Fifteen species of native chipmunks of the genus Eutamias and one of the genus Tamias are found in North America. The eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) is what homeowners find throughout New Jersey. Behavior and damage are similar among all species of native chipmunks. Therefore, damage control recommendations are similar for all species when dealing with chipmunk removal.
The eastern chipmunk is a small, brownish, ground-dwelling squirrel. It is typically 5 to 6 inches (13 to 15 cm) long and weighs about 3 ounces (90 g). It has two tan and five blackish longitudinal stripes on its back, and two tan and two brownish stripes on each side of its face. The longitudinal stripes end at the reddish rump. The tail is 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) long and hairy, but it is not bushy.
The eastern chipmunk’s range includes most of the eastern United States.
Eastern chipmunks typically inhabit mature woodlands and woodlot edges, but they also inhabit areas in and around suburban and rural homes. Chipmunks are generally solitary except during courtship or when rearing young. Chipmunks spend most of their time on the ground, although they can climb trees. The home range of a chipmunk may be up to 1/2 acre, but the adult only defends a territory about 50 feet (15.2 m) around the burrow entrance. Chipmunks are most active during the early morning and late afternoon.
Chipmunk burrows often are well-hidden near objects or buildings such as stumps, wood piles or brush piles, basements, and garages. The burrow entrance is usually about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter. There are no obvious mounds of dirt around the entrance because the chipmunk carries the dirt in its cheek pouches and scatters it away from the burrow, making the burrow entrance less conspicuous.
In most cases, the chipmunk’s main tunnel is 20 to 30 feet (6 m to 9 m) in length, but complex burrow systems occur where cover is sparse. Burrow systems normally include a nesting chamber, one or two food storage chambers, various side pockets connected to the main tunnel, and separate escape tunnels.
With the onset of cold weather, chipmunks enter a restless hibernation and are relatively inactive from late fall through the winter months. Chipmunks do not enter a deep hibernation but rely on the cache of food they have brought to their burrow. Some become active on warm, sunny days during the winter. Most chipmunks emerge from hibernation in early March.
Eastern chipmunks mate two times a year, during early spring and again during the summer or early fall. There is a 31-day gestation period. Two to 5 young are born in April to May and again in August to October. The young are sexually mature within 1 year. Adults may live up to 3 years. Adult least chipmunks mate over a period of 4 to 6 weeks from April to mid-July.
Chipmunk pups appear above ground when they are 4 to 6 weeks old — 2/3 the size of an adult. Young will leave the burrow at 6 to 8 weeks.
The diet of chipmunks consists primarily of grains, nuts, berries, seeds, mushrooms, insects, and carrion. Although chipmunks are mostly ground-dwelling rodents, they regularly climb trees in the fall to gather nuts, fruits, and seeds. Chipmunks cache food in their burrows throughout the year. By storing and scattering seeds, they promote the growth of various plants.
Chipmunks also prey on young birds and bird eggs. Chipmunks themselves serve as prey for several predators.
Throughout their North American range, chipmunks are considered minor agricultural pests. Most conflicts with chipmunks are nuisance problems. Chipmunk removal is especially necessary when they are present in large numbers since they can cause structural damage by burrowing under patios, stairs, retention walls, or foundations. They may also consume flower bulbs, seeds, or seedlings, as well as bird seed, grass seed, and pet food that is not stored in rodent-proof storage containers.
Chipmunks are not protected by federal law, but state and local regulations may apply. Most states allow landowners or tenants to terminate chipmunks when they are causing or about to cause damage. Some states (for example, Georgia, North Carolina, and Arkansas) require a permit to kill nongame animals. Other states are currently developing laws to protect all nongame species. Consult your local conservation agency or USDA-APHIS-ADC personnel for the legal status of chipmunks and allowed methods of chipmunk control in your state.
Rodent-proof construction will exclude chipmunks from structures. Use 1/4-inch (0.6-cm) mesh hardware cloth to exclude chipmunks from gardens and flower beds.
Store food items, such as bird seed and dog food, in rodent-proof containers. Ground covers, shrubs, and wood piles should not be located adjacent to structure foundations.
Area repellents: Naphthalene (moth flakes or moth balls) may be effective if liberally applied in confined places. Taste repellents: Repellents containing bitrex, thiram, or ammonium soaps of higher fatty acids applied to flower bulbs, seeds, and vegetation (not for human consumption) may control feeding damage.
None are federally registered. Check with local extension agents or a USDA-APHIS-ADC personnel for possible Special Local Needs 24(c) registrations.
Live (box or cage) traps.
Frightening chipmunks is not an effective tactic and fumigating usually does not work. When it comes to chipmunk control and other wildlife removal issues, call or contact the experts at Cowleys Pest Services to schedule an inspection!