Beyond Your Backyard: Chipmunks Preparing for Winter

 Eastern Chipmunk.  Photo by Dominique Lalonde.

Eastern Chipmunk. Photo by Dominique Lalonde.

Kimberly J. Epp

There is nothing more adorable than watching a tiny chipmunk fill up its cheek pouches, and at this time of year there is a great urgency to fill up and store food for over the winter. They are one of the most delightful, yet one of the most secretive of nature's children.

Every autumn, chipmunks exchange their bright summer coat for a warmer, less colorful one.

The Eastern Chipmunk is the largest species, while the Least Chipmunk is the smallest. All chipmunks live in underground burrows, but Western Chipmunks build tree nests for the summer.

Chipmunks spend most of their days gathering food, which they carry in those special cheek pouches. One chipmunk was found carrying over 3,700 blueberry seeds in its pouches! A chipmunk can stuff 6 chestnuts into its cheeks, three on each side. Each chestnut is as big as the chipmunk's head!

 Least Chipmunk.  Photo by Kimberly Epp

Least Chipmunk. Photo by Kimberly Epp

Now they are even more busily gathering and storing food in preparation for winter. The winter pantry of food is kept under their nests. One nest was found with over 68,000 seeds stored under it! During winter, they go into hibernation.

Most hibernating animals put on extra fat to help them survive winter. Chipmunks do not, so that is why they must store away a good supply of food. Then it is kept under their nest for when they wake up and need a snack - although chipmunks eat the most food just before going into their initial hibernation. It is not clear how often they wake up.

Here in Canada, chipmunks begin to hibernate in late October to early November. You can help chipmunks out by offering them foods high in fat and protein, like peanuts and pine nuts. They won't turn down a tasty berry, either. Take time to connect with nature. We are, after all, connected - and we share this crazy world together!

Stay tuned for my upcoming "Beyond Your Backyard" article on crows and other corvids.

Epp is an Environmental Educator and Nature Writer based out of Moose Jaw, SK. She can be reached at kepp@shaw.ca.

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