How Much Ground Would a Woodchuck Cover?

A nuisance woodchuck being released to the wild after translocation.

We are more than halfway through our summer field season and have been quite busy so far! During winter 2011–2012, Urban Wildlife Institute staff, in collaboration with the University of Illinois and Willowbrook Wildlife Center, monitored four relocated “nuisance” woodchucks to better understand what happens to animals that are relocated.

This year, we began radiomarking new study animals in April, just after woodchucks emerge from hibernation and begin moving around to find mates. We have now radiomarked a total of 20 relocated nuisance woodchucks, and some have been quite a challenge to keep up with!

To find the radiomarked woodchucks, we use a receiver and a directional antenna. The marker on the woodchuck emits a unique signal, much like the channel for a radio station. The closer we get to the woodchuck, the louder the signal becomes.

It sounds simple enough, but the challenge lies in that these animals burrow underground, which can decrease the signal strength. Features on the landscape, like buildings, tree, and hills, can also bounce the signal around or block it altogether, making it difficult to locate. As an added challenge, we’re finding that some of the relocated woodchucks move great distances, some up to 3 miles from where they were released!

One woodchuck's movements plotted over the landscape

The yellow dots on this image represent locations of a nuisance adult male woodchuck relocated in August 2011. Some are active locations (when the woodchuck is moving between burrows). Some signify that the woodchuck is in an underground burrow. Although this woodchuck has made a few big moves, he has stayed relatively close to the release site and seems to be settling into his new home.

As we continue to monitor these woodchucks, we are excited to see if patterns emerge. Throughout the remainder of the summer, we’ll continue to radiomark and monitor nuisance woodchucks, and we’ll also monitor “resident” woodchucks for comparison. These woodchucks will not be translocated and will provide baseline information on typical movements and survival rates of woodchucks in the Chicago area.

Once we have a more complete picture of what happens to relocated woodchucks, we hope to be able to make recommendations that will improve their survival as they settle into their new homes. It’s just one of the ways Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute is leading research to minimize conflict between urban development and native wildlife.

Liza Watson Lehrer

Liza Watson Lehrer, M.S., is a research coordinator in Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute.


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