What Do Groundhogs Eat?

Written by Patrick Sather
Updated: October 16, 2022
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People often associate groundhogs with Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day’s roots lie in the Christian tradition of Candlemas, a feast commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem. Some believed that a sunny Candlemas predicted a longer winter. Germans took this a step further, believing that small animals that saw their shadow on Candlemas signaled 40 more days of winter. Regardless of the tradition, many people today still view groundhogs as heralds of spring.

Yet, because of what groundhogs eat, gardeners and farmers often see them as pests. Also known as the woodchuck, the groundhog is a burrowing rodent in the marmot family Sciuridae. These cuddly-looking critters live throughout the United States and Canada and can wreak havoc on a garden or vegetable patch. Many people develop negative views of groundhogs, but few can explain why. Even fewer know that answer to the question “what do groundhogs eat?”

In order to dispel negative views of groundhogs, it’s important to understand what they eat. After all, their burrowing behavior is merely a product of their desire to find food and shelter. Today, we’ll discuss what groundhogs like to eat, as well as how they find food. We’ll also discuss what they eat in the wild and in captivity, and what baby groundhogs eat. That way, if a groundhog is in your garden, you’ll understand why and learn how you can coexist with this furry critter. With that said, let’s dig into the topic of “what do groundhogs eat.” 

What Do Groundhogs Like to Eat?

What Do Groundhogs Eat
Groundhogs eat bark, vegetation, insects, and fruit.

A-Z-Animals.com

Like most other rodents, groundhogs are primarily herbivorous, meaning they eat mostly plant matter. Groundhogs eat a wide variety of vegetation, most of which are available in the wild. However, they also like to eat cultivated crops, which can lead them to incur the wrath of farmers and gardeners. While vegetables, grasses, and berries make up the bulk of a groundhog’s diet, they will eat other foods. For example, they will also eat insects, mollusks, and even small birds. That said, they aren’t generally considered omnivorous, as they eat these other foods only rarely. Groundhogs eat plants that can be found easily in the environment. To help narrow down this extensive list, we’ve identified 10 foods that groundhogs most like to eat. The foods groundhogs like most include:

  • Grasses
  • Vegetables
  • Clover
  • Alfalfa
  • Leaves
  • Berries
  • Grubs
  • Insects
  • Snails
  • Bark 

How Do Groundhogs Forage For Food? 

groundhog coming out of burrow in the snow
Groundhogs can hear a person’s footsteps from nearly 500 yards away.

iStock.com/BrianEKushner

Groundhogs rely on their keen senses to help them survive in the wild and locate food. In particular, a groundhog most relies on its sense of sight, smell, and hearing. That said, hearing is most used to detect predators, rather than finding food. In fact, reports estimate that they can hear foodprints from over 500 yards away. Groundhogs possess exceptional vision and can spot moving objects from far away. Upon emerging from their burrows, groundhogs will use eyes and noses to locate food. Their noses are quite sensitive, and help them to locate ripe vegetables. However, their sensitivity is also their downfall, as many people put out odorous substances that groundhogs find repellant. Meanwhile, groundhogs rely less on taste and touch to help them find food. 

On average, the range of a groundhog is only around 2-3 acres. Inside that range, groundhogs spend most of their time either underground resting or burrowing, or topside foraging. Groundhogs tend to construct their burrows in areas where food is plentiful and readily available. This means they will often dig under fences or other barriers to get at the plants on the other side. They become most active during the day, but usually, only emerge to forage in the morning or evening. After foraging, groundhogs may bring extra food back to their dens. Their desire to bring food back to their burrows has to do with their instinct to store food for the winter. 

What Do Groundhogs Eat in the Wild?

animals unique to North America: groundhog
The most well-known groundhog is Punxsutawney Phil.

iStock.com/mirecca

Groundhogs eat a wide variety of plants that grow within their territory. Furthermore, their diet can change with the seasons, and also if cultivated crops are growing nearby. Some of a groundhog’s favorite foods include plants like dandelions, sorrel, clover, and alfalfa. These leafy greens make up the bulk of a wild groundhog’s diet and are readily available in most environments. Along with grasses, wild groundhogs will also eat fruits such as berries, apples, pears, and cherries. If a groundhog’s burrow is near to a garden or farm, they may dine on any cultivated vegetables growing there. Some of their favorite vegetables to munch on include lettuce, corn, carrots, peas, beans, squash, and celery. Groundhogs will also eat insects such as grasshoppers and crickets, as well as snails and grubs. On rare occasions, they will eat baby birds, especially if they have fallen from a nearby nest. 

What Do Captive Groundhogs Eat?

groundhog coming out of burrow
Groundhogs don’t make great pets due to their aggressive nature.

iStock.com/undefined undefined

Occasionally, people will keep groundhogs as pets, but this happens rarely due to their aggressive nature. That said, some groundhogs grow up in captivity for one reason or another. In captivity, a groundhog will eat many of the same foods as a wild groundhog. Greens and grasses will make up the bulk of its diet, including lettuce, alfalfa, clover, sorrel dandelions, and leaves. It will also eat vegetables such as carrots, celery, peas, beans, and corn. They also enjoy fruits such as berries, apples, pears, and cherries. On occasion, they will also eat nuts, although these should make up a smaller portion of a captive groundhogs diet. The same goes for insects, as they don’t feature prominently in the diet of wild groundhogs. Baby captive groundhogs should be fed a warmed infant formula solution, such as ebsilac powder. Always consult an expert before feeding new foods to a groundhog. 

What Do Baby Groundhogs Eat?

groundhog standing on top of burrow
Baby groundhogs live with their mothers until they’re around 2 months old.

iStock.com/gilles_oster

Also known as pups or kits, baby groundhogs are born blind and almost completely hairless. They only measure around 4 inches long and weigh around 1 ounce. After birth, baby groundhogs will spend around 2 months with their mother before they venture out on their own. During the first three weeks of life, they subsist solely on their mother’s milk. However, once they’re old enough, they will also begin to eat soft flowers and grasses. By the time they leave their mothers, they can eat the same foods as adult groundhogs. Captive baby groundhogs typically live on a diet of ebsilac powder until their old enough to tolerate other foods. From there, common foods include mashed fruits like bananas or apples, as well as fresh greens. Before introducing new food to a baby groundhog, make sure to consult a veterinarian or local expert. 

groundhog coming out of burrow
groundhog coming out of burrow
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