Chipmunks are charming, sprightly little members of the squirrel family. From the trio Alvin and the Chipmunks to the duo Chip and Dale, chipmunks are easily anthropomorphized into our pop culture. Their industrious nature and the way their little hands carefully grasp their prize nut or berry is very relatable to humans. They are charming as they excitedly race about the yard, mischievous in their antics, and appear cuddly and loveable burrowed in their family nest. Despite the enjoyment many people get from watching chipmunks dart around their back yard, to others, they are the most adorable menace in the backyard landscape.
Chipmunks have a dreadful habit of making meals of your garden plants. They are omnivores, meaning they will eat fruit, bulbs (tulips are a favorite), tender young plants, even insects, earthworms, and a small frog every now and then. Chipmunks excavate extensive underground burrows, which can damage your garden, the foliage in your yard, and even structural elements of your home like pavers and even the foundation of your home.
Often times chipmunks are loved and appreciated as you sit surveying your property from your porch with a cup of coffee, but other times chipmunks are a problem that must be addressed. Wherever you fall on this love/hate spectrum with chipmunks, continue reading to learn more about these fascinating little creatures and how to get rid of them if you so desire.
All About Chipmunks
Although there are 15 species of native chipmunks in North America, the most commonly encountered species in Georgia is the eastern chipmunk, Tamias striatus. Therefore, our discussion will be specific to the eastern chipmunk unless otherwise specified. Chipmunks are rodents, like rats and mice, and belong to the squirrel family. Relative to their body size, chipmunks can be quite boisterous, with different calls including chirps, chips, a soft cuck-cuck, and a shrill chipp-r-r-r-r when they are surprised. It is no wonder the common name “chip”munk stuck.
Chipmunks are a small squirrel, usually about 5-6” in length. It is brownish-grey in color with distinctive stripes along its cheeks, back, and sides of its body. The tail is not “bushy” as some squirrels have, but more accurately described as well-haired.
What Chipmunks Like to Eat
The chipmunk’s scientific name Tamias striatus accurately defines the chipmunk’s eating habits. Tamias is the Greek word for “a storer,” which perfectly characterizes the chipmunk’s food-storing habits. Chipmunks fill their cheeks with nuts, seeds, garden plants, and many other delectable delight and scurry the meal down to its burrow for storage. Chipmunks are particularly fond of acorns, beechnuts, hazelnuts, and walnuts. One diligent chipmunk can gather and store up to 165 acorns per day. In preparation for winter, chipmunks typically store up more food than they actually need, but as Benjamin Franklin’s famous maxim says, “By failing to prepare, you prepare to fail.”
In addition to the nuts, which store well in their subterranean pantry, chipmunks consume many other cuisines. Their palate is varied as they eat a wide variety of berries and fruit, mushrooms, insects, millipedes, earthworms, slugs, snails, and other small animals they may encounter.
Where Chipmunks Like to Live – Habitat
The eastern chipmunk’s range includes most of the eastern United States, but in Florida it is currently restricted to the panhandle near the Alabama border. The eastern chipmunk prefers deciduous forest and forests of mixed hardwood and pine trees. Although naturally forest dwellers, chipmunks have grown quite comfortable living in close proximity to humans.
Within these general parameters, chipmunks then begin to look for a location where food is abundant and the opportunity to build a safe, well-concealed burrow exists. Chipmunks often choose to create their nest/burrow under the protective cover of rocks, bushes, leaf litter, or trees. Sometimes chipmunks build nests in the hollow of a tree, but usually they are under log heaps, stone piles, or even piles of yard waste. These areas of underbrush provide cover from predators such as foxes, hawks, coyotes, snakes, and weasels.
