Sunday, June 15, 2014

Woodchucks at Home and at Large

Currently around our reforestation fields and even near the beaver ponds, woodchucks have been seen alone or with young in tow. The species is often vilified by those who don't appreciate their taste for backyard cultivars and their penchant for excavating holes under outbuildings or porches.  For many years now there have been woodchucks in residence in my yard and we've learned to tolerate their munching and digging habits. For us it seems an equitable price to pay to be able to observe them.
Mother Woodchuck with 2 kits in tow
Many times in this blog I've lauded the habitat making ability of beavers. I've described how beavers are capable of creating opportunities for many other species to live in an area. Woodchucks also help other species. The tunnel openings they create are utilized by many other animals that may commandeer an entrance-way as a safe place to spend a few nights; or they may use it as a den to raise their own families. Foxes often do this. It certainly saves them a lot of digging, which is a task the woodchuck is much better suited to by nature. Would the foxes and woodchucks coexist? No. Although - believe it or not, a mother woodchuck is capable of chasing off a hungry fox. However, her young would be in definite jeopardy. Typically if a fox makes her den at the opening of a woodchuck hole, that entrance-way is abandoned by the woodchucks. Fortunately the woodchuck's tunnel system is extensive and may stretch for hundreds of feet under fields and forests. There will surely be other access points that will not have predators residing in them.
Another mother woodchuck with her kit at a popular hillside tunnel entrance
Following mom down the hillside
Time to go home now
Starting to explore on their own
Venturing far away from mother and the den
When something startles the kits, they all run back home

Another important task that woodchucks perform in the environment is the turning over of soil. Over the course of years, woodchucks at the nature preserve have turned over hundreds of tons of soil! This is especially important in former agricultural fields which have been robbed of their nutrients by many years of farming and by erosion.  After the woodchucks do their work, the land will be much more capable of supporting the many native trees that we've planted. 

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Gray Foxes often use the entrances of woodchuck holes for their dens

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