Although pleasing to the eye, chipmunks can cause extensive destruction to your property. They are not destructive per se, but their burrowing, while harvesting fruits and nuts, can destroy your patio, foundation, retaining walls, and stairs. They will also make a mess in your garden and neatly manicured lawn. Chipmunks like to live in underground burrows and, as such, are not common home invaders. If you see one or two chipmunks scampering around your home, it’s highly likely there is a nest around.
In this article, we provide in-depth details about chipmunks, from how to identify them and their characteristics to what they eat and why you need to get rid of them. Read on for great tips and pointers on how to get rid of chipmunks and prevent a future invasion.
It may take a while before you realize you have a chipmunk problem in your home because the critters are so shy and quick. If you are lucky, you may spot them scampering around your yard. They spot a tan to reddish coat with five dark stripes running down their backs and heads. Also, most of the time, their bushy tails are upright.
If you can see them clearly, they are also fairly cute with fat, puffy cheeks, just like some other rodents.
Chipmunks look a lot like squirrels, but they have myriad differences. Although both rodents belong to the squirrel family, you will notice the differences in color, weight, size, and behavior when you take a closer look.
Size and weight: Chipmunks are smaller than squirrels and don’t even grow to a foot long. The average chipmunk measures about five to six inches, while a squirrel can grow up to 13 inches long.
Moreover, chipmunks don’t weigh much compared to squirrels. When fully grown, chipmunks weigh less than six ounces. On the other hand, squirrels can be as heavy as two pounds when mature.
There are two common species of chipmunks namely the Eastern and Western chipmunks. Nevertheless, there are up to 25 different species with 24 of them being native to North America. These include examples like the Colorado chipmunk, Hopi chipmunk, long-eared chipmunk, red-tailed chipmunk, California chipmunk, etc.
The one exception is the Siberian chipmunk, native to northern Asia. This species features yellow to brown fur on most of its body although the fur on the belly is white. Additionally, its cheek pouches can expand up to three times the size of its head allowing it to carry more food to its burrow.
Siberian chipmunks are different from others in that they share their burrows while most North American species live mostly solitary lives. As for the more common Eastern and Western chipmunks here are their traits.
The Eastern Chipmunk is common in the Midwest to the Eastern U.S. It’s about one foot long with a three to five-inch long tail. The chipmunk spots rusty red to brown fur on its body with five dark and two pale stripes on its back. It also as two brown stripes on its face.
While more common in forests and woodlots, there’s a chance you might see one around your property foraging for food. Eastern chipmunks are mostly hoarders and will spend a significant portion of their day gathering and storing food in their burrows.
The Western Chipmunk is common in the Western U.S. and Canada. It is a bit smaller than the Eastern Chipmunk, weighing a mere two ounces and measuring about six to 11 inches in length. Its fur is grey, brown, reddish and white with stripes.
Chipmunks lead a solitary life until its time to breed. Unlike most mammals, chipmunks have two breeding seasons annually. The females attract males with a shrill, birdlike chirp.
The first mating season happens on milder winter days when spring is approaching. This is the only time you are likely to see a chipmunk in the cold months because they leave their burrows briefly. The female gives birth in April or May.
The second mating season happens during summer in July or August. The young ones are born in in early fall.
Female chipmunks give birth to a litter of two to eight young ones. The young ones don’t leave the burrows until they are old enough to move on their own. What’s more they are prey to other animals higher in the food chain.
How long do chipmunks live? The average lifespan of a chipmunk in the wild is about two to three years depending on environmental factors like availability of food and safety from predators.
Captive chipmunks may live significantly longer, although you cannot domesticate them. Furthermore, it’s illegal to own these furry critters in some states like Arizona or New Hampshire.
A female chipmunk will also typically rebuff the males after mating, choosing to rear their young by themselves.
Chipmunks are not aggressively dangerous, but they can cause harm by damaging property and spreading diseases. Most homeowners get concerned about chipmunks’ ability to engineer a system of tunnels under patios, foundations, walkways, and stairs. Their burrowing can weaken supports and damage these areas.
They also cause massive destructions in flower and vegetable gardens when foraging for food. They will gnaw at, and devour your fruits, plants and vegetables. They may also snack on your birds’ or pets’ food if you leave the feeders outside.
