Naturewatch: Woodchucks could be seeking salt on road


Q:Several weeks ago, I wrote you about my resident woodchuck, who was seen with her head down on a nearby gravel and dirt road. Since woodchucks are (I think) herbivorous, I had no idea what she was doing. Neither did you.

Well, anyway, she gave birth to five seemingly healthy babies who appeared from under my shed every day, but were easily spooked at the slightest movement from my kitchen window. Typical behavior of prey animals.

Just recently, I was driving away from my house and there, in the middle of the road, were the five young ones huddled together facing inward as though they were in a football huddle. As my car approached, they scampered away, never to be seen again.

I know this is far-fetched, but I'm wondering if this bizarre behavior was, in some way, making olfactory contact before venturing out on their own.

-- M.S., Otis

A:I don't suspect it was "olfactory" and it never occurred to me that she, and eventually, the young ones may be after salt or some other nutrient. Having no good answer, I checked with a biologist friend, who offered, "That's a new one on me. I would have to suspect that there was some nutrient, trace element or vitamin in the road that the animals were licking or eating. Maybe nothing but road salt or maybe someone spilled something there they simply found irresistible. As rodents (and all herbivores) need and often crave salt, since they don't get much in their diet as do predators. I suspect it was just salt they were after. Deer and porcupines (and butterflies!) do the same thing. That's my best guess."

Q:Why have the hummingbirds stopped coming to our feeder? All during May one or two came several times a day, and then during most of June, not a single one. Did the adverse weather kill them?

-- Maria, Great Barrington

A:I suspect that these tiny birds are staying closer to home while nesting. After the young have fledged, about now, they should return. On the other hand, weather does play a role in their breeding success. Being hardy birds, they may well have survived, but their young may not have.


The Berkshire Natural Resources Council is offering (free) guided walks that may be of interest. I thoroughly enjoyed one earlier this season to Mahanna Cobble Trail in Pittsfield ably led by Amanda Aletoile, who I suspect will lead these. That hike will be featured in an upcoming Berkshires Week.

Basin Pond, Lee, Thursday at 10 a.m. -- Hike the loop at Basin Pond. Start with an easy ramble that rewards you with historic dam ruins and a fine view of the pond.

Stevens Glen, Richmond, Saturday, July 20, at 11 a.m. -- Join us for a family-friendly hike that includes a gentle path through cool woods over several bridges and a stop with a terrific waterfall view.

Bob's Way, Monterey, Wednesday, July 24, at 10 a.m. -- Enjoy varied landscapes, including a gorgeous wetland and a mountain view, as we follow the loops of the beautiful Bob's Way trails.

Details: Berkshire Natural Resources Council, 20 Bank Row, Pittsfield, MA 01201; (413) 499 0596, or

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email


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