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Evidence of Chipmunk Intrusion

Evidence of chipmunks in your yard or garden may be as simple as watching them run through your yard or listening to them "chip, chip, chip" at you if you've gotten too close. Other signs are available to let you know if chipmunk intrusion is occurring and can alert you to the presence of these cute little ground creatures. The following list shows several different methods you can use to determine if chipmunks have chosen your yard or gardens as their home.

Chipmunk Evidence of Intrusion-Burrow Holes

Evidence of chipmunks in your yard and garden could include burrow holes.  Chipmunks tend to burrow under patios, driveways, stairs, retention walls, or foundations causing problems with stability. Despite the fact that the burrows can be quite extensive on the inside, they can be hard to spot on the outside.  Burrow openings themselves are small, only about two (2) inches in diameter, and the chipmunks do not leave piles of dirt nearby.  They actually carry the dirt away in their cheek pouches as they build to keep the holes inconspicuous. They are also careful to construct entrance holes near rocks or tree stumps and cover them up with foliage.  In the winter, during hibernation, chipmunks will plug the holes with dirt and stones.

Chipmunk Evidence of Intrusion-Birdfeeder Sightings

Chipmunks love seeds!  If you have a bird feeder keep an eye out for chipmunks feasting on the seed as well as birds.  They will not be able to resist the temptation of bird feeders in the yard.

Chipmunk Evidence of Intrusion-Scat

Chipmunk scat is a round pellet type excrement can vary from 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch in size and found in very small piles of 4 -6.

 

Chipmunk Evidence of Intrusion-Tracks

Chipmunks are "bounding" animals.  They spring forward then release allowing for all four (4) feet to land in the same area and repeat,which according to experts, leaves cluster prints in separated groups. Chipmunk prints may sometimes show claw marks and sometimes do not. Their front feet are approximately 1/2 inch wide with their back feet slightly larger.

Chipmunks may not be eating your plants, but in they may be living underneath them and in the process of building their den may uproot some of your prized foliage.  If you see several shallow rooted plants uprooted in a row, it could indicate a chipmunk has come to stay.Chipmunk Evidence of Intrusion-Uprooted Plants

Chipmunk Evidence of Intrusion-Disappearing Spring Flowering Bulbs

Chipmunks love spring flowering bulbs.  Ever wonder what happened to those mail order tulip bulbs you planted last fall?  Chances are if you are missing some spring flowering bulbs a chipmunk grabbed them up right after you planted them and used them as winter food when they wake periodically to eat during hibernation.

Chipmunk Evidence of Intrusion-Melon Damage

Chipmunks have been known to visit the vegetable and fruit garden and sample watermelons once in a while.  Look for small gnawing marks made by their long, sharp incisors.

As you can see, there are several ways to determine if you have evidence of chipmunk intrusion.

Chipmunks - Interesting Facts

  • Chipmunks are curious! When you are putting out bulbs or new transplants in an area already part of the chipmunks territory he may feel his territory has been invaded and will dig up the plants!          
  • A chipmunk may store up to 8 lbs. of food in its burrows.  The chipmunks mouth is small, but its cheeks can expand almost to the size of its' head.
  • These small mammals have a life span of about 2 to 3 years in the wild.
  • Chipmunks will have two (2) food storage areas, one main food cache and one emergency stash in case they are robbed!
  • Some burrows have been found with over 30,000 nuts!
  • Chipmunks are a member of the Rodent family, which in latin means "gnawing". 
  • To make sure the chipmunks have the tools that it needs to gnaw at seed pods, acorns, etc. their incisors are continuously growing!
  • Chipmunks have been known to make fast friends with humans and can even be coaxed into eating out of your hand!
  • The Eastern Chipmunk mates twice a year-once in spring and once in the fall!
  • The burrows of chipmunks contain a soft nest made of grasses, chopped leaves and fluffy flower seeds.
  • Most Chipmunks look for partners twice per year, while some look year round.
  • Chipmunk gestation lasts approximately 31 days.
  • Three (3) to five (5) chipmunks are born at one (1) time.
  • Baby chipmunks are fully grown at three (3) months of age at which time they leave home to live on their own.

