The good, the bad and the cuddly
I need to confess: I have harboured bad thoughts about chipmunks. Murderous thoughts.
I know, chipmunks are cute and fun-loving little critters. They have drawn millions of smiles as the Disney characters Chip and Dale and have enthralled children in comic books and video games.
And Alvin and The Chipmunks made chipmunks world famous with their blockbuster hit The Chipmunk Song (“Christmas Don’t Be Late”) in which Alvin wishes for a hula hoop.
I never really took to that song, preferring instead The Twisted Chipmunk Song, which headlined the 2000 Christmas album Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire.
The reality of chipmunks is that they are rodents. Mice and rats are rodents and people don’t consider them cute and cuddly.
Also, chipmunks dig holes. Not just holes, but holes that are connected by tunnelling systems as elaborate as the catacombs of Paris or Rome.
Despite having millions of acres of forest to dig in, chipmunks prefer to conduct their excavations in gardens, lawns and septic beds. Lovingly planted seeds and bulbs have no hope of sprouting in chipmunk territory.
When they are not digging up my property, chipmunks are eating. They never get full. National Geographic Kids magazine says that a single chipmunk can gather 165 acorns in a day.
They carry off acorns, stolen bird seed, and anything else they can mooch, in cheek pockets that can stretch three times the size of their heads.
Many people view chipmunks as social creatures, animated and friendly and always willing to participate in a friendly game of tag. They often are seen chasing each other but these are not friendly games of tag. They are angry, hot pursuits to recover food one chipmunk has stolen from another.
Chipmunks also are not friendly with other critters. They are at constant war with the blue jays who visit our feeding stations.
They chase the jays off the seed piles then squeak and chipper at them not to come back. The jays sit in the trees, jeering loudly in protest and waiting for an opening to swoop in and grab a mouthful of feed.
There are pauses in the war when the chipmunks have filled their cheeks with seed and must return to their catacombs to store it for winter hibernation. Unlike bears they don’t sleep through the winter but get up often to eat their stored food, then go back to sleep.
They sleep well on their full stomachs. The National Wildlife Federation says that a sleeping chipmunk’s heart rate slows to four beats a minute compared with the hyper rate of 350 beats a minute when they are awake.
All this is interesting information but it does little to subdue my murderous thoughts, which increase when I think about chipmunk reproduction rates. Female chipmunks can give birth twice a year, producing two to eight pups each time.
I have counted as many as eight chipmunks around the bird feeding stations. I calculate that if half of them are females producing eight pups each twice a year, that’s 64 new little chipmunks to put up with each year.
These calculations nourish my murderous thoughts. A possible 64 new chipmunks a year over 10 years is 640 chipmunks, and so on.
Far too many. I need to start reducing their numbers. Rat poison? Mechanical traps? Pellet gun?
I have read that you can buy fox urine and spread it around their tunnelling areas. They sniff it, fear that a fox is waiting to eat them and move away.
That sounds like the product of a super-charged marketing imagination. Besides how does anyone go about collecting pee from foxes?
As I ponder these thoughts, I hear a chipping sound and feel something at my foot.
I look down and see standing on the toe of my shoe a cheery looking chipmunk. He stares up at me with bright, saintly eyes and squeaks happily.
I’m not fluent in chipmunk talk but he seems to be saying: “Why so glum, chum? Relax and have some fun. Wanna play a game of tag?”
He jumps off my shoe and races toward the bird feeders.
That little face is so adorable. My heart melts; my murderous thoughts evaporate.
Some rodents are cute and cuddly.