Jane Stevenson for Toronto Sun
DVP Groundhogs may sound like a fledgling Toronto sports team, but they’re actual critters who live in an seemingly inhospitable habitat.
It turns out a grassy, hilly median, between the north and southbound lanes of the Don Valley Parkway — one of Toronto’s busiest thoroughfares — is a sweet spot for a bunch of groundhogs thriving south of Eglington Ave., and north of Spanbridge Rd.
Now that spring has officially sprung, drivers stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic are seeing the furry highway oddities, also known as woodchucks, scurrying around with more frequency as they venture out of holes in that patch of land.
“As long as I can remember, we’ve gotten sporadic calls about those groundhogs,” said Nathalie Karvonen, the executive director at the Toronto Wildlife Centre (TWC).
“Quite often the calls we get are about ‘beavers’ on the Don Valley Parkway. But the beavers are always the groundhogs.”
Karvonen thinks the territorial rodents, whose diet consists of plants, nuts, seeds and insects (for nursing mothers), took up residence on the DVP “for as long as I can remember — 10 (years) for sure, maybe 20.”
She said her centre receives a handful of calls annually about the woodland creatures, but there’s no cause for alarm.
“People are just concerned. They think that they are in trouble and need to be moved.”
But the biggest puzzle to non-animal experts is why did the groundhogs, which generally hibernate between November and March, chose that bustling location to call home?
“There actually is a very good advantage to that,” said Karvonen. “There’s a natural predator on a spot like that so those groundhogs would have to watch out for aerial predators, like, for example, birds of prey. But they wouldn’t have to watch out for coyotes and foxes.”
And, more importantly, how do they survive without getting hit by cars?
“We’re assuming they have a tunnel system under the highway,” said Karvonen. “They do have a very expansive tunnel system, generally speaking, and because they’re having groundhogs in this spot for such a long time, it wouldn’t surprise me if they do have at least one series of tunnels that takes them right off the median and away from (the cars).”
And Karvonen isn’t worried about human interaction.
“Groundhogs are very nervous around people,” said Karvonen. “So if someone was to stop their car and certainly get out of their car, those groundhogs would just be right down the hole.”
Did you hear the one about the three-legged fox?
The DVP groundhogs aren’t the only wild animals taking up residence in crowded urban spaces in The Six.
“Years ago, there was a three-legged fox that we got lots of calls about,” said Nathalie Karvonen of the Toronto Wildlife Centre.
“She and her partner would actually make their den right along Hwy. 401 in Scarborough year after year. And the theory at that time, although there was the 401 there, there was again an absence of some natural predators. And probably coyotes would have been the biggies for them. They probably felt safe because of that.”
And then there’s the coyote — nicknamed Allen for obvious reasons — by the TWC.
“He likes to do a lot of hunting in the small little strip of grass where the exit ramp is onto the Allen Road from the 401,” said Karvonen.
“And he’s coming and go for sure, and he’s not going underground obviously. He’s coming and going across the highway itself,” she added. “But he actually likes to hunt in the particular area of grass and we get a lot of calls about him, of course, because people are driving by like, ‘Oh, what is that?’ Like, for him, he’s obviously learned how to avoid the traffic.”