Chipmunk Diet

Chipmunks naturally feed on flower bulbs, fruit, seeds, and seedlings. In your yard and garden this can translate into perennial roots, prized flowering bulbs and your strawberry patch! Chipmunks generally gather food on the ground in areas with underbrush, rocks, and logs, where they can hide from predators, but they regularly climb trees to get to the fruits and nuts that you may have been waiting patiently to harvest at the peak of freshness!

Chipmunk Diet-Food

Chipmunks, according to scientists, are omnivorous.  This means that they will eat both vegetation and animal matter.  They are partial to many of the nuts provided by native North American deciduous trees including acorns and beechnuts.  They will eat seeds and berries of native woody plants including ragweed, clover and buckwheat.  Chipmunks have been known to get into the watermelon and squash patch, snatch apples that have fallen to the ground as well as sunflower seeds not scooped up by the birds. In fact, chipmunks can become a regular patron at birdfeeders eating seed placed on the ground or that has fallen to the ground by over zealous birds.  Mushrooms are also popular fare among all chipmunk species.  Yellow-Pine chipmunks, common in the northwest US and Southwest Canada, have been found to have over 68,000 food items in their burrows!

As far as animal matter, these little mammals may eat baby songbirds and eggs, small mice, worms, and star-nosed moles.  Chipmunks may partake in amphibians such as frogs and salamanders and some insects, too.

With regard to your yard and landscaping the chipmunk's dietary preferences may mean trouble for your spring flowering bulbs and melon patch.  Not to mention any perennials that have been uprooted by the shallow tunnels made by the chipmunks for nesting and food storage.

Chipmunk Diet-Physical Attribute

The most universally recognizable feature of the chipmunk is, no doubt, their large, round cheeks.  These cheeks play a major role in assisting this little stripped animal in gathering and storing food.  The specialized cheek pouches can be the size of the chipmunk's head when full! Storing food for the chipmunk diet is especially important for this little stripped mammal because unlike many hibernating mammals, chipmunks do not physically store fat.  That means that they need to awaken periodically during the winter months to eat the food that they stored in their dens during fall foraging.

Specialized incisors of the chipmunk also play an important role in the chipmunk diet.  They have a pair of continuously growing large incisors on the upper jaw and one incisor on the lower jaw.  These teeth are very sharp and angled forward to remove seeds from pods.  Once removed the seeds are repositioned by the chipmunk's tongue into the cheek pouch for storage. 

Chipmunk Diet-Seasonal Variances

Because chipmunks only partially hibernate, they spend a lot of time and energy in the fall foraging.  The food that they gather in the fall is stored for use during the winter when they wake every few days to few weeks depending on the species to eat.

In the spring time, when the animals first awaken from winter hibernation, chipmunks will eat young leaves and plant shoots while they wait for the fruits and berries to become available.

Chipmunk Diet-Benefits and Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

Chipmunks can be very beneficial to humans and the environment.  They can be very enjoyable and humorous to watch which can relieve stress in humans, provided they aren't in your garden! As far as the ecosystem, because these small stripped mammals carry and store many seeds underground they actually help these plants reproduce and grow!  

Serious damage to agricultural crops is rare, however, in maple sugaring areas of the Northeast US and South Eastern Canada chipmunks chew on the tubes causing considerable damage to maple sugar tubing systems.

While there are some excellent physical features of the chipmunk to assist in their food habits there is nothing too complex about the chipmunk diet.

Chipmunk Habitat

Chipmunk native habitat includes deciduous forests, woodlots and wood edges as well as around homes in rural and suburban areas.  In mountainous ranges they live in forested areas quite well.  Some species live in above ground nests, while most create burrows to live in (under ground homes) that can range in length from 20 - 30 feet and be very elaborate.  The burrows will often contain a nesting chamber, several food storage chambers, and several escape tunnels-just in case!  They also find garden walls very attractive which have been known to house scores of chipmunks at one time!

Chipmunk Habitat-Range

All but one species of chipmunk, the Siberian Chipmunk (Tamias sibiricus) of Asia, are native to North America with a habitat range extending from the northern borders of Mexico into the northern parts of the United States. The following table illustrates the general range of the many species of North American chipmunks:

Chipmunk Habitat-Climate

Chipmunk climate requirements allow for an extensive range through the northernmost parts of western Canada.  If you have chipmunks in your yard you may have noticed that they tend to be more active in the morning and evening hours.  This is because they prefer cooler temperatures.

