How to provide habitat in your yard for chipmunks

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Last Updated: 
February 19, 2003

CORVALLIS - Five species of chipmunks are native to Oregon. Townsend's chipmunk lives from the high Cascades to the Oregon coast. The Siskiyou chipmunk occurs in southwestern Oregon. The least, yellow-pine and Allen's chipmunks are found in the east side of the Cascades.

You can usually distinguish a chipmunk from a squirrel - chipmunks have striped heads, explained Nancy Allen, wildlife instructor with the Oregon State University Extension Service. Ground squirrels have stripes, but only on their bodies.

According to "Mammals of the Pacific Northwest - From the Coast to the High Cascades," by Chris Maser, (OSU Press, 1998) the Townsend chipmunk - most likely to be seen by most Oregonians - lives primarily in wooded or brushy areas. They are active from dawn until dusk and are shy and rarely seen. Females produce a single litter per year, from two to six young.

Their quiet calls are birdlike, often muffled by vegetation. They live primarily in burrows in the ground, but are good climbers. They feed on berries in the late summer and nuts and seeds later in the fall and winter. In the spring they may feed on subterranean fungi, which they find by smelling. They also eat insects, mostly beetles.

If you'd like to encourage chipmunks in your yard, a rock pile, brush pile or old log makes good chipmunk nesting habitat. These shelter areas also will help chipmunks escape from their most deadly urban predator - the house cat.

Unlike marauding squirrels, chipmunks usually pose few problems at bird feeders. But they can become a nuisance if they move into your attic or basement. Prevent chipmunks from entering these areas by covering possible entryways with hardware cloth.

In the past, live-trapping of nuisance animals including chipmunks for release elsewhere was also an accepted method for "getting rid" of a problem.

Wildlife biologists now say that trapping and releasing live animals is a bad idea.

"Trapping doesn't solve the problem, it just moves it somewhere else," said Allen. "The released animal is in unfamiliar territory and could likely face death from starvation or competition.

"People should try to find out what is attracting the unwanted animal and then remove or alter the habitat to discourage the animal," she added. "Sometimes trapping is necessary but rarely. If an animal makes a nest and has young, it's best to wait until all the young have left the nest and then block the entry. Call your local wildlife rehabilitation center for advice."

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Nancy Allen