I am, of course, talking about the little devil that scampers about your yard, raids your garage and even digs holes in your flower beds. This cute little trouble-maker is called a Chipmunk. Yes, they are a rodent that just happens to be related to squirrels. Please, don’t hold that against the squirrels. Even though these little critters have at times become real pests, there is no denying by any of us that they can be cute and alluring. Most people find it very difficult to get overly annoyed about their actions and sometimes problematic behavior. How can anyone get disturbed by this little rascal with his lovable stripped face and puffy pint-sized cheeks?
Presque Isle State Park is virtually a Chipmunk heaven. The only place with more of these little critters may very well be my backyard. They typically inhabit woodlands, but as most of us have discovered, love to find homes in suburban backyards, garages, yard sheds and, if you are not careful, the crawl -spaces of our homes. It has been shown that in large numbers, they might actually do structural damage to your home, garage or patio. With their ravenous appetite, in my yard alone they have consumed flower bulbs, sunflower seedlings, green beans spouts and nearly 200 pounds of bird seed meant for visits by our feathered friends. For little guys, which are usually only 5 to 6 inches long and weigh about 3 ounces, they sure do eat a lot.
I have read a few articles that say they typically inhabit in densities of about two to four per acre of land. My take on this is they didn’t do their studies in our neighborhood. One neighbor of mine trapped seven just in his garage. Chipmunks have a “home range” of about one-half to three-quarters of an acre. Biologists say that the adult Chipmunk defends a territory of about 50 feet on each side of its burrow entrance. Chipmunk burrows can be nearly anywhere. Often you might, if you are lucky, find them very well hidden near buildings, under stumps, wood or bush piles or even under small bushes planted near your foundation.
The burrows of most Chipmunks have an entrance of only two inches or so. The entrance is never surrounded by mounds of dirt from their digging. The little guys carry the dirt away in cheek pouches and spread it all over the neighborhood. What I found amazing when reading an article on the Chipmunk is their main tunnel is usually 20 to 30 feet long. In the burrow, they usually have a nesting place and at least two food storage spaces. They always provide a separate escape tunnel in each burrow.
Most times, the diet of Chipmunks consists primarily of grains, nuts, berries, insects, my garden and seeds. They spend 85% of their time on the ground or under the ground, unlike their cousins, the squirrels. They do climb trees to gather their food after which they cache it in their underground homes. By storing and scattering seeds, they promote the growth of many plants. They also bury thousands of sunflower seeds they steal from our bird feeders. The rascals bury them everywhere. In my handing planters, the patio boxes, between my tomato plants and even in my zinnia beds. Each and every year, I end up with sunflowers growing in the most unusual places all over my yard.
On Presque Isle there is an area that is known to have so many Chipmunks running through the woods that the Multi-purpose Trail in that area is known as Chipmunk Alley. If you are on in-line skates or riding a bike on the trail at this point, you really do need to keep your eyes open for these little guys because they will be running and jumping across and around the paved area. Of course, they are found all over the park. That brings me to another fact about my little friends. Just about a month ago, right around the time when we all came to realize that winter was just a short time from showing its white face, a good friend who walks on the park asked me if the Chipmunks hibernate. He said they must because he seldom sees them in the winter. Well, here’s the scope on that.
In late fall, they retreat into their underground burrows, and usually do not show their faces for many months. Once in a great while, on a sunny and warm winter day, they might just come out to see what is going on in the outside world. This, however, is not common. In much of Pennsylvania, you might not see them emerge until the middle of March or early April. Instead of hibernation, they go into something called “torpor” where there temperature, heart rate and breathing drop dramatically. This can reduce their energy needs by as much as 75%. Because Chipmunks can store as much as 6 to 8 pounds of food within their burrow for winter, they do not need to leave their snug winter home. They love our sunflower seeds because they are rich in fatty acids. Plus many of the seed that you and I put in our bird feeders for these little rascals to steal are fortified with healthy oils. These guys are small, but they are also very smart.
Despite many, many pitfalls of being tiny and rather unaggressive, they are one of the most determined survivors we welcome to Presque Isle and our gardens and backyards. When March arrives and spring begins to spring forward, keep your eyes open for these cute little rodents. Until then,
See you on the park!!
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