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Wildlife Whispers...

Chipmunks: nature's vacuum

by Dee Walmsley, 
Clever's nature writer

I've spent hours this summer watching the antics of a chipmunk I named Stripes. This furry forager makes her home under our cedar hedge where the soil is dry and the digging is easy. She visits me daily packing her pouches full of peanuts, almonds and the sunflower seeds I spread along my front windowsill, then with a twitch of her scrawny tail she scurries off to deposit the loot in her under-ground burrow.

Chipmunks are ground animals. They live in a network of underground tunnels. The entrance that goes down approximately 5 inches before sloping off into the main tunnel is about the size of a quarter. Within these tunnels are chambers for food storage and sleeping. The lowest chamber is used as a toilet rather like a 'chamber pot'. When the pickings are good these cheeky critters will fill their sleeping quarters to within an inch from its ceiling, leaving just room enough to climb on top before curling up for a cozy nap.

I have yet to see any chipmunks resting, their daily activities are eating and the storing of food. Their natural diet consists of nuts, grain, seeds, fruit, mushrooms, plants, insects, and occasionally they'll rob bird's nests, eating the eggs and baby birds.

I counted one day as Stripes filled her cheeks with 75 sunflower seeds; she looked a little mumpy as she bounced down the sidewalk to her den. Twelve peanut halves also puffed out her cheeks before she decided to exit the feeder. It wasn't long before my stockpile of seeds was relocated underground, so this morning she got a piece of apple smeared with peanut butter. She seemed delighted as her little pink tongue lapped up the brown spread. The apple disappeared just as quickly except for the skin, which she peeled off and left. Orange slices were my next offering. She soon
sucked and chewed her way right down to the rind.

Chipmunks mate in March and give birth thirty-two days later to a litter of four or five squeaky, hairless babes. They don't leave home until they're three months old.

Tiny triplets, all soft and newly furred appeared at the feeder one day. They soon learned to vacuum the lawn of seeds as nose down they packed their pouches scurrying across the lawn. I offered them sunflower seeds from my hand, which they gently accepted. I could hear the seeds clicking together within their cheeks.

While there are a number of species and sub-species of Chipmunk they all have the distinctive five stripes down their backs and two paler stripes on their face, one above and one below the eye separating the dark stripe that runs right through the eye. Pouched cheeks distinguishes them from squirrels. The tail while furry does not have the fullness of squirrels nor do they curl it over their backs. Cute, captivating, charming, curious and easily tamed describes their personality.

So far I have heard three distinct chipmunk sounds; the chirp which I believe is a warning and territorial indicator. A buzz, not unlike static on a radio was emitted as one stood tall on its hind feet looking at me, and on another occasion a melodious almost clunking sound similar to a pot softly washing against the shore, caught my attention.

In September they disappear, hibernating in their well-stocked burrows until spring when warm winds and gentle rains welcome them back chirping at my feeder.

Dee Walmsley is Clever's nature writer. She would love to hear from you.

To contact Dee: deew74@shaw.ca


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