Besides destruction, chipmunks can bite and transmit diseases to humans if they are hosts to infected parasites like fleas and ticks. A chipmunk will scratch and bite if it feels cornered or threatened.
Some of the illnesses it may transmit include:
A chipmunk transmits diseases through its saliva after biting. Should you get bit by a chipmunk, clean the wound immediately and apply an antibiotic cream. If you develop any symptoms, seek medical attention right away.
To prevent your exposure to chipmunk diseases, keep off animal burrows, and avoid feeding and touching dead or injured rodents in the wild.
Just like other pests, chipmunks will get attracted to your yard if it suits their nesting and feeding preferences. Here are some top reasons why chipmunks would pick your yard as their new dwelling place:
If you have a garden with foods that suit chipmunks’ menu, an invasion by the furry rodents is pretty inevitable. Chipmunks are omnivores with an extensive diet that includes the seeds and fruits of different trees and shrubs, small reptiles, amphibians, insects, eggs, and young birds.
Chipmunks will get attracted to your home if the geography and the features of your land suits their nesting preferences. They like to dig burrows in various locations including; gardens, lawns, woodpiles, woodlands, parks and brushy areas. If your home has similar land features, you may notice a few burrows. When you spot a chipmunk on your yard, it is likely that it has a burrow within the area. They are good climbers, but they like to scurry on the ground near their burrows. Burrows are pretty much the center of chipmunks’ lives and they barely go far from their home.
Chipmunks will only settle in your yard if it offers cover. They do not shy away from building burrows in man-made and developed settings. If they find your yard ideal, they will dig shallow burrows for resting while foraging during the day and deep burrows for hibernation during winter. Further, chipmunks will get attracted to your home if they find pre-formed tunnels that only need a little renovation. According to an article by SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, renovating old root channels and existing burrows of other mammals is chipmunks’ main method of burrow construction.
As mentioned before, you may not spot a chipmunk in your home because they are shy and quick. However, they will leave evidence of their presence in your property.
Some of the things that will suggest a chipmunk infestation include:
If you discover a burrow in your yard, just know that your home is already supporting an extensive underground tunnel system that runs up to 30 feet or more. You need to act quickly to protect your garden and structures from further damages upon the discovery.
According to a journal article by the National Library of Medicine, all mammals have internal clocks and primal knowledge of the seasons to anticipate variation in temperature and food availability so they can adapt to the environment and survive.
During fall, chipmunks work hard to gather a lot of food in preparation for winter. They don’t necessarily sleep through winter but go into a kind of hibernation that involves them retreating into their burrows and initiating an inactive state to live on stored food. Apart from feeding, the only other things they do are sleep and defecate.
During spring, chipmunks leave the burrows for the first mating season. When the weather is warm enough, they scurry above the ground near their burrows. In summer, they mate the second time.
Many people assume that chipmunks build their burrows with piles of dirt. This is far from true as the furry rodents build their burrows free from dirt both at the entrance and exit. The burrow holes are usually tiny, measuring about two to three inches in diameter and about two to three feet under the surface.
Chipmunks like to burrow in sheltered areas because cover gives them comfort. Therefore, they are likely to burrow under patios, stairs, and other well-hidden spots near a house or building. Their main reason for burrowing is to be away from predators like cats, hawks, snakes, foxes, skunks, and owls. Most predators, in their adult stage, cannot fit into a chipmunk’s burrow.
In addition to the burrows being about two to three inches in diameter and two to three feet deep, the critters will typically dig about ten feet parallel to the ground. The end will also act as their sleeping chamber. There are also food storage chambers.
Chipmunks aren’t the only burrowing pests you might find in your yard, with moles and gophers being other examples. So how do you know when you’re dealing with a chipmunk, not a gopher or a mole?
One major differentiator is the size, with chipmunks being the smallest of the bunch. Moles can grow up to ten inches, while chipmunks typically average six inches, as mentioned above. As for gophers, they can be anywhere from five to 14 inches. These differences also translate into how wide the animals are.
Ultimately, this means that hole sizes in the ground are different. Gopher burrows, for instance, are 2½ to 3½ inches wide. Mole tunnels, on the other hand, are rarely wider than two inches wide. Comparatively, chipmunks can create underground tunnels up to three inches wide.
You won’t find mounds of dirt near or around a chipmunk hole. Conversely, with gophers, there are fan-shaped mounds around the hole, while mole mounds seem to be more cylindrical.