Life Cycle of a Chipmunk
Except for breeding season, chipmunks are mostly solitary; they do not live in packs or mischiefs as rats do. Breeding season begins in the spring when they awake from their quasi-hibernation. After a 30-day gestation a litter of baby chipmunks are born, typically in mid-March or April. However, in the warmer climates of the eastern chipmunk’s range, they can sometimes give birth to two litters per year. In these warmer climates, chipmunk babies may be born in early March and a second litter in July, August, or even early September. Eastern chipmunks typically give birth to 2-5 babies in each litter, but rarely they can have as many as 8 baby chipmunks at one time. The baby chipmunks stay with the mother for about 2 months before they leave to furnish and fill their own burrow for the winter. Most eastern chipmunks live for about 5 years in the wild.
When colder weather sets in, chipmunks are well prepared. By this time, the young ones have built a burrow, and provisioned it with enough food to survive the winter. Depending on their location, chipmunks begin their winter sleep between October – December. During this time, chipmunks do not sleep the entire time, so it is not a true hibernation, but they curl up and sleep for days at a time. They occasionally wake up, nibble on the nuts in their storage chamber, then go back to sleep. During these long sleeps, their body temperature lowers to match the surrounding temperature. Chipmunks normal heart rate is around 350 beats per minute. During this time of deep sleep, or quasi-hibernation, their heart rate slows down to only 4 beats per minute. This time of extreme rest is the much-deserved reward for the hard work gathering supplies throughout the rest of the year.
The Amazing Chipmunk Burrows
Chipmunk burrows are well organized, complex underground system of tunnels and chambers. Chipmunks create burrows near objects or buildings and often cleverly conceal the entrance. The chipmunk burrow is usually about 2 inches in diameter. Unlike other burrowing animals, chipmunk holes do not have mounds of dirt accumulated at the entrance. Instead, the chipmunk carries the excavated dirt away in its cheeks to further disguise the burrow.
Underground chipmunk burrows often have more than one entrance. Sometimes entrance holes are plugged and no longer used. In more complex burrows, chipmunks sometimes create emergency exits and alternative entrances. Chipmunk burrows may extend as deep as 3 feet underground and spread as much as 30 feet across. Chipmunks begin by digging straight down and creating a nest. This little nest is line with leaves and perfect for giving birth and their deep winter sleep. As time permits, they expand their home to include chambers for food storage. Chipmunks fill these underground pockets with nuts and seeds; perfect fuel for winter survival. One chipmunk nest was found with ½ a bushel of nuts and seeds! In keeping with the cozy theme, chipmunks even create downward tunnels that allow water to drain out of the nest. Sometimes these drainage pipes fill up, but they ensure the food, nest, and bedroom remain safe and dry. Because these underground burrows are so complex, chipmunks will use them year after year.
Except when they are raising their young, chipmunks live alone. Despite their chirping and vocal nature, they are not social animals. Chipmunks work alone and live alone, but they can communicate danger to other neighboring chipmunks. An average size suburban yard may host a maximum of 20 chipmunks.
Chipmunk Damage to Your Home
Chipmunks are generally harmless, but in certain situations, they can cause damage to your home, garden, and landscape. Chipmunk control is a given if the chipmunks are inside your home, walls, or attic. However, if chipmunks are scurrying about your yard, frenetically running from tree to tree, and generally enhancing the fauna of your backyard, you may decide to just let them be. Of course, if these woodland creatures consistently destroy your garden, disturb the birds, and put the foundation of your home at risk, action should be taken. Chipmunks and humans can usually peaceably coexist, but if their burrowing or chewing activities place your home and family in danger, it becomes time to remove the chipmunks.
Chipmunk Damage in Your Yard and Garden
Chipmunks in the garden or landscape can cause damage to plant or tree roots. As they burrow and dig and remove dirt, they disturb sensitive foliage or agricultural crops. In addition, chipmunks will happily feast upon the plants in your garden. A freshly planted seed, bulb, or tender young plant sprout make a perfect afternoon snack for a chipmunk skittering and scampering across your yard.
