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How to Identify Burrowing Animal Holes

No matter where you live in North America, you may notice animal burrows established in your yard. These can be created by a range of burrowing animals, and there are a few ways to find out which one is behind the holes in your yard.

3 Tips For Identifying Burrowing Animal Holes

Even when you come across the holes of burrowing animals in your yard, that does not mean you will know what animal made the hole. While you may have noticed a few animals in your yard, there are plenty of nocturnal animals you may not see that are just as capable of burrowing in your yard or garden. However, there are a few tips to follow to help you narrow down what kind of animal is behind the burrow.

1. Think About The Habitat


The first thing to do is think about the habitat where the burrow is, as this can reveal a lot about the animal that created it. Flat ground can attract animals like chipmunks and moles while ditches and roadside debris can make great homes for coyotes and opossums. However, if your yard is near the shoreline of a lake or creek the burrow could be from a beaver or muskrat.

2. Find Out If The Hold Ends

Some holes that you come across in your yard may not extend into burrows, so you should check to see if the hole ends or not. If it ends then it may just be a mound made by a gopher or mole, or leftover damage from animals like armadillos looking for food.

What If It Ends?

If the hole you come across in your yard does end then it is likely not an animal burrow at all. Burrowing animals will create deeper dens to shelter in. Holes or grooves in your yard may just be from animals foraging and digging for food.

Armadillo on the ground
Armadillo on the ground Myléne from Pixabay

Animals that can leave holes in your yard include;

  • Armadillos
  • Moles
  • Gophers
  • Skunks
  • Voles

3. Identify The Size

If the hole extends into a burrow then the next step in identifying the animal behind it is measuring the size. The diameter of a burrow entrance reveals a lot about the animal that is living inside.

Less than 3 Inches

There are numerous types of animals that will create burrows three inches or less in size. These include squirrels, chipmunks,  and rats. To further narrow down the small animal that created the burrows, you have to analyze the entrance and land around it.

For example, Norway rats will have a burrow entrance two to three inches big, with smoothed-down sides. The holes appear so smooth because of how often the rats go in and out.

Burrows, where kangaroo rats live, will look a little different, and be found in the dry and sandy dirt. The entrance will be about three inches wide and four inches long. Holes that are similar in size to silver dollars likely belong to chipmunks, and these small animals are likely to be spotted going in and out throughout the day.

If you live near water and come across two-inch wide holes in your yard then the burrow could easily belong to crayfish. The entrance is usually also surrounded by what resembles a tower of mud.

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Bigger Than 3 Inches

A burrow entrance bigger than three inches but smaller than ten inches will be from medium-sized animals, such as river otters, prairie dogs, or groundhog.

A woodchuck, or groundhog, burrow can often be recognized by what looks like a dirt porch, and these animals can be seen wandering around during the day. Prairie dog burrows are usually found in groups, and the dirt around the entrance will be piled around it in a small tower.

River otters will burrow in or near the water, and might not be as easily spotted as other dens. Mountain beavers will also burrow near water found in forests and woodlands, with the entrance being an average size of six to eight inches.

Bigger Than 10 Inches

Foxes Alain Audet from Pixabay

Burrows, you find in your yard that is ten inches across or bigger can belong to large mammals like coyotes, badgers, foxes, and skunks. Foxes like to find dens created by other animals, like groundhogs or badgers, and will start living in them. However, they can also dig burrows with an entrance as small as four inches.

Skunks will dig their burrows under porches and sheds when possible, but their distinct smell will not always give it away. While it is harder to come across a coyote den, the entrance will be around ten inches big.

These can be anywhere, and coyotes have even been known to create burrows in tree cavities. Badger burrows can be identified by a large entrance, and are often found near areas where squirrels and gophers are active.

Examples of Burrowing Animals

There are several different types of animals that will burrow, from large to small, and these dens can be found in a range of habitats.

squirrel nest in tree | image by John Brighenti via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Common burrowing animals include;

Why They Burrow

The most common reason animals have for burrowing is to find shelter. Nocturnal animals spend the days in their burrows, while animals active during the day will stay safe inside at night. These dens can also keep them safe from predators, and act as shelter for them to hibernate during the winter.

Burrow examples


groundhog in burrow
groundhog in burrow





You can find burrows in your yard that come from a range of different animals, from chipmunks to coyotes. The easiest way to identify what created the burrows you find is by looking at the size of the entrance, and the area around it.