Groundhog Day Observations

Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni

I don’t generally pay too much attention to Groundhog Day, but since it falls on a Saturday this year I’ll make an exception. Also, it was my mother-in-law’s birthday, and I happened to like my mother-in-law. Even more, by my calculations (Google search) February 2 won’t fall on a Saturday again until 2030, and I don’t think I’ll have much to say then. So like countless other people, I’ll await the official announcement from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania whether or not Phil saw his shadow. If he did, six more weeks of winter; if he didn’t, I need to get my lawnmower blades sharpened. Of course, just to be sure, I’ll also check on other reliable sources like Buckeye Chuck, French Creek Freddie, Smith Lake Jake, Sir Walter Wally, Dunkirk Dave, and General Beauregard Lee, all well-respected, weather-predicting whistle pigs. Multiple sources make for good reporting, and I definitely don’t want to peddle any fake news.

Although there are some people who think there’s some validity in these woodchuck weather forecasts, the facts show differently. In the last 10 years, Punxsutawney Phil hit it right 50% of the time. He missed it when he saw his shadow in 2018, and in 2017 really messed it up since February of that year was the second warmest on record and March was the ninth warmest. According to the records, Punxsutawney Phil has blown his spring weather predictions 104 times since 1887 and got it correct only 18 times. Ten years of the records were apparently lost somewhere.

Being realistic, a groundhog will never get a well-paying job at the Weather Channel, but what else should one expect? Phil, like all other self-respecting groundhogs, should be hibernating today like my groundhogs. It’s just common groundhog sense. Find a wooded or brushy area and dig below the frost line where there’s a stable temperature well above freezing during the winter months. In most areas, groundhogs hibernate from October to March or April, but further south they may hibernate as little as three months. Look at images of Phil on Groundhog Day. He isn’t even half awake. How can an animal like that predict weather?

Most farmers and cattlemen have no love for the groundhog and see it as a destructive pest. Groundhogs are voracious diggers, and their dens are considered a threat to livestock, machinery and the farmer’s general peace of mind. Not only that, but the groundhog will eat soybeans, hay, and vegetables reducing profits. I think that’s why hunters hunt groundhogs. First, they can, and it’s easier to get permission to hunt them. Second, if you want to hone your deer hunting skills, try to shoot one with a crossbow. Groundhogs are wary and look up from their feeding on an average of once every 12 seconds and spend up to 20% of their time sitting erect on their haunches, scanning their surroundings for approaching predators. If you can get within 30 yards of a wary groundhog, getting close to a deer should be no problem.

Also, anyone who has crossed paths with a groundhog know they are dangerous critters. If you can catch one, try holding it up like they do poor Phil. You’ll soon find out how nasty those claws and teeth are. If you can’t do that, try getting between a groundhog and his den. Groundhogs will avoid people like they do all predators. If confronted, however, they can be the most aggressive giant squirrel you’ve ever seen. This aggressiveness is probably another reason why hunters go after them. No one likes to be attacked by a 12-pound squirrel with an attitude. Creatures like that need to be eliminated and hung on fences as a warning to other groundhogs. I’m also wondering if there is any connection between groundhog hunting pressure and Punxsutawney Phil’s weather prediction. If we get six more weeks of winter, will hunters want to kill more groundhogs to get even? Sounds like a decent idea for a research study and maybe even a government grant.

I’m hoping you’re asking yourself if I’m being totally serious or just trying to pull your leg. Maybe a little of both. Whatever conclusions you make, just remember that this column will eventually find its way on the internet. When it does, for whatever reason, somebody might pick and choose information from it and use it as fact. That’s a dangerous approach for finding the truth. People process information selectively. We hunt for facts that support what we believe and ignore the rest. That’s part of the reason this country is so messed up right now. Read carefully, and if your attitude is challenged, check all sources. Not everything you find online is true whether you like it or not.

As far as groundhog day is concerned? Don’t buy it. Go outside by yourself on February 2, and if you see your shadow, make your own prediction then forget about it, and please don’t post it on the internet because someone will start passing it around as fact. That’s scary.