an engaging little creature the chipmunk is, and how
easily tamed! That is, how quickly he can train
us to provide him with nuts and seeds! His Latin name,
Tamias striatus, means the striped steward; a
steward, in this case, being one who lays in provisions.
Chipmunks can stow away an astonishing amount of food
in their inner cheek pouches. They look so comical with
their cheeks puffed out, that people will feed them
more and more, to see how much they can fit into their
mouths. In fact, the noted naturalist, John Burroughs,
meaning to "observe" the little creature,
over a period of three days, gave a chipmunk five quarts
of hickory nuts, two quarts of chestnuts, and much shelled
This diminutive member of the squirrel family, nine
inches long from head to tail tip, weighs only three
ounces. He has chestnut-red fur, beautifully marked
with five dark brown and buff stripes on his back and
sides. He is white beneath. His large, shiny black eyes
are also bordered with stripes. This coloration provides
excellent camouflage amidst the leaf litter of the forest
floor. The chipmunk has a flat, furry tail that he holds
straight up as he runs.
Although the chipmunk can climb trees well enough, it
prefers to scamper rapidly about on the ground. It is
nervous and energetic, and chatters to its fellows with
a variety of calls: "chips," "chucks,"
whistles and trills.
The chipmunk is fairly omnivorous. It primarily eats
nuts, such as, acorns, pine nuts, hazelnuts, hickory
nuts and beechnuts, and seeds and grains of all kinds.
It particularly enjoys eating strawberries, blueberries,
elderberries and raspberries, and wild cherries as well.
It looks very cute to the human beholder, sitting up
on its haunches, and clutching its nut in both hands,
with its tail curved over its back.
The chipmunk may steal some flower bulbs, although his
tiny cousins, the white-footed mouse and the pine vole,
are the greater transgressors. The velvety little mole,
no relative at all, is often blamed for these depredations.
(He, of course, never eats bulbs, although his tunnels
may provide access to the flower beds.) The chipmunk
also aids the gardener, for it eats many injurious insects,
snails, and slugs. There is a darker side to our little
sprite; it has been known to seize birds' eggs, and
even fledglings. However, these depredations are minor.
The chipmunk's preferred habitat is the edge of woodlands.
He enjoys running about on old stone walls and perching
on woodpiles. He will often site its burrow near a rock
pile, or an old tree or stump. (Old root systems afford
him many useful crevices.) The entrance to the burrow
is a round hole about two inches in diameter. The shaft
plunges straight down about seven inches, then veers,
sloping downward two or three feet, to various chambers.
Different chambers serve different purposes. Some are
for the storage of food, the deepest chamber is the
toilet, and the largest chamber, toward the rear of
the main shaft, is for the bedroom. This is an oval
room, about one foot wide and one foot high. Here, the
chipmunk makes a warm bed of shredded leaves and grasses.
His bed lies directly on top of a large heap of nuts
and seeds. When the chipmunk wakes hungry in the winter,
he need only reach beneath him for breakfast in bed!
The chipmunk moves the excavated soil several yards
from the main entrance so as not to attract predators.
Often, the clever little engineer digs a new entrance
from below and fills in the original one.
Sometime in November, the chipmunk rolls up in a ball
with his head tucked between his back legs, and his
tail placed over his back and head like a blanket. His
metabolism slows and he becomes torpid. However, since
he isn't able to put on enough fat to get through the
winter without eating, in the manner of a woodchuck,
he wakes up from time to time. He eats some of his stored
food, visits his toilet chamber, scampers about his
burrow, and may even, if the day is warm, come out very
briefly. Then, he goes back to sleep and becomes torpid
Generally, at the time that the robins arrive, the chipmunks
are ready to wake up and emerge. The male then searches
for a mate. If a female chipmunk accepts him, (by no
means a sure thing), after thirty days, three to five
babies will be born. The babies are tiny, naked, pink
creatures-- helpless, blind and deaf. When two weeks
old, they have faintly striped fuzzy fur, and can stand
up. At three weeks, they can hear, and at four weeks,
they can see. They stay with their mother for three
and a half months, then, they are fully developed and
ready to go forth on their own.
What a pleasure it is, after a cruel winter, to have
the presence of these charming woodland creatures in
the dooryard once again!
Articles by Miriam Sanders