Many people know about the chipmunks’ massive cheek pouches and love for nuts, but not everyone knows where those rodents go to rest at the end of the day.
Chipmunks prefer the subterranean lifestyle and dig their own homes underground. However, they don’t settle for just any burrow and aren’t usually keen on having roommates.
What makes their homes so special, and could their burrowing habits be a nuisance for you? That’s what we set out to find!
Let’s start with the big-picture stuff: Most chipmunks live in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
In fact, out of all 25 species, only one isn’t native to North America, and that would be the Siberian chipmunk.
But where exactly do they live?
Well, chipmunks can live in deciduous forests, meadows, woodlands, and gardens. Basically, they’re not picky about the general location and will stay anywhere as long as they can find food and shelter from predators.
Speaking of shelter, chipmunks could, technically, make a home out of a log or even nest in the bushes, but that’s not the best-case scenario.
Instead, their dream home is an underground burrow—a rather complex one at that.
Although chipmunks aren’t fussy about the environment, they put a lot of effort into digging and maintaining their dens.
Here’s a quick overview to help you put things into perspective:
- Depth: Up to 3 feet
- Length: 10–30 feet
- Entrance: 2 inches (unmarked)
- Site: Sloped (a nifty trick to help with water drainage!)
- Layout: Multi-chambered
That might seem like a lot of space for a rodent that’s most likely going to weigh under 5 ounces, but that’s because chipmunks prefer to live in elaborate dens.
How elaborate, you ask?
The kind with a designated nesting area, storage spaces, escape routes, and tunnel systems that drain water to the bottom to keep the living areas dry. Those little chippers thought of everything!
They aren’t slobs, either. Their nesting chambers (rounded and nearly 6 inches in diameter) are kept clean and lined with insulating materials like shredded leaves.
The chippers could store their winter food stash under those leaves or have a separate storage chamber altogether.
The roomy accommodation isn’t built overnight, though. A chipmunk starts by digging with a few inches that plunge straight down. Then, the hole levels off to a tunnel, running parallel to the surface with the main chamber at the end.
Over time, he’ll add small “expansions” to the den.
The beauty of the process is that, most likely, no one will be able to tell that there’s any digging going on while the rodent is expanding his home. That’s because chipmunks don’t leave dirt mounds outside the entrance.
Instead, they carry the excess dirt in their cheek pouches and dispose of it far away. They even try to choose hidden spots for the entry points, like the base of a fencepost, just to make it harder for predators to spot their homes.
Fun fact: Chipmunks’ sophisticated burrowing process can help aerate the soil!
You’d think that with this much planning and meticulous burrowing, the chipmunks would share dens so they could have a helping hand.
But that’s not the case; these chippers are solitary creatures.
Each burrow houses one chipmunk, with the exception of the two breeding seasons. That’s when the males (bucks) wander off to neighboring territories, searching for females (does).
The bucks and does don’t live together after mating. However, when the 31-day gestation period is over, the doe keeps the little ones (2–6 pups) in her den and cares for them until they’re old enough to leave.
Typically, there’s an 8–10-week window where the doe shares her burrow with her offspring, but then they go and find their own home ranges. In a year, they reach sexual maturity and start the breeding cycle once again.
It’s also worth noting that the male offspring often take homes further away from their natal burrows than their female siblings.
So, chipmunks live pretty much anywhere that’s safe and has an abundance of food, but can they move into your yard?
Yes, it’s entirely possible for chipmunks to live around rural and suburban areas. That means you could find them nesting in backyards, especially those with fruit-bearing trees and accessible bird feeders.
Some people won’t mind having the squirrel-like guests around and will just let them be. Meanwhile, others could be wary of the potential structural damage to patios and retention walls from all that burrowing.
Yet, the Humane Society reports that structural damage isn’t a serious concern. Odds are, the main nuisance will be these chippers helping themselves to fruits from your garden, injuring plants while they’re at it.
If you would rather not take the risk with chipmunks, try the following preventative tips and tricks:
- Block entry points in the fence with quarter-inch hardware cloth.
- Use L-footer wire fencing.
- Set a gravel (plant-free) border all around your yard.
- Grow wild-life-repellent plants, like daffodils, in your garden.
- Use single-type bird feed, preferably not sunflowers.
- Keep bird feeders out of reach, 12 feet away from tree trunks.
- Clear the debris regularly from your yard to reduce the available resources.
- Cover bulbs in your garden with a hardware cloth.
Taking proactive steps is often less of a hassle than trying to get chipmunks out.
Filling the holes to force the rodents to move out might seem like a good idea initially. However, since the dens aren’t marked, you’ll have a hard time even identifying the entrances.
Plus, they could always re-dig other openings into their tunnels.
In cases like this, trapping and releasing could be the only way to effectively (and humanely) get rid of the chipmunks for good.
One vital thing to keep in mind here is that because chipmunks are solitary, you need to be careful about where you release your live catch. The poor fellow could get into trouble if he’s released into other chipmunks’ territory.
Yes, chipmunks have home ranges around their burrow that they defend against intruders. They can even be vocal about it and release sharp, threatening chips and trilling alarms!
Female chipmunks can be aggressive about their territory, too. That’s particularly true if they’re in estrus or their babies still live with them.
The home range could be around 0.18–0.37 acres, depending on the chipmunk’s age and sex.
Older chipmunks and males tend to enjoy larger home ranges.
For instance, if the buck defends a 0.37-acre territory, a doe in the same location could have a 0.26-acre home range. Plus, the daughters and mothers could have overlapping ranges.
Chipmunks don’t relocate during the winter. Instead, they use the same burrows all year round.
That said, it might look like they left the area because they sleep the cold off and rarely get out of their dens.
The chipmunk population is not invincible in the face of forest fragmentation. Thankfully, the chippers aren’t considered at-risk, though.
In short, most chipmunks live alone in underground dens in forests, meadows, and even backyards.
They dig deep, elaborate tunnel systems and do their best to hide the entrances from predators, which makes it harder for you to spot them on your property.
Considering this unique housing preference, you can see why chipmunks don’t make great pets. Sure, you could give them extra bedding, but they won’t be able to dig complex dens like they would in the wild!
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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