Diet also seems to be a differentiating factor. Chipmunks are omnivores meaning they will eat almost anything they get their paws on. Moles are insectivorous, with their diet comprising primarily of white grub and earthworms, although they can eat other insects as well.
As for gophers, they’re herbivores meaning they’ll target your greenery. Nevertheless, by burrowing into the ground, all three could cause plant damage by either eating into the roots or destroying root systems as they build their tunnels.
According to the National Wildlife Control Training Program, chipmunks may be protected by regulation in some states. Though most states allow the capturing and killing of chipmunks when they are causing damage, you better check with your state’s wildlife agency for restrictions or permits.
Also, even if it is possible to kill them, there are other ways to deal with the rodents that don’t necessarily lead to their death.
How to Get Rid of Chipmunks Humanely
You don’t have to exterminate chipmunks cruelly. Here are some humane chipmunk damage prevention and control methods;
Food and nesting opportunities are the main reasons why chipmunks would invade your home. Keeping your yard clean is the first step you should take at managing and prevent a chipmunk infestation. If you have a garden, ensure you pick up your fruiting trees and bushes immediately they ripen. Rake up all the fruits and vegetables that fall on the ground. If you have birds, invest in spill-free bird feeders that chipmunks or squirrels can’t get into.
Clear all the areas that can provide coverage from predators like logs, piles of leaves, shrubs and tall grasses. If you keep the yard clean, neat, and open, chipmunks will feel exposed and leave for better nesting opportunities.
A live trap is an ideal humane way of getting rid of chipmunks, especially if the infestation is not too large. The only downside of live traps is that it hardly works for a large infestation and doesn’t make your home safe from a future infestation. For effectiveness, you can pair live traps with other methods like fencing or using repellents.
Essentially, a live trap is a one-way or spring-loaded door. You can use traps designed for other rodents like mice and rats to trap chipmunks as they are all about the same size. A live trap is more humane, but you would have to remove the chipmunk before it dies. You have to be extra careful when releasing a chipmunk from a live trap because it will feel cornered and will try to defend itself by biting or scratching.
Compared to snap traps, live traps are more ethical, humane, and much easier to use. A snap trap would require cleaning afterwards to avoid attracting other pests. Plus, cleaning up after a chipmunk’s carcass can expose you to infections.
To catch chipmunks with a live trap:
Before using traps to get rid of chipmunks, check your state and local regulations for any limitations. Some states don’t allow the use of kill traps to exterminate a chipmunk infestation.
Additionally, even if you are to release the chipmunk some wildlife sanctuaries do not allow releasing injured or orphaned critters.
Trapping will only work if there is a limited number of chipmunks on your property. After all, you can only set a few traps at a time. Furthermore, having to drive two hours to a wildlife sanctuary or a forest near you to get rid of the chipmunk will likely get old pretty fast.
This is another highly effective yet humane way of trapping chipmunks. Fill a bucket with water, then sprinkle sunflower seeds on the surface. Place the bucket near the chipmunk burrow or where you have frequently seen the critters in your yard. The chipmunk will fall in the water, trying to eat the seeds. The bucket shouldn’t be too full to drown the chipmunk but enough for it to remain trapped. Quickly transport the chipmunk to a forested area far away from home.
You can buy non-toxic commercial products or use DIY liquid and granule repellents. Add two tablespoons of cayenne to one quart of water, then boil. Let the mixture cool, then add two tablespoons of olive oil. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle, shake well, and spray the chipmunk-infested areas. Be patient and keep re-applying the solution until the chipmunks come in contact with the distasteful treatment.
Alternatively, you can use granular repellents as they are longer-lasting than liquid sprays. You can get a commercial granular repellent or simply sprinkle cayenne pepper generously on the infested areas.
An electronic repellent is highly effective as it uses ultrasonic pulses or water sprays to get rid of chipmunks and other pests that may invade your home. A high-quality and non-toxic electronic repellent can handle an infestation in an area as large as 900 to 1200 square feet with a safe and consistent power source like A.A. batteries and an AC 110 volt plug outlet.
