In my bird watching pursuits I often encounter and observe other animals and insects. One mammal that I happen to have frequent encounters with is the chipmunk. Like squirrels, they are attracted to my feeders and they come from all around the block to collect seeds in my yard. Unlike squirrels they give off a series of chirps or chips that can be mistaken for birds. You can watch a video with several of these calls at, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/group/chipmunks/ scroll down to about halfway and look for WATCH: A Short Guide to Chipmunk Noises.
Despite encyclopedia Britannica’s description of them as “basically pygmy squirrels,”you will know a Chipmunk from a Squirrel instantly. Besides being much smaller in body than a squirrel and significantly less fluffy of tail, the chipmunk is chestnut brown, with two groups of stripes, black-white-black, down its back (left and right).
Unfortunately for squirrels, Chipmunks have been classified by society as the cute rodent. And I will say, they have been less disruptive to my feeders than the squirrels. Chipmunks in my yard tend to stick to the ground, gathering what seeds have fallen from the feeders. Only on occasion have I found a chipmunk actually up the feeder pole, which is surprising considering they are very good and quick climbers.
I think it is a combination of their large soulful and innocent black eyes, along with their pudgy overstuffed cheeks that make us associate them with all things cute and childlike. Like a greedy child at the candy store, if they feel safe, they will sit and rearrange the contents of their cheeks until they can maximize capacity. Perhaps we must also factor in the influence of Chip, Dale, Alvin and his brothers into our culture’s fondness for Chipmunks.
Most Chipmunks in the wild will live for about two or three years. There are twenty-four species of Chipmunk in North America, but if you live in the Northeast, at a lower altitude, you are probably coming face to face with the Eastern Chipmunk, the largest of the species. A daytime mammal, Chipmunks spend all of their time gathering and storing food for the winter months. They have a varied diet which includes not only nuts, berries, fruit and grain, but also insects, tender plants and fungi. They have gotten into my garden more than once and chewed up my young plants and I think, though I haven’t seen them in action, they sometimes take a bite out of my green cherry tomatoes.
Understanding the mad dash for winter provisions makes the life of a Chipmunk all the more transparent. Chipmunks hibernate through the winter. However, they don’t always sleep straight through and, more importantly, unlike bears, they can’t store fat to live off of in their sleep. Instead they need to have ready food available in their winter hideaway for a mid-winter snack.
Chipmunks only stop collecting winter provisions long enough to procreate. The female Chipmunk is pregnant for about a month before she gives birth to anywhere between two and eight babies. The babies are only with the parents for two months before they are sent packing, so that they can gather their own winter cache. Chipmunks can have two broods a year, usually in the spring (April or May) and summer (July or August).
Besides mating and baby rearing, Chipmunks usually hang solo and they also tend to be fairly territorial. I will sometimes have two or three gather around my feeder at one time, but they avoid each other and once they have stuffed their pouches, off they go, beating the same path they took to the feeder. They like cover for their burrows and nests and you will often find them living near bushes, stumps, woodpiles, rock walls or, in more populated areas, under porches, plantings or ever sidewalks. In my yard, one definitely lives under the garage and another lives in the rock wall that represents the property line. At least one tunnels in my garden…I think he may be akin to Charles Bronson’s character in The Great Escape, because he has undermined almost my whole raised bed.
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