Chipmunks are funny little creatures. We could describe them, relatively accurately, as “squirrel’s hyperactive little brothers.” It takes a lot to be considered hyperactive compared to squirrels, but chipmunks pull it off. Most homeowners don’t know much about chipmunks, except that they’re a surprisingly constant nuisance in spring and fall.
Chipmunk’s constant, somewhat disruptive presence begs the question: what are they doing around your home anyway? What do chipmunks want, and why do they think that it’s up your drain pipes? Here’s everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about chipmunks--including why they seem to like your garage so much.
What are Chipmunks?
Chipmunks are small (4 to 7” long, 1 to 5 ounce) rodents in the Sciuridae, or squirrel, family. There are 25 extant identified species
of chipmunk. All but one of these species (the Eutamias sibiricus, which is found in Asia) is native to North America. Chipmunks are classified as the genus tamias or neotamias, which is Greek for “storer.”
This name references the fact that chipmunks spend their time gathering food and store it away in their burrows.
The most common chipmunk in North America is the Eastern chipmunk
or Tamias striatusa. Eastern chipmunks are 5 to 6 inches long and weigh 2 ½ to 3 ½ ounces. They have tan, brown, or reddish-brown fur on their backs and white fur on their underbellies. The easiest way to identify an Eastern chipmunk is to look for their stripes. Eastern chipmunks have a black fur stripe
on their backs and prominent black-bordered white stripes on both their sides.
Where Do Chipmunks Live?
Chipmunks of various species can be found virtually anywhere in North America, though they’re particularly common in forested areas. Chipmunks build nests by digging underground burrows or moving into hollows in logs or trees. While burrowing, they can also dig 10 to 30-foot long
tunnels systems. The ideal chipmunk nesting location is shaded and sheltered but easily accessible. Chipmunks spend most of their time moving back and forth between their nest and food sources.
Chipmunks are opportunistic omnivores, which basically means they aren’t picky. They mainly subsist on plant matter
like buds, seeds, and nuts, but they’ll eat insects and small animals too. They typically feed on food they can find on the ground, but they’ll climb trees to knock down food if necessary. Chipmunks try to build their nests as close to consistent food sources as possible. If a chipmunk lives near you, then it’s probably grabbing its food from somewhere nearby.
How Do Chipmunks Survive Winter?
Starting in early fall, chipmunks begin stockpiling food for the winter. They collect perservable, hard food such as nuts and seeds and carry it to various hidden food caches
. Like squirrels, some chipmunks “scatter horde” by creating multiple different hidden caches simultaneously. They often build tunnels between their den and these caches. Chipmunks transport food to their stashes by holding it in large cheek pouches
. Carrying food this way gives chipmunks their distinctive “chipmunk cheeks.”
Like squirrels, chipmunks do not truly hibernate
. Instead, they fatten up as much as possible and spend most of the winter sleeping in their dens. This is where the hidden stashes come in handy. While chipmunks sleep, they live off of the fat stores they spent fall building. When those fats stores are expended, chipmunks need to wake up and eat. Chipmunks will wake up multiple times a winter and feed on their nearby stashes. When they regain enough energy, they’ll return to their burrows until spring.
How Can I Keep Chipmunks Away From My House?
Chipmunks end up near people’s homes because they’re looking for easily-accessible food sources. They’ll wander onto your property to collect seed from bird feeders or fallen nuts and berries from plants. They may even enter your garage to access bird food or bags of grass seed directly if given the opportunity. Once they know your home is a source of food, they may try to build their burrows near you
. Chipmunks may dig tunnels under existing home structures.
The trick to keeping chipmunks away is depriving them of the things they want. Look for and clean up any food sources chipmunks could exploit on your property. Clean up seeds, nuts, and fruits that fall off nearby trees or bushes. Make sure your bird feeder isn’t leaking seed onto the ground. Try to clear a perimeter of at least five feet between your home and any natural vegetation such as bushes or tall grasses. When chipmunks can’t get food near you, they won’t build nests near you.
If you run into chipmunks this winter, it’s probably because their nest or food stash is somewhere nearby. It might even be under or attached to your home! While chipmunks aren’t dangerous, they can do structural damage in their ceaseless quest to eat and burrow. You shouldn’t be afraid of them, but you shouldn’t tolerate near your home, either.
If you have a chipmunk problem--this winter or any other time of year--give Varment Guard a call
. Our experts can remove chipmunks and make sure they’re not interested in coming back. Don’t worry, we’re sure they’ll find another place to hide their food this winter. They always do.