If you find a baby woodchuck …

A baby groundhog has the best chance of survival when cared for by its mother.

Two young woodchucks emerge from their den under a large rock

Woodchucks, or groundhogs, are a large species of ground squirrel found commonly throughout Virginia. Woodchucks mate in March, just after emerging from their winter hibernation den. Females give birth in April to an average of 4-6 offspring; the family lives underground in a summer den, typically in fields or grasslands. Woodchuck burrows are intricate systems that can have up to 11 entrances and measure up to 45 feet.

As rodents, baby groundhogs develop very quickly. At just four weeks, the babies are fully furred and have well-developed teeth. One to two weeks later, the young are mobile enough to play and forage around the den entrance.

At 10-12 weeks of age, baby woodchucks are independent from the mother. They will often stay in family groups until dispersing in late summer. For more information on navigating conflicts with woodchucks, visit our Groundhogs (Woodchucks) as Neighbors page.

If you find a baby Woodchuck, do any of the following apply?

  • The baby has flies surrounding it or is covered in fly eggs. These usually look like very tiny grains of rice around the face and under the tail.
  • The baby has an obvious injury or deformity.
  • The baby is crying constantly, for several hours at a time.
  • The baby was in a dog or cat's mouth, even if no injuries were seen.
  • The baby is cold, wet, slow-moving, or not defensive when approached.
  • A very tiny baby, with its eyes still closed and limited mobility, has been seen outside the den for multiple hours without an adult present.
  • It is known with absolute certainty that the mother is deceased or has been illegally relocated.

If YES, the groundhog baby is likely injured or orphaned. Contact your nearest permitted wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian for treatment. Do not give the baby food or water! 

If NO, appropriate attempts to reunite the baby with its mother should be made. The care of a wildlife rehabilitator will never compare to that of a wild mother. Determine the approximate age of the young woodchuck. 

Avoid handling woodchucks directly; if you must pick up a baby woodchuck to contain it, always wear gloves, even with very young kits. Woodchucks are high-risk rabies species in Virginia; health departments will need to test groundhogs – even very young kits – for rabies if exposure occurs. 

Is the baby 6-8 inches long, fully furred, mobile on its feet, and avoiding people?

A young woodchuck is held in a gloved hand in the Center's ICU. If YES, baby woodchucks are weaned from their mother’s milk between 5- 6 weeks of age. After weaning, they emerge from their burrow to forage on their own. As long as the baby is fully mobile and appropriately avoids people, no intervention is necessary. The baby should return to its den on its own.

If NO, young woodchucks that are smaller than 6 to 8 inches long are very rarely found outside of the den unless the burrow has been disturbed or the baby is truly orphaned.  If a known disturbance has occurred (e.g. construction is taking place, a dog has dug up a den entrance) use leather gloves to pick up the baby and place it in an open shoebox (without the lid) and add a supplemental heat source that is not in direct contact with the young. Woodchucks are very attentive to their young and patrol their territory regularly. If the mother has not retrieved the baby after one to three hours during the day, place the lid over the shoe box and contact a permitted wildlife rehabilitator near you.

If no known or suspected disturbance to the den has been noted, contact a permitted wildlife rehabilitator for further advice.

Each animal's nutritional, housing, and handling requirements are very specific and must be met if they have any chance of survival. Inappropriate food or feeding techniques can lead to sickness or death. Raising a wild mammal in captivity is illegal unless you have a state permit. For information on how you can become a permitted wildlife rehabilitator, visit our Wildlife Care Academy and contact the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources or your state's wildlife agency.