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chipmunk storing food in cheeks

Chipmunks are always on the look-out for two things: food, and places to hide that food. They spend spring and summer stockpiling nuts, berries, seeds, and other foods in various stashes around their territory. When they’re not stockpiling, chipmunks are looking for sheltered, hidden places to burrow for the winter.

Chipmunks are common in every neighborhood, but they might be particularly common around your home. If your yard supplies the rodents with the food and shelter they need, they’ll keep coming back year after year. Here’s how to figure out if you’re inadvertently giving chipmunks everything they want, and how you can stop them.

What is a chipmunk?

Chipmunks are small rodents in the Sciuridae, or squirrel family. There are 25 species. Each of these species is native to North America, except Asia’s Eutamias sibiricus. Different chipmunk species live in a wide variety of different environments, from forests to deserts. The most common chipmunk in the eastern US is the Eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatusa). Eastern chipmunks are 5 to 6” inches long with a light tan fur and a white underbelly. Adult eastern chipmunks have long black-and-white stripes running down their backs.

Eastern chipmunks have adapted to living near humans. They live in urban and suburban environments and dig surprisingly elaborate burrows near food sources. They may also move into pre-existing burrows or other forms of natural shelter such as tree hollows. Chipmunks are famous for their “chubby” cheeks, which can inflate to disproportionate sizes to store food. They use these cheeks to collect food before bringing it to caches they set up throughout their home territories.

Chipmunk eating nuts while sitting on a log

What are chipmunks doing?

Like squirrels, chipmunks never truly hibernate. Consequently, they have to fatten up as much as possible to survive winter. They spend summer and fall fattening up on whatever food they can find. Anything they can’t eat right away, they’ll collect in their cheeks and carry to nearby hidden caches. During winter, chipmunks will only leave their warm nests in order to retrieve food from these caches. If you see the rodents running around your yard, they’re probably looking for food.

It might sound surprising, given their rambunctious behavior, but chipmunks are also highly cautious by nature. They have to watch out for predators and other scavengers, who might steal from their stashes. In order to stay safe, the rodents like to live and forage around natural cover and shelter. They look for tall grasses, shade, underbrush, bushes, logs, or any other hiding places. Chipmunks build their burrows or nests and their stashes in covered, inaccessible areas.

Why are chipmunks around you?

Chipmunks are very, very common in neighborhoods virtually all over the US. As opportunistic, scavenging herbivores, they're far from picky eaters. They’re particularly attracted to any food sources that are small or compact and easy to transport quickly. They love nuts, berries, seeds, and fruits… but more than anything they like food that’s easy to find. If chipmunks seem particularly prevalent around your home, it’s probably because they’ve found a reliable food source.

Chipmunks love exploiting bird feeders, feed bags, pet food, or garbage. They’ll return to a food source as many times as they can to create the largest stashes possible. If you have fruit trees, berry bushes, seed-producing trees, or other easy food sources nearby, you’ll have rodents galore. Remember, chipmunks also like feeling safe and covered while they’re eating or foraging. The easier it is to sneak around your yard, the more comfortable the pesky rodents will feel exploiting the nearby food sources.

Dried-out Box elder seeds fallen to the ground in a yard

How can you keep chipmunks away?

First, restrict chipmunk’s access to any unnatural, easy-to-remove food sources. Clean up seed falling out of your bird feeder. Bring seed bags and pet food inside your garage or home. Tie your dumpster closed at night to keep chipmunks from sneaking inside. Then, look for more natural food sources and try to restrict those, as well. Mow your lawn frequently to remove fallen seeds. Pick up fallen fruit frequently before it begins to rot. Trim your bushes before they grow too long.

You’ll probably never be able to completely remove chipmunk’s food sources--or at least, you wouldn’t want to. You can try to make those food sources less appealing, however. Keep your yard as open and unsheltered as possible. Fill in burrows and holes and fence off natural hiding places like the bottom of the porch or deck. Try to create a barrier of at least a couple of feet between your home and your nearest plant. Reduce food sources and shelter as much as possible to make chipmunks less interested in digging in--literally--around your home.

Keeping chipmunks away from your home can feel like an uphill battle. After all, the hyper little furballs will eat just about anything! They’ll either climb over or dig under your fences! Even if it seems like you have no choice but to let these small, shifty squirrels ransack your yard, however, you should never give up!

If you’re at your wit’s end combating crafty critters, give Varment Guard a call. Our experts can remove chipmunks from your property quickly, humanely, and permanently. If you want your bird feeder to actually feed birds for once, get in touch today.

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