Most animals, including chipmunks and other rodents, can’t stand the taste of spices or hot sauce. Mix some hot sauce or spices with water and spray the solution on your garden or lawn. When chipmunks come out to forage, they will get repulsed by the distasteful hot sauce solution and seek other suitable habitats and food sources. You have to keep spraying the hot sauce solution until the chipmunks realize the environment is not ideal for their well-being anymore.
Chipmunks are not fond of mothballs. Just like moths, chipmunks will find the odor and materials of mothballs very repulsing. Although it will not kill them when they ingest, it will warn them that the environment is not friendly. Scatter mothballs around your house’s foundation and any known infested areas. If you have kids and pets, avoid using mothballs as they are poisonous when ingested.
Chipmunks are not only shy but also very easy to scare. The little critters will literally run for their lives if you leave a few beach balls to be blown by the wind on your yard. You may have to pair this strategy with another one, like the use of hot sauce or spicy spray, as research-based wildlife control information by the Wildlife Control Training Program (NWCTP) rules out the availability of an effective frightening device that can scare chipmunks.
You can hang shiny objects around the planting beds in your garden or in your yard. When the chipmunks come out to forage during the day, they may get scared by the shiny objects flickering in the daylight.
Ultrasonic zappers are excellent pest repellents that work short wavelength, high-frequency sound waves that are too loud for the human ear. Animals and insects hear sounds in a higher range than humans. Therefore an ultrasonic zapper would make the environment unfriendly for chipmunks forcing them to leave.
Planting chipmunk repellent plants is one of the best humane chipmunk control methods. Daffodil, French marigold, grape hyacinth, onions, and the glory of snow are among the plants that chipmunks are not fond of, and most of them have strong smells that repel chipmunks.
Planting these in or around your vegetable garden is a warning sign for the chipmunks to stay away from your plants.
Once you’ve dealt with the current infestation, you’ll be left with holes in your backyard that you have to deal with. Fortunately, they’re not as tricky to deal with as the small critters. What you need is soil, a shovel, and an accurate idea of how many holes there are in the vicinity.
Fill the holes with fresh soil and pack it in. It’s also a good idea to include used cat litter and gravel. The latter makes it harder for a chipmunk to dig through the same spot, while the used cat litter contains traces of cat urine and feces. This will indicate to the chipmunk that there’s a predator in the yard, so they’d better stay away.
If your state laws allow killing chipmunks and you feel like you have had enough of the pesky critters, you can kill them. Some of the easiest ways of killing chipmunks include:
Kill traps are only practical for exterminating a small chipmunk infestation in an area less than one acre. You will need to do a quick scan of the site and count the number of chipmunks to establish the number of traps you will need. Multiply the number of burrows you find by three to get the correct number of traps to get the job done. Bait the traps with peanut butter, fruit, vegetables, sunflower seeds, nuts, or meats, then lay them near the active burrows or runways. Place the bait behind the traps to avoid attracting birds. Also, you may have to restrict other animals that come to the chipmunk infested area from visiting before laying the traps.
Gas cartridges are an effective solution to quickly drive chipmunks out of their burrows and potentially kill them. They may not kill the entire family of chipmunks but will definitely evict them, giving you the chance to fill up the holes and set up other control methods to prevent them from returning.
Light the gas cartridge and place it on the burrow’s entrance. Smoke will fill up the tunnels, and the chipmunks will run for their lives or die if they can’t get out. When lighting the gas cartridge, take care not to inhale the toxic fumes. Also, ensure the chipmunks are in the burrows before lighting the gas cartridge. Since they are usually active during the day, use the gas cartridge at dusk.
Phosphide tablets are another possible gassing solution although they may not be allowed in some states. You can drop a few into the different holes and they’ll react to moisture in the soil to put out phosphine gas. This will suffocate the creatures in their hideouts.
Attracting predators like owls and hawks can help you control the chipmunk population in your yard. You can build an owl box to attract owls to your yard. Besides the chipmunks, the owls will help you get rid of other rodents like rats, moles, mice, and voles.
Shooting chipmunks is a humane extermination method because the chipmunk dies on the spot without undergoing so much pain. You need a gun, and you need to be an excellent shooter. Lay some bait where you frequently see the chipmunks, then wait for them to come out. Aim well and shoot the chipmunk. Be careful not to harm people or pets in the area when shooting.
