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Woodchucks are a rodent in the same family as squirrels. They usually weight no more than 14 pounds, and are about 25 inches long, including the tail. Their fur is a yellowish-brown to black in color. They have short legs and a bushy tail. They hibernate throughout the winter in underground burrows usually dug on land with a slight slope. Winter burrows are usually in wooded areas, whereas summer burrows are found near grassy or agricultural fields where food is available, sometimes under a barn. It is common for a woodchuck to have more than one summer burrow and make multiple entrances. Woodchucks are territorial, except during the breeding season, and will defend their burrows against intruders. They will make noise with their incisors and use short, sharp whistles to warn other woodchucks of danger. They are not fast runners, but will defend themselves when threatened without a way to escape.
Woodchucks are found statewide in a variety of habitats. They prefer meadows, pastures, crop fields, and yards that are close to a woody edge. They are common in brushy or weedy areas along fence rose or road right-of-ways.
Woodchucks breed in late February or March and usually not until the animal is close to 2 years old. Four to five young are born in April or May. A woodchuck will give birth to only one litter per year. The young will start to find their own territory when they are just a few months old.
Woodchucks eat plants such as grasses, ferns, leaves of bushes, and fruit. If they awake out of hibernation prior to new plant growth, they will eat bark and small branches. They will occasionally eat insects, eggs, and young birds, and will eat bean, peas, carrot tops, alfalfa and soybeans, if available. An adult woodchuck can consume over a pound of vegetation each day.
Prevention and Control
To prevent a woodchuck from eating your shrubs or plants in your garden, install a fence around it that is at least 3 feet high, made of heavy poultry or 2-inch mesh woven wire, and staked at a 45-degree angle. You must also bury the wire 10-12 inches below ground to prevent them from digging underneath. An electric wire fence placed 4-5 inches above ground outside the fence will also discourage climbing and digging underneath the fence.
Scarecrows can provide temporary relief, but they must be moved around regularly and in conjunction with a high amount of dog or human presence to scare them away.
Woodchucks can be live-trapped using a cage trap baited with apples. You do not need a permit to trap a woodchuck, but you must have permission from a landowner or property manager to release a woodchuck on their property.
Shooting, where legal, can also be an effective method or reducing or maintaining a low population of woodchucks. Woodchucks can be captured or killed year-round without a permit or hunting or trapping license from the DNR, and there are no limits to the number that can be taken.