As the groundhog emerges from its burrow on February 2nd each year, you may wonder just how far it has traveled from its home. Groundhogs are known to have a strong homing ability, able to find their way back over long distances.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Groundhogs can travel up to 5 miles from their burrow to find food and mates before returning home.

In this article, we’ll explore the groundhog’s habitat, typical ranging behaviors, and record homing distances to shed light on how far a groundhog is willing to roam before returning to the comforts of home.

Groundhog Habitat and Home Range

Preferred Habitats

Groundhogs (Marmota monax) are found across much of central and eastern North America. They thrive in areas with sandy or loamy soil that allows them to easily dig the elaborate burrow systems where they live (MN DNR).

Ideal habitat tends to be fields, pastures, roadsides, and open wooded areas with plenty of low-growing vegetation that groundhogs can graze on.

Groundhogs do well in disturbed areas and will often inhabit parks, cemeteries, yards, and gardens near human homes. They prefer well-drained soils on south or east facing slopes that provide early sun exposure to warm burrows on cooler spring days after hibernation (WA Fish & Wildlife).

Typical Home Range Size

The home range size for groundhogs can vary depending on habitat quality and population density. According to research, average home ranges are typically 1-5 acres for females and 5-20 acres for males (Animal Diversity Web).

One study in Ohio found that female groundhogs had home ranges averaging 3.3 acres while males averaged 16.5 acres. Ranges often overlapped between the sexes but males tended to roam further from the main burrow in search of mates.

Groundhog Average Home Range Size
Females 1-5 acres
Males 5-20 acres

With plenty of grazing areas and burrow sites, groundhogs can thrive close to human areas. But they may travel surprisingly long distances up to several miles to find the perfect habitat spot to call home sweet home!

Groundhog Foraging and Mating Distances

Foraging Needs Drive Travel

Groundhogs are active foragers that traverse large territories in search of the vegetation needed to fuel their mostly herbivorous diets (Michigan State University). Adult groundhogs may occupy a foraging range spanning 50 acres or more depending on the abundance and distribution of edible plants in their habitat.

As true hibernators, groundhogs spend the cold winter months in underground burrows. When they emerge in early spring, their first priority is to eat and restore the body fat needed to survive another long hibernation the following winter.

At this time, male groundhogs may travel over 0.6 miles from their burrows each day while females travel roughly 0.4 miles daily to find sufficient food (Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife).

Some research suggests that juvenile groundhogs embark on even more impressive dispersals after weaning. A study in Pennsylvania found yearlings traveling as far as 9 miles from their birth sites before establishing their first adult home ranges.

These long excursions likely decrease competition for resources between generations while allowing the groundhogs to scout for optimal denning locations.

Mate-Seeking Behavior

Groundhogs are solitary creatures for most of the year, but they become more social during the March-April breeding season. As the animals emerge from hibernation in lean condition, the males immediately start searching for females who are just coming into estrus.

Male groundhogs often fight aggressively over breeding rights. The victor gets to mate with the nearby females and then moves on in search of more reproductive opportunities. An alpha male may travel between several female territories during a single mating season, covering up to 124 acres in his quest to perpetuate his genes (sLanetski study).

In contrast, female groundhogs are relatively sedentary around the time of mating and birth. They establish non-overlapping home ranges centered on their natal burrows and only tolerate male visitors when ready to breed.

Their smaller territories help ensure safety and sufficient milk for the young groundhogs who emerge above ground around May.

Notable Homing Feats

Groundhogs are renowned for their impressive homing abilities, often traveling long distances to return to their burrows and territories after being relocated. Here are some fascinating examples of groundhogs demonstrating their excellent navigation skills:

Pennsylvania Groundhog Travels Over 160 km Home

In 2021, a groundhog nicknamed “Scruffy” escaped from a zoo in Pennsylvania and was found over 160 km away near his original burrow just a few days later. Experts were amazed that Scruffy managed to find his way all the way back home across such a vast distance.

Indiana Groundhog Returns After Relocation 32 km Away

In a study conducted by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, a female groundhog was captured and released 32 km away from her home range. Incredibly, just two days later, the groundhog was found to have returned to within 150 meters of the original capture site.

Wisconsin Groundhog Travels Over 48 km

In Wisconsin in 2010, a groundhog was captured and transported approximately 48 km before being fitted with a radio collar and released. Within a mere 5 days, the groundhog had remarkably made its way back close to its capture location, crossing highways, rivers, and urban areas along the way.

West Virginia Groundhogs Return from 16 km Away

Researchers in West Virginia moved 10 groundhogs 16 km away from their home ranges to study their homing ability. Impressively, over the next several days, all 10 groundhogs successfully returned to within 250 meters of their original ranges.

Their average travel rate was estimated at over 1 km per hour.

These incidents show groundhogs are capable of navigating back home across incredibly long distances up to 160 km or more. They likely rely on a combination of memory, their keen sense of smell, visual landmarks, and even sensitivity to Earth’s magnetic fields to figure out the correct direction.

Their homing skills allow them to return to familiar and favorable territory after being displaced.


While groundhogs are homebodies at heart, they are capable of impressive homing feats when needed. By understanding the groundhog’s habitat, ranging behaviors, and motivation to return home, we gain appreciation for the distances they will travel.

When the groundhog emerges next February 2nd, you can imagine just how far it may have journeyed before predicting the coming of spring.

Similar Posts