The Midwestern states are home to the Eastern Chipmunk, a member of the rodent family along with squirrels, mice, and beavers. Chipmunks have reddish-brown fur on their upper body with a total of five dark brown stripes and contrasting light brown stripes along their backs. They have a tawny stripe that goes from their whiskers to below their ears and light ‘highlights’ over their eyes. Top it all off with a dark, fluffy, short tail and you’ve got quite a cute little critter on your hands! Chippies, as they are affectionately called, live in our yards, parks, woods, and school yards. They like areas that offer lots of hiding spots, but being just five inches long and weighing in at about 3 ounces, it doesn’t take much to hide these little guys. Chipmunks fit in the little ventilation holes on our gas grills, dryer vent holes, under garage and shed doors, and pretty much anywhere else with an opening any larger than a nickel. Chippies sit upright on their back feet and hold on to food with their ‘hands’ or front feet, stuffing their little cheeks as far as they can stretch to take the food with them back to the burrow. You may see them outside at your bird feeder stuffing themselves, but as soon as they see you – they’re GONE! They run off so fast that all you’ll see is a chippie blur most of the time. Chipmunks are most active outside of the burrow in the early morning and late afternoon, dawn and dusk. At dawn they come out and lick up the moisture from dewy plants and porches, and in the evening they hang out right next to the Cardinal’s at the bird feeder filling their belly for the night.
Chipmunk Diet & Relationships
Chipmunks are omnivores, enjoying a wide variety of foods – nuts, berries, seeds, mushrooms, insects, lizards, baby birds and bird eggs. They do hibernate when winter arrives, but not in the traditional sense. Chippies do not sleep through the winter. They wake up and survive off of the stores of food they brought back to the burrow in their cheeks before winter set in. Most chipmunks emerge from their winter burrow in March, just in time for mating. Two to five mini-chippie babies are born in April or May, and second litters can come in September or October as well.
Chipmunks tend to get into the same kinds of trouble that squirrels get into, but because of their diminutive size, they can find themselves in unique situations from time to time. This page addresses some of the common issues the Chippies cause, without meaning to, of course.
Chipmunk problems occur because chipmunks often create burrows in well-hidden areas near objects or buildings. The burrow entrance is usually about 2 inches in diameter. Chippies carry the dirt in their cheek pouches and scatter it away from the burrow, making the burrow entrance less noticeable. Sometimes the chipmunks mistakenly believe that the middle of your retaining wall is the best place to build their burrow. They also like flower boxes, and BBQ pits. Thankfully, they are usually pretty easy to run off from these sites. With the BBQ pit, just open the lid and leave it open and little chippie will run off to create a new home right away. If possible, leave the grill open for a day or two to allow him to come back and get his food stores to ‘move in’ to the new place. Under driveways, patio cement, or similar situations are a bit more difficult. Typically, chippies dig down first at about a 45 degree angle and then they turn the burrow up for their actual sleeping spot. This ensures that if it rains or floods, the water will end up down at the bottom of the den, with chippie nice and dry above the water. It would be extremely difficult to follow the burrow all the way back to where the chipmunk is actually living. It could go back a VERY long way. Again though, these guys are pretty simple-minded as long as they are not hibernating and as long as there are no babies to be concerned with. All bets are off if babies are in the burrow, or if it’s cold and chippie needs the burrow to survive.
If it is spring/summer/fall you can employ some simple deterrents to encourage these little ones to get packing. Moth balls reportedly work well, a liquid spray called Tree Guard, a liquid product called Ropel, ammonia poured on the outside of the hole (NOT INSIDE!), cat feces in the burrow hole – All of these ideas have reported success with relocating chipmunks. Make sure that you also remove an attractants you may have that will keep the chippies coming back. bird feeders, bird nesting and roosting boxes, ponds and fountains that house lizards and frogs, and compost heaps can all serve to attract these little critters. When attempting to evict a chippie, at least temporarily remove the attractions as well.
Chipmunks chewing on fencing, decks, porches, patio furniture
Chippies have two more front incisors than squirrels do, and we all know the busy chewers that squirrels can be. Chipmunks, on the right day, can put a squirrel to shame when it comes to how much they can chew in a very short period of time. The most common question that we get is “Why is the chipmunk eating our wicker furniture/porch/deck/etc.” Everyone wants to know why. We don’t really know why some chippies do this and some don’t. We suspect that the more troublesome the chipmunk, the younger it probably is. Animals are sometimes just like us, and the kids just get into more trouble, for no good reason. It’s something that they grow out of in time, but some kids are more trouble than others. We could blame their mothers. 🙂 A product called Tree Guard can be purchased at home and garden stores and it sprays on easily and animals hate the taste of it. It does have to be re-applied after rainy days though, and it can become costly. Cayenne pepper and hot sauce works just as well. Chippies are extremely sensitive to spicy stuff, just like squirrels, so anything spicy should deter them from chewing/eating whatever you put it on. Again, it has to be re-applied on a regular basis, especially after it rains, until the chippies get the message.
