Groundhog or Woodchuck (or Whistle-pig)?
That’s precisely what I wondered when I encountered this large member of the order Rodentia at a job site recently. Our eyes locked for several moments as we both stood perfectly still, it trying to disguise itself as an inanimate object and me trying to take a snapshot. I took a step forward and off it burrowed back into its tunnel.
Google search reveals that groundhogs and woodchucks are one and the same species (Marmota monax) and the critters also go by the names of whistle-pig (I like this one best) and land-beaver. The name whistle-pig is derived from their behavior of emitting a high-pitched whistle to alert members of their colony of impending danger. Woodchuck stems from either an Algonquin or Narragansett name for the animal, wuchak.
Whistle-pigs are the largest members of the Squirrel Family, although you can’t see that in the above photo as this is a juvenile. They dwell in areas where woodland meets open space. All summer long whistle-pigs stuff their little furry faces with wild grasses, other wild plants, tree bark, berries, and agricultural crops to build their fat reserves for the long winter hibernation. They are notoriously destructive in gardens. We have yet to see any damage in the gardens at Willowdale due to the resident woodchuck family. I imagine they are finding enough food in the surrounding forest.