Eastern Chipmunk

Chipmunk Close-Up (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Chipmunk Close-Up (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Firstly, there is a great story shared by Joseph Bruchac called “How Chipmunk got his stripes”.  It connects the five stripes on the back of the chipmunk with the five claws of a black bear.

Cone on the Cob questions…

*During the last tracking weekend, it was suggested that red squirrels eat cones differently (eat from the bottom) than chipmunks (eat from the top).  Is this true?  In Mammal Tracks and Sign, Mark Elbroch writes that chipmunks tend to leave more of the stub that secures the cone scale, making the sign on cone stems bumpier than on cones foraged by red squirrels*.  I have seen red squirrels harvesting cones, nipping the branches that contain the cones and then climbing down the tree to collect his/her food.  In this manner, it would be easier to eat the cone from the base.  Do chipmunks also nip branches to collect cones?  When looking for photos of this on-line, I could only see photos of chipmunks eating the outer tip of cones that had partially opened while still attached to the tree.  However, if the cones were already on the ground (foraged by a red squirrel), couldn’t a chipmunk begin eating the cone from the base as well?  Something to look for…

*Elbroch, M. 2003, Mammal Tracks and Sign, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.

Eastern Chipmunk, July 2014

Eastern Chipmunk, July 2014

These photos were taken at the Guelph Lake Nature Centre in July.  This chipmunk is accustomed to many children running, walking and playing beside his/her burrow underneath the bird feeder. From this photo, it is easy to see 5 toes on the hind foot and 4 toes on the front foot.  The front foot actually has a 5th vestigial thumb that does not register in the track.  Which foot is evident in the next photo?

Chipmunk track

Chipmunk track

According to Mark Elbroch in “Mammal Tracks and Sign”, toe 2 and 5 point outwards to the sides of the track and toes 3 and 4 point forwards (in the front track). In the hind track, toes 1 and 5 point outwards and toes 2, 3, 4 register close together, pointing forward.* My guess is that this photo is a left, hind track.

*Elbroch, M. 2003, Mammal Tracks and Sign, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.

Chipmunk scat

Chipmunk scat

Chipmunk burrow

Chipmunk burrow

Chipmunk entrances are clean – no throw mound of dirt or discarded food remains.  Chipmunks remove soil, debris and food remains out a “back door” where it is scattered to avoid attracting attention; then this entrance is plugged until it is needed again.  Any debris or soil at the front door is also scattered and smoothed down.  Entrances that are made on flat earth tend to go straight down for a hand’s length before turning off at an angle* (Mammal Tracks and Sign, page 429).

*Elbroch, M. 2003, Mammal Tracks and Sign, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.

Alarm calls: (Excerpt from: Behavior of North American Mammals*, p 301)

Their songs can be heard up to 185 metres away.

Chip = an alarm for mammalian predators or a morning song if sung in a 10 minute series of chips made once or twice per second).

(I actually heard this while visiting friends near Huntsville in early August, 2014.  I woke up around 6:00 am and wandered outdoors.  The forest was just waking up, bathed in a dull light. I heard a soft chip chip chip sound – a quiet song that lasted for a long time. It was a very sweet song).

Chuck = a male to male threat, or when vocalized repeatedly, it is an alarm for aerial predators.

Multi-note trill = chipmunk fleeing with its tail upright in the air (females use the trill more than males when they are close to their burrows).

Whistle = males engaged in chases during the breeding season.

Soft cuck cuck sounds = a calm chipmunk

*Elbroch, M. & Rinehart K. 2011, Behavior of North American Mammals, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, NY.

Beaked hazelnut opened by a chipmunk? (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

Beaked hazelnut opened by a chipmunk? (Algonquin Park, August 2014)

The hazelnut is enclosed in a “green-beaked” husk.  Tiny filaments protrude from the husk and may stick to the skin on contact.  I was able to pull these filaments out of my skin fairly easily.  I wonder how chipmunks and red squirrels navigate these hairs? 

Here is a neat way to use a quarter to determine chipmunk vs red squirrel vs grey squirrel, shared by Chris Earley – an amazing naturalist and author of several nature guides: “I use the quarter to get a sense of the size of the tracks, plus I can extrapolate it for measuring if needed. In general, I find the hind foot track of a chipmunk to be smaller than the quarter, the red squirrel to be about the same width as the quarter and a gray squirrel to be bigger than the quarter. This is for snow tracks – in sand the tracks may be more spread out.”

In 2011, I was with the “Earth Club”at the Guelph Lake Nature Centre.  This group was made up of mostly Grade 2 students that had worked really hard to make their school, J.D. Hogarth in Fergus a greener place.  This June trip was a celebration of their successes.  We saw some amazing things at the nature centre that day, such as a “Click” beetle – a beetle that is long and silver with black circles on its thorax.  The interesting thing about this beetle is that when it is on its back, it rights itself by making a loud “Click” sound.  The children were fascinated by this.  However, the most amazing scene was still to come…

We had just come around the corner from the bird feeder when one of the children and her mom noticed some rustling in the grasses and sounds of alarm.  I peeked over the cedar fence rail and there we saw a weasel attacking a chipmunk.  The weasel used its long body like a snake to wrap itself around the chipmunk.  The chipmunk was a formidable meal – larger in girth than the weasel but the snake-like predator was able to capture its prey.  I had seen what I think is this same weasel in the winter of that year – he/she peeked out of a red squirrel hole in its ermine snow-white winter colouring, waiting for a red squirrel to come.  I remember looking at its winter coat and thinking how beautiful it was and also understanding its somewhat scary effectiveness as a predator.  It moved on that year after eating several chipmunks and red squirrels.  The bird feeder was a bit quieter that winter.

Weasel eating a chipmunk (Guelph Lake Nature Centre, June 2011)

Weasel eating a chipmunk (Guelph Lake Nature Centre, June 2011)

 

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