Chipmunk Habitat-Soils

Soil requirements are not specific most likely because the burrows of chipmunks are not very deep, while some chipmunks nest above ground. Although you will be hard pressed to find chipmunks in soils that are waterlogged for any period of time. The geophysical structure of the North American continent and its climate are ideal chipmunk habitat.

Chipmunk Benefits & Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

Chipmunks are generally non harmful to humans and the environment.  They provide an important food source for not only domesticated cats, but for bobcats, coyotes, hawks, weasels, raccoons, minks, large snakes and even red squirrels. Chipmunks may also play an important role in dispersing seeds from plants that they are eating and storing during their travels, and even aerating the soil as they dig!

Their digging, however, can cause problems for gardeners. In particular their affinity for digging along sidewalks and foundations can affect the stability of these structures.

All in all, the benefits far outweigh the detriments of the Chipmunk.

Chipmunk Behavior

Not unlike many garden pests, the problem with chipmunks in your landscape is less about eating your plants, and more about that they are living under them!  Most Chipmunks live underground at least part of the year digging a complex system of tunnels and rooms.  The Eastern Chipmunk lives underground all year long. Left undisturbed within five (5) years their homes, a.k.a. dens, can be turned into palatial estates up to 30 feet long with several entrances and chambers!  This doesn't mean they won't stop to feast on some spring flowering bulbs during their adventures in and around your landscaping!

A chipmunk's territory will span less than a half acre and it is unusual for them to travel more than 75 yards from their den. Chipmunks are very territorial and while their defense is mostly vocal, they will defend the area around their burrows aggressively. If you have a chipmunk(s) in your yard you may recognize that familiar "chip, chip, chip" sound they make if you get too close! 

This small mammal is normally a loner, except during mating season, of course. Most chipmunks mate twice per year in early spring and summer.  They give birth after only 31 days to usually three (3) to five (5) babies.  These little guys are normally fully grown in three (3) months are ready to move out on their own.  Young chipmunks are ready to reproduce at about one (1) year after birth. 

Chipmunks are diurnal, or active during the day although you will see most activity during the cooler hours of the daytime. They are heavy foragers, carrying their food back to their dens in their famous cheek pouches.

Chipmunk Physical Appearance

The physical appearance of each of the 25 chipmunks varies slightly and mainly involves the size of the mammal.  Chipmunks range in size from an average size of 7 inches and 1. 6 oz for the Least Chipmunk (the smallest of the 25) to the 10 inch 4.6 oz. Eastern chipmunk (the largest of the 25 species).

Chipmunks look a lot like their larger relative the squirrel, however, there is one certain method, other than size, to tell them apart-facial stripping.  All varieties of chipmunks have stripes on their faces where squirrels do not.  They are lacking that thick furry tail of the squirrel, too.

Chipmunk Natural History

Chipmunks are a member of the ground squirrel family, and according to experts probably evolved from an ancestor of the common ground squirrel which lived in North American sometime in the Eocene epoch, 54 to 37 million years ago. All species of chipmunks found in North America are native to North America. While the Eastern chipmunk is not threatened or endangered, there are several of the western varieties that are including the Uinta, Lodgepole and Gray Footed chipmunks.

 

Eastern Chipmunk

Scientific Name: Tamias striatus
Phylum:  Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order:Rodentia
Family: Scuridae
Subfamily: Xerinae
Genus:  Tamias

Chipmunks found in your yard and garden are actually small stripped squirrels. East of the Mississippi your garden visitor will most likely be the Eastern Chipmunk, although other varieties do occur.  West of the Mississippi the chipmunks in your yard and garden could be one of 25 different species, excluding the Eastern, of this adorable little mammal!  Of the 25 species there are 13 species common to California.  Chipmunks are small and quick and can be a delight to watch in the yard.  However, they are quite the forager and find spring flowering bulbs, tulips in particular, irresistible!

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    gray collared chimpmunk
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Cultivating Garden Style

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