domestic cat and kills the cat.  It just isn’t simple issue.  Poison has proven to be a far too dangerous way to handle wildlife conflicts.  Before you decide to use poison to handle your wildlife conflict please read our ‘Poison Risks & Consequences’ page to learn more about this issue.

 If you are experiencing a conflict with groundhogs/woodchucks in your area, and are in need of assistance, please call the wildlife hotline @ 1-855-WILD-HELP to discuss with a wildlife specialist.