Meet the Famous Groundhogs of Southwest Illinois

Groundhogs can have quite a personality. They are very inquisitive and friendly. The females are “pretty sweet,” as are the males, until they become adolescents!

Maddie the Groundhog

Maddie scampered atop a desk in the education room at the Treehouse Wildlife Center. She climbed on the phone, set an intercom buzzing, and knocked items off a shelf.

Maddie is a young groundhog, less than a year old, and one of two resident groundhogs at the Wildlife Center. She was taken in after an unlicensed rehabber was unable to keep her. The other resident groundhog is Murray. She came to Treehouse 10 years ago as an adult and has a neurological problem.

All About Groundhogs

Many people see groundhogs as a nuisance. They burrow in yards and eat out of gardens. But they have their place in the ecosystem. Their digging aerates the soil, and they scare away moles.

“We typically get four groundhogs a year, but we’ve had 12 in 2021, most as babies,” said Sam White. White recently graduated with degrees in zoology and education. He’s worked with Treehouse and the St. Louis Zoo off and on for the past five years.

White said some of the groundhogs had been hit with shovels. “They dig under foundations, so people are probably hitting them to get them out from under there.”

Groundhogs can have quite a personality. They are very inquisitive and friendly. The females are “pretty sweet,” as are the males, until they become adolescents. “Then they can develop a mean side,” White said.

Human-groundhog interactions don’t have to be negative. Whether groundhogs are happy or feeling defensive, they make the same chuffing sound. People often assume it’s a threatening noise and that’s when trouble between the two species can start. As people try to chase the groundhog away, the animal may attack in self-defense.

Since groundhogs are members of the rodent family, their teeth never stop growing. Maddie and Murray get a variety of new branches to chew on every day. The bark gives them nutrients; they are also fed a special lab diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals. This is supplemented with vegetables and fruit. Maddie is especially partial to Brussel Sprouts.

“The people who had her before were feeding her oatmeal cookies,” said White. Treehouse keeps the animals they are rehabilitating on a diet natural to them. “We don’t want to give them something they won’t be able to readily find in the wild. They’ll die of starvation searching for it.”

Does Murray See Her Shadow?

Groundhogs around the nation are under pressure every February to predict how much longer winter will last. Murray is no different.

“Murray is well-behaved and likes going out, so she has gone to the Visitor’s Center in Alton for Groundhog’s Day over the years,” said White. But because of her age, she’ll continue for just another year or two before Maddie takes over.

Rescue, Rehabilitation, Release

Treehouse has been rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing birds and animals since co-founders Adele T. Moore and Richard H. Evans, DVM, first had the idea in 1972. A normal year sees Treehouse rehabilitating 62 patients. They’ve accepted 700 birds and animals so far this year and are currently rehabilitating 300.

Once they’ve been rehabilitated, the bird or animal is released back into the wild. This isn’t always possible, such as when a bird never fully recovers from an injury, or an animal gets too used to being around people. In those cases, they become permanent residents at Treehouse. There are 62 birds and animals living at Treehouse, including hawks, foxes, a bobcat and bald eagles.

Treehouse staff love to share their passion for animals with the public. They offer on-site programs and tours; have outreach programs with ambassador animals, and host events.

About the Author

Danette Watt

Danette Watt

Danette Watt is a freelancer writer, contributing content since 1996. She has written for The Alton Telegraph, the AdVantage News, and various publications. In the past, she has done PR work for Jacoby Arts Center and was the regional editor for the Midwest edition of Community Health for several years before they ceased publication. Danette currently writes blogs for several clients at Web Design by Knight. Danette is a fitness enthusiast and certified yoga teacher.