Last summer I had a full-pitched war with woodchucks over my garden. I lost. All of the fencing, rocks, repellants, scarecrows, and noise makers didn’t keep these resourceful rodents from burrowing into my large garden out in my field and consuming all of my peas, beans, sunflowers, and peppers. There were woodchuck burrows all around the field edges and well worn paths in the grass along which they lumbered to the garden to feed and over which I saw them dragging entire (flowering!) pea vines home. This year I moved the garden.
Woodchucks have so many names: groundhogs, whistle pigs, land beavers, earth pigs, grass rats. Their species name “monax” is said to be derived from a Native American name for the animal which roughly translates into “the digger.” They are between five and fifteen pounds with yellowish-brown to reddish-brown to nearly black fur. Their ears, eyes, and nose are clustered at the tops of their heads enabling them to use their excellent senses of hearing, vision, and smell to scan the area around their burrows without exposing very much of themselves. The woodchucks around my field, though, don’t seem to worry about stealth or caution unless my dog Kozmo is out and about.
The woodchuck’s burrow is the center of its home range and is the focus of much of its efforts and work. Burrows are usually found in sloped, well drained sites. They can be up to five feet deep and over thirty feet long. Typically, the burrow’s entrance leads into a steeply angled passage which quickly levels off into a longer, narrower tunnel. The den is found off of this central tunnel and contains both a nest and an excrement chamber. The nest functions as a brood chamber, sleeping chamber, and as a hibernation chamber (for the six or more months the woodchuck sleeps each year (dreaming, I am sure, of my tasty garden veggies)). The nest is lined with soft grasses for both warmth and comfort. There are also several “spy holes” and some smaller, more concealed entrances out of which the woodchuck can look across its home range or, in an emergency, rapidly exit or enter the burrow. The soil from the digging of these extra exits is carried to the dirt midden of the main entrance to minimize the visibility of these less “public” holes.
Woodchucks eat a great variety of foods in addition to garden plants. They are especially fond of clover and alfalfa. They are not known to drink water but, instead, rely on the moisture on or in their green food stuffs for fluid intake.
This summer I have been enjoying watching the woodchucks out in my field and am especially excited about seeing the fuzzy, young “chuckers” as they emerge out into their grassy world under the tutelage of their mothers. I just hope that they don’t find my new garden before I get at least a plate or two of the peas and beans.