You can also make your own deterrent with this recipe:
1 tbsp castor oil
1 tbsp liquid dish soap (like Dawn)
6 tbsp water
Mix oil and soap in blender until mix has consistency of shaving cream.
Add water and blend again.
In watering can, mix 2 tbsp of this ‘mix’ with 2 gallons of water.
Spread mix with watering can over yard and area where moles/chipmunks/squirrels are seen.
If possible, apply this mix right after a good rain so it soaks into the ground well.
Chipmunks eating flower bulbs, specifically tulip bulbs
Yes, chipmunks eat flower bulbs. They don’t know that you spent money on those bulbs. They think the bulbs fell from the sky into the ground for them to eat. It’s not personal, even though it really feels like it sometimes. To be honest though, a lot of different animals will eat flower bulbs, so your best bet to keep your tulips IN the ground is to cover the area with hardware cloth so all of the world’s little diggers can’t get any wise ideas about your bulbs. You can find hardware cloth on the cheap in any lawn and garden store. Amazon also sells it here.
Chipmunks in the House
Here’s how this usually happens… It’s Saturday and you’ve got to get the laundry done for the week. You lug the hamper down the stairs to the laundry room, sort it all out, ending up with baskets of clothes crammed everywhere on the floor, filling the laundry room. You wash the first load of clothes, then you come back downstairs to change it out for the next load. You open the dryer door with your arms full of wet clothes from the washer. A chipmunk comes FLYING OUT AT YOU the second you open the dryer door. You scream, drop the wet clothes, trip over the other laundry baskets full of dirty clothes, still screaming, and now you’ve completely lost sight of the chippie. Your family upstairs thinks you’ve been attacked by a lion, and you swear that you’re never going into the laundry room again. This is usually right about the time that you find our phone number. After you calm down and become less hysterical, it’s time to prop open the dryer door, the laundry room door, any windows nearby, and any doors nearby to offer the chippie an exit. Then you have to do the hardest part – leave. Give the little one an hour or more to get his wits together and find the nearest exit. Unless you sit outside, hiding, waiting for him to run out the door, you are not going to know if he’s out or if he’s still somewhere hiding. If it helps though, a chipmunk is not going to chase you down and attack you. They do bite, especially when you try to corner them, catch them, or hold them in your hand, and let us tell you firsthand, they bite– HARD! But they aren’t going to chase you across the room, run up your leg and eat your face. They are much more likely to hide and scurry away from you trying to find a way out. Give him an exit and the time to find it, and all will be well again in no time.
To prevent little birds, chipmunks, and everything else from getting into your dryer vent in the first place, consider installing a pest barricade over the dryer vent opening outside. Here’s an example of one available at Amazon.com.
If you believe that you have found an infant chipmunk, look around very closely to make sure that there is not a den site nearby that baby belongs in. Before handling a chipmunk, make sure all pets are indoors, and have the kids go inside too. They’ll just make you nervous and the chipmunk too which increase the risk that they will bite. You will need a pair of gloves, preferably leather work gloves, but any work gloves or heavy winter gloves will work. Take a hand towel or dishcloth outside with you and place it over the chipmunk while you scoop him up in the towel, all in one fell swoop. Hang on to the chippie fairly tightly. They feel like they are made of jello and it doesn’t take much for them to pop right out of your hand and run off, so make sure you have a hold of them. If you can find a little 2 inch in diameter hole nearby, try placing baby at the entrance to that hole to see if she just lost her way.
If no den site is visible, take baby inside to keep her warm while we decide what to do next. Chipmunks are amazing escape artists, making the typical ‘shoe box’ advice we normally give not applicable to this species. If you have a small dog crate with the bars close enough together that the chippie won’t fit through, that’s a perfect temporary home for a chippie. Place a pillow case in the bottom of the cage, and put baby inside of a winter hat or other fleece fabric to snuggle in and keep warm. No matter what time of year it is, hot or cold, babies MUST be kept warm. You can download instructions here to assist you in facilitating this until you can get to a licensed rehabber.
Reuniting Chipmunks with Mom
Once you have baby settled, let her sleep while you keep watch over the back yard looking for a Momma Chipmunk to come by searching for her baby. Mom will look frantic and will be checking under every leaf, stick, chair, in the yard for her baby. When/if you see this, place baby outside in a shallow butter bowl or cardboard box with a paper towel under her and another paper towel on top of her for shade and warmth, and set the bowl down where you last saw Mom searching. She won’t be visible to you now that you are outside, but she is somewhere, watching and waiting. Leave the baby outside and go in to watch from the window for Mom and baby to be reunited. Take pictures and share them with us! It’s a very special moment! If an hour passes, or it begins to get dark, please bring baby back inside and give us a call at the hotline to find a rehabber near you that can take in the little chippie.
If you have other questions about chipmunks please feel free to call anytime and talk to our wildlife specialists about any concerns you may have. We’re available 24/7 at 1-855-WILD-HELP or via email at [email protected]. We’re here to help!