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Woodchucks

-by Dennis M. Ferraro Extension Educator Douglas/Sarpy Extension Unit

Could chuck wood, but choose to dine on grasses, alfalfa and green vegetables. Woodchucks are found throughout the eastern one-fourth of Nebraska. This short-legged, heavy-bodied animal is closely related to the squirrel. Woodchucks are brownish with a grizzled appearance, reaching a length of 16-20 inches and an average weight of 7-10 pounds. They have short, wide heads, very small ears and a short-furred tail.

Woodchucks typically live in burrows at the forest edge rather than in open grasslands. They prefer to dig their holes in slopes or banks. Woodchuck burrows normally have two entrances, a main hole, identified by a large accumulation of soil around it (see figure), and a second entrance, often hidden by vegetation. Holes and dirt mounds can be hazardous for horses, motorcycles and farm equipment. Woodchucks sun themselves near the main entrance of their burrow and hunt for their food in daylight, wandering 100 to 200 feet away from their homes.

Woodchucks mainly feed on native grasses and forbs, cultivated alfalfa and clover. In more urbanized locations, these animals will eat sweet corn, beans, root crops and peas. Feeding woodchucks can clear a small urban garden in less than a week. Gardens close to wooded or sheltered areas are more likely to be attacked than a small garden in an open area.

Fencing can help keep woodchucks off property, but the fence must be strong, about 4 feet tall and buried to a depth of at least 1 foot. Trapping is an alternative, but it can be difficult. Use of a live trap with apples, fresh peas or carrots as bait.

For best results, set the trap close to the burrows. There are no registered poison baits for wood chuck control. Certified pesticide applicators may use poisonous gases to control burrowing rodents including woodchucks. Before using fumigants, pest control operators should locate both burrow entrances, seal the secondary hole and partially close the main entrance. Allow air to move inward into the burrow, then completely seal the entrances.