Woodchucks, also known as groundhogs, live in burrows but can and do climb trees. They’re particularly fond of apples. Photographs by Corey Eilhardt
How much wood could a woodchuck chuck,
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Woodchucks don’t chuck wood, except in tongue twisters and insurance commercials.
Woodchucks (Marmota monax), also known as groundhogs or whistle pigs, are rodents, as are more than half of the world’s mammalian species. They belong to the same family as the squirrel, although woodchucks live underground and squirrels nest in trees. The English name of this common North American mammal derives from the Alogonquian wuchak.
These burrow-dwelling denizens of woodland edges and fields have been colonizing Fort Tryon Park for nearly a decade, and they have made themselves at home in the orchard below the south wall of Bonnefont garden for several years. (See a map of the animal’s range). Although they are primarily herbivorous, woodchucks do eat some grubs and insects. They subsist largely on grasses, but will also raid vegetable crops and orchards and are widely classed as agricultural pests. Since woodchucks hibernate, they need to store a considerable amount of body fat to get them through the winter.
Although I’ve been familiar with woodchucks all my life, I’d never known them to leave the ground until our summer graduate intern, Bryan Stevenson, reported seeing our resident raiding one of the apple trees early one morning. I’ve since learned that woodchucks will climb for fruit—they are especially fond of apples—or to escape predators, such as dogs and foxes.
The animals are most active early in the day or late in the afternoon. My assistant, Corey Eilhardt, who is responsible for many of the photographs on this blog, patiently waited for several days for the opportunity to catch the robber on camera. We’re not seriously concerned about our woodchuck’s depredation; the upper branches aren’t likely to support its weight and only one is apple purloined at a time. Although woodchucks are known to chew on new growth, we’ve seen no evidence of damage to our trees.