A cacophony of whistles and squeals drew me from the computer to my office window. A large, gray-brown fluffball rolled and tumbled in the dormant garden. It took me a moment to recognize it as a noisy pair of groundhogs, perhaps in the act of courtship or mating.
Groundhogs (aka woodchucks, of the squirrel family) are territorial and mostly solitary. From spring to fall we watch our resident groundhog Chuck dine on coneflower blossoms or stand tall to survey his domain. After three months of hibernation in his burrow, he comes out about now for his one semi-social season of the year.
In a practice unique to groundhogs, the male emerges early to check his territory for the burrows of potential mates. He visits each female in turn for an overnight of cuddles and bonding, then hibernates another month before reappearing to mate with them all for real. His only role in raising the pups is to guard his territory against intruders. Where last week’s fluffball fit into this cycle is a mystery to me.
Even February, my most difficult month, offers unexpected delights for the taking. My challenge is to notice more of them, without needing whistles and squeals to force them on my attention.
Sources: National Wildlife Federation and Wildlife Animal Control.
Image: Groundhog male, photo by Susan Sam, Michigan.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.