UPDATE: Early Spring on the Way ----- Winter's Last Stand or an Early Spring Surprise in Kane County; Only the Groundhog Knows
2/2/24 UPDATE: Woodstock Willie declares an early spring during the annual Groundhog Day gathering in neighboring McHenry.
Kane County residents don't have to travel to Punxsutawney, PA to see groundhogs on Groundhog Day. Despite growth and development in Kane County, the groundhog population has remained stable over the years.
Barb McKittrick, Environmental Education Manager for the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, said groundhogs are native to Kane County and have adapted to its changing habitat. Kane County's largest squirrel, also known as the woodchuck or whistle pig, also helps the ecosystem in several ways.
“Abandoned groundhog burrows often provide homes for animals such as skunks and red foxes that in turn feed on mice and insects which can harm agricultural crops," said Barb McKittrick, Environmental Education Manager for the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. “The burrowing activities of groundhogs help to improve soil health by aerating the soil and bringing subsoil nutrients to the surface," she added. “Finally, groundhogs serve as food for predators such as coyotes, foxes, hawks, and eagles."
McKittrick said groundhogs are native to Kane County and can weigh up to 15 pounds. One interesting fact about them is that their teeth never stop growing!
“Like all rodents, groundhogs have four chisel-shaped incisors, two on the top and two on the bottom; the upper incisors continually grow and need to be whittled down by the groundhog's constant chewing."
The groundhog is one of the few species in Kane County that truly hibernates, but they can also swim and climb trees. Pet owners, however, don't need to worry about any encounters with their four-legged furry friends.
“Groundhogs are solitary, cautious animals and eat a primarily vegetarian diet, with the occasional insect or twig thrown in for good measure," McKittrick said. “Unless you keep insects as pets, your pets have little to fear from groundhogs."
McKittrick offers several tips to deter them from helping themselves to “tasty garden produce."
• Install fencing around the garden.
• Sprinkle strong-smelling substances (pepper, blood meal, hot pepper puree, garlic juice) around the edge of the garden.
• Trim grasses and plants surrounding the garden to make less suitable habitat for groundhogs.
• To keep groundhogs from moving into vacant burrows, cover any entrance holes in nearby abandoned animal tunnels.
In addition, McKittrick said groundhogs can excavate burrows up to six feet deep and 30 feet long underneath structures such as sheds, porches or front yards. She recommends fencing, rocks or pavers as a way to “impede a groundhog's ability to burrow on your property."
By taking steps to discourage groundhogs from digging on our property and munching on our gardens, we can coexist with groundhogs and respect their niche in the ecosystem."
Kane County's Neighbor to the North Home to 'Woodstock Willie'
Punxsutawney Phil isn't the only famous groundhog celebrated on Groundhog Day.
The Randall Oaks Zoo in West Dundee is home to Cedar, the weather forecasting groundhog, and the public is invited to watch his forecast for free at 7:00 a.m. in front of the zoo.
Kane County's neighbor to the north is home to Woodstock Willie, the official weather-predicting groundhog of Woodstock. Also making a special appearance there this year for the first time on Groundhog Day is WGN-TV Meteorologist Tom Skilling, who is retiring at the end of February. Of the 24 predictions Woodstock Willie has made so far, 14 were for an early spring and 10 for six more weeks of winter. Woodstock Willie also has his own official fan club on Facebook and appears at the annual Groundhog Days celebration.
Woodstock Groundhog Days Feb 1-4 features numerous events including Groundhog Trivia, a Groundhog Day bags tournament, pancake breakfast and a showing of the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, filmed in Woodstock. During the celebration, there also will be several walking tours of the filming sites of the beloved classic.
Visit www.woodstockgroundhog.org to get your Groundhog Day fix.