Bird lovers are particularly aggravated by chipmunks’ possessive approach toward available food. Chipmunks will fill their mouth pouches with as much bird seed as they can possibly fit, leaving no nourishment for the birds. After a fresh bird feeder refill, they will again pirate the bird seed bounty. A quick search online for chipmunk proof birdfeeders (and corresponding videos) shows the great lengths, with often comical results, bird lovers will go to in order to keep chipmunks away from the bird seed. In the end, these defensive maneuvers are usually a lost cause; chipmunks are highly intelligent, committed to their cause, and unlikely to back down.
The most serious concern regarding chipmunks outdoors, is the threat of damage to the foundation of your home and other hardscape or structures. As described above, chipmunk burrows can become quite extensive spreading out over 30 feet. These burrows may begin near the wood pile on the side of the house, but quickly expand underneath the concrete sidewalk, under the pavers, and even under the foundation of your home. Chipmunk burrows, nests, and storage rooms below the earth’s surface may undermine the foundation of your home causing it to sink or drop over time. The excavated spaces created by chipmunks will inevitably fill with water loosening the structure of the soil beneath your foundation. This loss of subterranean support may cause your slab to crack and may eventually collapse. Due to the clandestine nature of the damage, it is impossible to know for sure if the chipmunk’s burrow extends to dangerous places. For this reason, many people strive to keep chipmunks out of their property for good.
Chipmunk Damage in Your Attic and Walls
Unlike chipmunks outside, when chipmunks make it indoors, most people agree that is an unacceptable intrusion. Rather than excavate an underground nest, sometimes chipmunks decide to nest in your attic or in the wall voids of your home. This comfortable area provides shelter from rain, wind, and cold weather, and lots of crevices to store their stash of food. Chipmunks can create an inviting nest for their babies amongst the attic insulation.
Just like other rodents and squirrels, chipmunks continually gnaw to keep their teeth the proper size. In your attic or walls, chipmunks will gnaw wooden rafters, electrical wires, plastic, insulation, drywall, or the siding of your house. Basically, chipmunks will chew and gnaw anything in their vicinity. This incessant gnawing habit can cause dangerous conditions in your home. Frayed and ragged electrical wires in the nether reaches of your attic are a fire hazard. The damage caused by chipmunks in your home can be expensive to repair. Even if you don’t know about the damage to some of these areas, it may be found during a home inspection when you go to sell your home. This causes a delay of the sale and expensive repairs or renegotiation of the terms of the sale.
When chipmunks decide to nest in your home, they don’t always utilize outdoor plumbing. Chipmunk poop looks quite similar to mouse poop. Chipmunk poop is rarely seen outdoors scattered across the yard, but may be found indoors during a chipmunk infestation. Chipmunk poop is shaped like a grain of rice, pointed on both ends with a bulging center. Chipmunk pellets look similar to mice pellets. Chipmunk poop stays soft for hours and does not have a strong odor associated with it. Depending on what the chipmunk has been eating, his scat can range from light brown to black. Additionally, chipmunks tend to only poop in a designated area. In their burrows, they have a latrine area where they leave their excrement. In your home, chipmunks will not leave piles of poop randomly, the scat will be accumulated in a single, usually concealed area.
Regardless of the pile or spread system, urine and scat in your attic creates an unhealthy living and breathing environment for you and your family. Chipmunks that invade the indoors should be trapped and removed as quickly as possible.
Signs of a Chipmunk Infestation
If chipmunks are either in your yard or in your attic or wall void, you will likely hear them before you ever see them. Listen carefully for scratching, scurrying, and scampering noises behind walls, above the ceiling, or under the floors.
Although solitary by nature, chipmunks can be noisy and boisterous! Scientists have outfitted chipmunks with microphones and attempted to decipher the various chipmunk calls and cries they commonly emit. They have broken it down to 3 main vocalizations, chips, chucks, and trills. The common chipping sound for which they are named, is a series of high pitched notes repeated over and over. This chipping sound may last a few seconds or a few minutes. This chipping sound is used to alert other chipmunks in the area of a mammalian threat. The chucking sound is a lower frequency sound that sounds like an axe striking wood or horses hooves on a wooden bridge. Chipmunks chuck when alerting neighboring chipmunks of a threat from the air such as a bird. This chucking sound is usually done from a higher perch while the chipmunk is standing still. Finally, trilling is the sound chipmunks make when they are being chased. The other calls may last for many minutes at a time, but the trill is a multi-note call that is emitted only once or twice. If chipmunks are in the area, their boisterous chatter will be a giveaway.