Before resorting to shooting as an extermination method, check with your state’s wildlife agency for limitations or permits required to shoot chipmunks. Some states have restrictions as consistent shooting can reduce the local chipmunk population significantly. What’s more, your local or state laws may be against the discharge of firearms in suburban areas.
As with other pests, preventing chipmunks from invading your home is much easier than removing them. Once you get rid of chipmunks from your completely, you better apply the following prevention methods to avoid a future infestation:
A good fence will help to keep chipmunks out of your yard. Use hardware cloth or wire mesh to create a perimeter around your garden or the entire property. A little fence around your yard may not do much to keep chipmunks out because they are never dug deep into the ground, and they often have spaces and cracks through which the rodents can pass. If you have no choice but to build the fence around the yard, make it at least eight inches deep so the chipmunks won’t burrow underneath.
Chipmunks will come into your home only if there is a way in. Sealing your home properly will keep the little critters out. Look for any cracks or spaces on the inside and outside of your home. Use concrete, caulk, or expandable construction foam to cover any cracks or holes outside your home. Use rubber or plastic to cover the cracks and spaces between your windows and doors.
Natural openings like vents, pipes, and chimneys are also possible channels for chipmunks’ entry into your home. Cover all of them with mesh or any other breathable materials to keep chipmunks out while still maintaining their functionality.
Let out your cat or dog. They will find chipmunks fascinating and fun to catch and play with. Even if your pets won’t be interested in chasing them, the chipmunks will feel threatened since they’re natural predators. With cats you may even get to see their catch as they will sometimes present it to you.
When you try all the DIY methods of getting rid of chipmunks and notice the little furry critters are resilient, its time to call a professional before they turn your yard into a jungle. A professional will use a solid inspection and treatment method with proven effectiveness. They will easily find the chipmunk burrows in your home and see if they pose a threat to your property. Further, the professional will create a treatment plan that suits your needs, putting into account whether you have pets or not, and if the chipmunks have already found their way into your house.
You may argue that a professional exterminator is costlier than the DIY efforts discussed above, but their methods are proven to be effective, thus involve less trial and error. Moreover, most pest control companies will offer a satisfaction guarantee which they will honor until the chipmunks are completely gone from your home.
The best ways to avoid catching diseases from chipmunks is to keep off burrows when in the outdoors and avoid feeding or touching injured and dead rodents. Also, calling pest control professionals to handle an infestation would reduce your exposure to diseases from chipmunks as you wouldn’t be risking coming into contact with them.
You can use humane methods like live traps to get rid of chipmunks in your home. Bait the traps with peanut butter, or sunflower seeds then lay them where you think the chipmunks are hiding in your home. Relocate the trapped chipmunks far away from your home.
Alternatively, you could use one-way excluder doors. When you place the door at the chipmunks’ entry level into your home, they will leave through it and it will close behind them. The door will remain shut, limiting the chipmunks from re-entering your home. The only downside of the one-way excluder is that in case there are baby chipmunks inside your home, they will be stranded when the adults are stuck outside.
The best solution would be to call a pest control professional who has experience with wildlife. Since they understand how to handle chipmunks, they would help you exterminate an infestation without putting yourself at risk for bites and other injuries.
You can easily get rid of chipmunks from your garage with natural methods like:
Using mothballs: Mothballs release a chemical substance called naphthalene that has an odor chipmunks find repulsing. Smell is one of chipmunks’ most important sense. The unpleasant odor of mothballs will drive them away from your garage. Scatter the mothballs across the garage or place them in the burrows.
Traps: You can use live traps or snap traps to get rid of chipmunks in your garage. Snap traps will kill them but live traps will give you the chance to relocate them far away from your home. Bait the traps with peanut butter or sunflower seeds then wait for them to get caught. Before using a snap trap, check that the local laws in your area allow the killing of chipmunks.
Use your cat: bring your cat to the garage. Chipmunks do not like cats because they are higher than them in the food chain. When they realize there is a cat around, they will run for their lives. Even the cat’s litter is enough to make chipmunks flee. Bring the cat’s litter to the garage and leave it there for a couple of days.
Cayenne pepper: Chipmunks get a similar reaction of teary eyes and hotness in the mouth and throat when they ingest pepper. Make a cayenne pepper solution and spray it all over the garage. You can also sprinkle the powder all over, including the surrounding bushes. The chipmunks will get irritated by the smell and leave to seek more suitable habitat.