Living with chipmunks

(Photo by Will Dendis)

It is the year of the chipmunk. These pocket-sized creatures are having a banner year, invading my yard in great numbers. I have a spending posse. As a group, they’re officially named a scurry. 

They apparently have found this is a good neighborhood to live in. I have observed five or six at a time playing what appears to be tag. Maybe they are just angry about the space-sharing arrangements. They chase each other with a vengeance, darting in and around my back yard.

They have discovered that I serve up the finest in black-oil sunflower seeds in the nine bird feeders on my back deck. These industrious rodents make repeated trips, stuffing their cheeks and disappearing into my rock garden, only to return in a few short minutes for another trip to their larder. Should my generous bird feeding abruptly come to an end, I am sure these determined varmints have stashed enough in storage to last them for a few years. Maybe my yard would one day burst into a huge magical garden, with acres of sunflowers appearing from every nook, cranny and rock crevice.


Chipmunks are part of the squirrel family, which includes 23 species, I can’t imagine the tenacity of the rodentologist seeking out and naming these many creatures all over North America. Their genus is Tamias, Greek for treasurer, steward or housekeeper, suitably named for these creatures.

An Iroquois legend tells the story of how the bear, a powerful creature in the forest, would often brag about his strength and what he could do. The chipmunk Overhearing his many boasts, the chipmunk challenged him to do something really big. “Can you keep the sun from rising?” the wily chipmunk asked. The bear said he had never tried, but was sure he could do it.

The next morning at sunrise the chipmunk started laughing about how the sun was stronger than the bear. The bear was unhappy. The little chipmunk ran around him in circles, singing about how the bear was not as powerful as he thought he was. The bear got angry at this noisy little creature making fun of him and shot out his paw, pinning the little creature to the ground.

“Perhaps I cannot keep the sun from rising, but I can keep you from not ever seeing another one,” the bear said. The chipmunk tried to appease the bear, telling him he was only joking. But the bear wouldn’t let him go.

The chipmunk begged to be able to say a prayer to the creator before he died, saying he could barely breathe. He appealed to the bear to lift his paw just a little. That was all the chipmunk needed. He squirmed free and dashed toward his hole. The bear swung his paw at him, and missed. But his sharp claws scraped along the chipmunk’s back, leaving three pale scars. To this day, all chipmunks wear these scars as a reminder of what happens when one animal makes fun of another.

While they’re cute to look at, these clever creatures have invaded my flower pots and flower boxes, digging up new seedlings, uprooting plants and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

My daughter bought me a have-a-heart trap. With the horde established in my yard, it may take me a great many trips and a long time to be rid of them. It has been suggested that they must be taken at least five miles away if they are to be relocated. By my rough calculations, it may take 30 trips, 300 miles of driving, and a good part of the summer to clear the area. I may not get them out fast enough to prevent them from starting new litters.

So I have decided to forget about planting. I will let them just burrow away. I am hoping to keep the hanging plants out of their reach. l

There is one comment

  1. Joe

    I need a way to be rid of them, they’re tearing up my lawn. If they burrowed a hole and went back and forth through the same one, I could live with it. But there are mounds of dirt and weak spots where they dig. Our yard is large and open, there are no plant shields or other barriers to keep them out.

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