Another sign of chipmunks in your yard is uprooted bulbs and damaged gardens and foliage. Chipmunks only store nuts and seeds, but their diet when they are out and about is much more diverse. Chipmunks will eat fruit and vegetables from your garden in addition to young sprouts.
The entrance holes to the chipmunk burrows are difficult to find because they are usually built into rocks, trees, or wood piles, and flat to the ground. However, chipmunks may dig holes in the open in search of nuts and seeds. These holes are readily apparent your well-manicured lawn and will damage your garden and cause a tripping hazard as well.
Chipmunks have been known to gnaw on the legs of furniture, gnaw through drywall, chew on electrical wiring, and generally wreak havoc when they are confined to human spaces. Chipmunks do not prefer to live and nest indoors, they are perfectly designed to comfortably curl up in their subterranean chamber, but nature always has outliers.
Diseases Carried by Chipmunks
Many diseases are spread by contact with the fecal matter of wild animals. Luckily, we rarely encounter chipmunk fecal matter. Chipmunks instinctively know that scat droppings throughout the yard alert predators that chipmunks are present and ripe for the picking. Therefore, chipmunks prefer to limit their poop to a single area or even a specific chamber within their underground burrow. However, if you access chipmunk poop in the attic or behind a wall void it may contain dangerous pathogens.
It is rare for diseases to spread from chipmunks to humans, but it is possible. Chipmunks are known to be carriers of rabies, the plague, salmonella, leptospirosis, and hantavirus. Despite their cute and cuddly appearance, chipmunks are wild animals and should not be handled except by trained wildlife professionals. When threatened or trapped, chipmunks may bite or scratch increasing your odds of contracting a serious disease.
Chipmunks Home Remedies
Once you have determined that the chipmunks have overstayed their welcome in your yard, many people feel conflicted about the use of lethal force… at least until other remedies have been explored and exhausted. Chasing chipmunks with the intention of convincing them to abandon “their” yard is no small task. With an endless supply of gizmos and gadgets, you can easily spend a small fortune protecting your plants and landscapes. Chipmunks are clever little forest creatures and manage to outwit many of these chipmunk deterrent devices.
Perhaps the most obvious method of preventing chipmunks is to remove ground cover. Chipmunks like a certain landscape which offers protection from predators and ample food supply. By modifying your yard/habitat you can make your yard less attractive to these furry forest dwellers. Start by removing yard debris, wood piles, rock piles, or brush that could be used as cover for the entrance to the den. Vines like English Ivy provide cover for not only chipmunks, but rats and mice as well. By removing this dense ground cover, chipmunks will feel less safe skittering around your yard. Thick plantings of trees and shrubs should be reserved for areas away from the foundation and concrete driveway and walkways. Dense foliage provides safety for chipmunks which encourages them to stay close by and expand their burrow.
How you deal with chipmunks depends upon your priorities. For example, if your garden is your priority, you may choose to intentionally place an easily accessible birdfeeder near your home away from the garden. This will act as a feeding trough for the chipmunk, and it will learn it has no need to go near your garden. Of course, if your priorities are bringing beautiful songbirds into your yard you will need to invest in squirrel and chipmunk proof bird feeders. This entertaining endeavor often takes multiple attempts until you finally outwit the chipmunk.
If freshly planted bulbs are your primary concern, protect them using bulb baskets. Bulb baskets get expensive fast if you intend upon protecting every plant your garden in this manner. These wire baskets may be reserved for your most prized plants and other mole, vole, and chipmunk deterrents used in conjunction with the baskets.
