Creature Feature

Chattering Chipmunks 

I grew up in Florida and traveled for schooling but was not really accustomed to the Northeast forests. When I first moved to Maryland, I took a trip to Gunpowder River State Park. As I walked along the path next to the river, I heard a ‘bird’ chirping at me but I couldn’t see any birds. I eventually did see a chipmunk scampering away and giving the distinctive chirp I was hearing. 

I had never realized that chipmunks made such a noise. The frightened little scampering rodents were not the ones that I had seen previously in roadside rest stops that quietly stole or begged for food.  

The Eastern chipmunk is more territorial than most people and movie-makers realize. They are solitary except when trying to find a mate. They will have little scruffs with others that venture into their territory. And they make more than just warning chirps. Multiple vocalizations for all sorts of situations have been recorded by National Geographic researchers.  

During courtship, they evidently do a lot of conversing. After a courtship, they separate and the female raises their two to eight babies; chipmunks usually have about two litters a year and two courtships. 

During the winter, they hibernate underground but wake periodically for snacks. Before going into hibernation, they store enough food to last through winter. In the fall, they fill their cheeks with more they can eat and store the extra in their cellar.  

Although they are cute and comical, they can be a problem around home structures and they can carry ticks and fleas. In western states, ground squirrels have been found with bubonic plague.  

Their numbers are naturally controlled by predators, weather, and food scarcity. Hawks, foxes, minks, snakes, and cats prey on the rodents.  

Do not feed chipmunks; use capsaicin-coated bird seed to prevent them from dining at bird feeders. Clean up dropped seed and move feeders away from your house if they start showing up.  Humane trapping may be needed if they become a nuisance.