Groundhog Day goes back farther than most Americans probably think. The day has its roots in the pagan celebration Imbolc, which eventually became the Candlemas feast in Christianity. When Christian pilgrims began to immigrate to the United States, a large German population settled in Pennsylvania and brought their own version of the tradition along with them. They believed if the day were sunny, the small woodland animals would see their shadows. A shadow meant another 40 days of cold weather. Soon, the groundhog became the spokesperson for the weather prediction. Groundhog Day falls on February 2nd every year.
Groundhogs vs. Rock Chucks
Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are a type of large squirrel that lives in burrows. Part of the marmot family, groundhogs live mostly in the Northeast and the Midwest while their cousin, the yellow-bellied marmot, lives in the Northwest and Canada. Here at Tetherow, we are surrounded by yellow-bellied marmots which Pacific Northwesterners endearingly call rock chucks. Our local furry friends are distinguishable from groundhogs by their yellow underbellies and gray fur. Their markings help them blend into the rocks around them. Rock chucks also live in colonies of up to 20 while groundhogs often live a more solitary life.
Rock chucks, not groundhogs, can be seen scurrying among boulders all around Bend. They are shy creatures and if they feel like they are in danger, will whistle to their fellow chucks as a warning which gave them another nickname: whistlepigs. They are primarily herbivores and love to eat grass, so make sure to keep a keen eye on the Tetherow golf course for yellow-bellied marmots looking for a snack. While they are content with eating greens, rock chucks also eat insects and bird eggs if they come across them on the ground.
Central Oregonians love the rock chuck (they even have a local Facebook fan page), and come February 2, watch to see if it has a shadow when it comes out of its burrow after hibernating. Watching the rock chuck is the Oregonian version of watching a groundhog. Because of the large amount of them seen here at Tetherow, they are unofficially but affectionately known as the Tetherow mascot. Happy (almost) Groundhog (Rock Chuck) Day!