A common tactic to discourage chipmunks is using some form of a repellent. Before embarking upon this rabbit trail you should know, there are no repellents that are EPA approved for repelling chipmunks. However, the internet is full of essential oil recipes to spray on your plants to chipmunk proof them. If any of these work at all, you should be aware that the solution is temporary at best. Chipmunk repellents are not a long-term answer. You should be prepared to periodically change up the flavor or scent of your repellent concoction as chipmunks will soon learn it poses them no threat. Scattering hot sauce, rotten eggs, and predator urine throughout your yard may indeed be worse than the chattering chipmunks. With visions of peppermint oil, castor oil, garlic, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and citrus oil dancing in your head, repellents should be used in conjunction with other chipmunk deterrent techniques such as exclusion.
Exclusion is an effective method of keeping all wildlife, including chipmunks, from getting in places where they do not belong. A thorough exclusion job prevents rats, mice, squirrels, racoons, opossums, and birds from nesting in your attic, basement, and wall voids. Because chipmunks are happier nesting in the ground than in your attic, exclusion for chipmunks may be more extensive than simple rat/mouse exclusion.
Exclusion involves sealing holes and openings along the entire home and garage. Even holes the size of a penny can allow a rodent inside and cause much damage. Prevent chipmunks from entering your house or garage by sealing the open holes around where gas lines, utility and cable cords, and air conditioning lines etc. enter your home. There are specialized materials which rodents cannot chew through available for this job, or you can simply use caulk or expanding foam. Hardware cloth covering the vents and exhaust prevents chipmunks and other critters from wandering inside. Products to safely seal your chimney are available and functional as well as door sweeps and garage sealing products. By investing in wildlife exclusion, you will save yourself many rat, racoon, and opossum invasions during your tenure as master of the house.
Because chipmunks can terrorize the outdoor living spaces as well as the indoor living spaces, special exclusion considerations should be made for outdoor areas. Depending upon the specifications of your home and garden, extra exclusion will be necessary to keep chipmunks from their full degree of mischief. Seal areas under the deck, porch, or shed. Chipmunks love to scurry around protected by cover. When they are comfortable in close proximity to your home, damage may occur to the foundation of your home. To seal an open area such as a crawl space or an attached deck, 10 gauge ¼” galvanized steel is a good choice. Because of chipmunk’s propensity to dig, you’ll have to dig a trench about 1 foot deep to bury the base of your fence. Create an L shape with your galvanized steel wire and place it in the trench. Bury your L shaped fence and attach the top of the fence to the wood of your deck or shed. This fencing method can also be used around a plot of garden or a specific flower bed. While labor intensive and not perfectly aesthetically pleasing, this method is effective to protect against chipmunks.
Professional Chipmunk Trapping
The University of Georgia Cooperative Extensive recommends following the HERL method for chipmunk control, which was essentially described above. HERL stands for habitat modification, exclusion, repellent, and finally lethal control. If after all the defensive and remedial measures have been tried and you are still at war with the chipmunks, trapping is the preferred method of chipmunk removal.
Trapping chipmunks in a yard full of food sources can be a frustrating experience for a homeowner. Chipmunks can be trapped in a variety of traps, but success often depends upon proper trap placement and the allure of the bait used. A clever chipmunk knows his way around your yard and he also knows where he can find a delectable smorgasbord. Introducing an oddly shaped unit onto their home turf and expecting instant success is unrealistic.
The most common type of chipmunk trap is a small live trap with an opening on either one or both sides. These traps are rectangular in shape and have a trigger where the bait is placed. The chipmunk must fully enter the trap in order to grab the bait, and when he grabs the bait, the trigger is activated and the door slams shut. Live traps such as this must be checked every 24 hours. If you decide to bait and set these live chipmunk traps yourself, have a plan for dealing with the captured chipmunk. In many areas state and local laws prohibit relocating captured animals. In areas where relocating animals is permitted, be aware of trespass laws. In addition, most relocated animals do not successfully integrate into their new environment.
