Pigs don't fly, but some do climb trees in Pennsylvania

Brian Whipkey
Pennsylvania Outdoor Columnist

The groundhog – woodchuck, whistle pig or whatever you call this furry critter –  has an interesting life.

Beyond forecasting the end of winter in Punxsutawney every Feb. 2, groundhogs are known for feeding in fields, along roads and burrowing underground. But you may be surprised to know they also spend time in trees.

Woodchucks can grow up to 15 pounds, but they are still nimble enough to enjoy leaves in trees. They can also dodge a hungry coyote or dog by scampering up a tree trunk.

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A woodchuck "groundhog" sits in a tree Oct. 21 in Somerset County.

On a recent hike through the woods to check my trail cameras, I was startled by a groundhog as it bounded away and climbed a small tree. Fortunately for me, he rested in a spot that was good for my camera angle.

It was fun watching him try to hide from me. Being that I was fairly off the beaten path, I was probably the first human it  ever encountered.

After taking a few photos, I walked away to let him continue binging on leaves and other plants in anticipation of his long winter's hibernation.

Brian Whipkey, Pennsylvania Outdoor columnist

It wasn't my first encounter with a whistle pig in a tree. I was surprised more than a year ago when one my trail cameras on a different farm captured an image of a groundhog a few feet off the ground in a tree. It looked as if he needed a vantage point to check out the view.

A groundhog checks out the view from a tree in this trail camera image record Aug. 8, 2020, in Somerset County.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission's webpage on woodchucks describes the rodents as having good balance and having been seen walking on wooden fence rails. The page notes they climb and descend trees head first.

Jeannine Fleegle, wildlife biologist with the agency, said she was surprised the first time she saw a groundhog in a tree.

"We're used to seeing them on the ground and under the ground, but they are related to other critters that climb trees like squirrels and chipmunks and everything else that they can scurry up trees as well," she said.  "They're just a little bigger."

Brian Whipkey is the outdoor columnist for USA Today Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at bwhipkey@gannett.com and sign up for our weekly Outdoors Newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name.