Professional wildlife trappers know how each target animal behaves and responds. With many years of experience, he has learned to think like the animal he hunts. Trap placement is most important when targeting chipmunks. Chipmunks do not like to be out in the open, therefore traps should be placed where you have observed the most chipmunk activity. Chipmunks prefer to dart about in covered spaces which covertly hide their activity. Good ideas for chipmunk trap placements include attics, near rock or wood piles that they frequently hop on or about, and underneath structures such as sheds and decks.
An ideal chipmunk trap placement is near the entrance to the burrow. The entrance holes to chipmunk burrows can sometimes be difficult to find. Chipmunks deliberately conceal the main entrance amongst rocks, wood piles, or leaves and branches. Chipmunk entrance holes do not have a visible pile of sand at the surface because chipmunks disperse the excavated earth throughout your yard. However, carefully observing the chipping woodland creatures in your yard, may lead you to the burrow entrance.
Chipmunks, and many other rodents, often travel along hard edges such as a fence line or along a wall… especially if shrubs or vegetation overgrowth can provide some cover. Placing a two-way trap door style trap along these walls or edges increases your odds of a capture as you may get the chipmunk either coming or going.
Laws require that all live traps be checked every 24 hours. Sometimes live traps capture non-target animals such as pets, bunnies, and other critters that should be released as quickly as possible. This requirement applies to homeowner do-it-yourself wildlife trappers as well as professional licensed nuisance wildlife officers. In addition, if you choose a live capture trap, research your state and local laws for relocation of captured wildlife.
In addition to a cage style trap which captures chipmunks alive, some people prefer to use a rat snap trap. Your standard wooden rectangular rat trap is considered a lethal trap and is quite effective against chipmunks. These traps are more inconspicuous than a cage style trap thus chipmunks may be more agreeable to approaching this trap and taking the bait. These smaller traps can be placed in areas that would be inaccessible to the cage style traps, such as closer to the mouth of the burrow and other chipmunk frolicking locations. These traps are inexpensive, therefore you can easily set them around all possible areas of chipmunk activity. However, be cautious… if children and pets play in your yard these traps may not be the best option.
Chipmunk Trap Bait
Chipmunks are one of the more difficult backyard critters to trap. They are clever yet skittish and not easily tempted with a peanut in a cage when your yard more than supplies their needs. You may have to move the traps around until you find a successful spot. In addition, choice of bait matters. Most professionals use some sort of aromatic sticky substance on the bait plate topped with a delicious morsel. The sticky substance holds the bait in the trap so the wind doesn’t blow your sunflower seeds or corn kernel away!
Think about foods that the chipmunk has been eating in your yard which now may be out of season or unavailable. If they have feasted on your blueberries from the bush and there are no more blueberries, try a swab of peanut butter with a blueberry on top. A mop of honey or banana with a walnut, pecan, hazelnut, almond or peanut may also tempt the chipmunk into entering the trap. Oatmeal, fruit such as strawberries, raisins, or prunes, raw (not roasted) nuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, and sometimes simply grain cereal are all good chipmunk bait choices. Some people choose to use a premade granola bar that contains many different appealing flavors and aromas, while other people have good luck keeping it simple.
The composition of every yard is unique and the chipmunks that dwell therein have different food preferences and comfort levels. Take note of what the chipmunks are currently eating in your yard and make sure your bait offering is more attractive than their current food supply. Although every professional trapper has their own preferred bait concoction, be prepared to mix up your bait offerings if you are not finding success. Be persistent and patient, chipmunks have a greedy streak and love to store excess food.
Nextgen Pest Solutions Chipmunk Trapping Services
Chipmunks can be a formidable opponent. Their gregarious chirping nature as they cavort around your yard can deceptively conceal the damage they are doing beneath the earth’s surface and to your garden and ornamental trees and shrubs. While they prefer to be outdoors and underground, they do occasionally get comfortable in attics, basements, and in wall voids. Nextgen Pest Solutions has the knowledge, expertise, and equipment to remove the chipmunks that are causing damage to your home and garden. Call us today for a free chipmunk removal quote.