Chipmunks may be cute, but as a branch of the rodent family, they have the capacity to do a tremendous amount of damage to your home and yard. What steps can you take when dealing with chipmunks?

Chipmunk or Squirrel?

The first thing to determine in dealing with chipmunks is whether or not you are actually dealing with a chipmunk! Chipmunks are frequently confused with squirrels, particularly the red squirrel. This is not surprising since both red squirrels and chipmunks share several characteristics in common: both are small rodents with reddish colored fur, both feed on nuts, berries and seeds, and both have four sharp incisor teeth along with flat teeth in the back to help in grinding harder foods. There are some easily identifiable differences, however. Chipmunks are much smaller than squirrels, for one thing. The chipmunk can be identified by the series of black and white stripes running down its back and tail as well as its face. Chipmunks, unlike squirrels, have special pouches in their cheeks for storing food. Chipmunks, though they will climb trees in search of food, do not live in trees but in underground burrows; squirrels, on the other hand, live in trees.

Chipmunk Characteristics

Chipmunks will breed twice per year, producing litters of two to eight babies each time. Usually, up to ten chipmunks can inhabit a single acre. They can be quite noisy, especially during mating season, and their call has been described as shrill and almost bird-like. Chipmunks make their homes in burrows under walls, logs, patios or other structures. Burrows can be very extensive, sometimes up to ten feet long and three feet under the ground. The tunnels are complex, with separate compartments for food storage, sleeping and keeping discarded shells and fecal matter. Chipmunks can cause damage to stone walls, retaining walls, patios, stairs and foundations by undermining them with their burrows. They will also destroy all types of shrubbery by burrowing underneath them and exposing their roots. Though chipmunks are more solitary than squirrels, they will live together when rearing their young.

Cause for Concern

Like squirrels, chipmunks are capable of doing a considerable amount of damage to your yard. They are particularly fond of bird seed and their appetite for it is almost insatiable. Their constant burrowing near structures can loosen retaining walls and foundations. Plant bulbs and garden plants are other common victims of chipmunk activity, as the chipmunks will dig them up to feed on them. Chipmunks, looking for warmth, will sometimes get into the home, at which point they become quite destructive. They can tear down soffit sections and chew through cedar shakes. If they get inside the home, they will tear up insulation (to be used for their nests), chew wires, pull up carpet, eat the grout out from between tiling and in general chew anything they can get their teeth on. In addition to this, chipmunks can carry fleas and have been known ot introduce them into the home and spread them to domesticated pets. We had a case like this in Ann Arbor not long ago where a chipmunk had introduced fleas into the home and spread them to the family dog, so it can definitely happen.

Chipmunk Removal

There are many products available that are marketed as chipmunk “repellents.” In general, repellents aren’t a good choice when dealing with nuisance wildlife animals, since the animal will eventually get used to the smell of the repellent and continue its regular activities.

How to get rid of chipmunks varies depending on whether they are inside or outside the home. If a chipmunk is outside the home, a combination of habitat modification, exclusion and rodenticide treatment is recommended. After eliminating existing chipmunks, Creature Control’s technicians can offer advice for habitat modifications to discourage further chipmunk activity (getting rid of bird feeders, for example). For chipmunks that have gotten into the house, it is usually necessary to live trap using point of entry exclusion. After all chipmunks have been removed from the house, Creature Control’s technicians can quote you a price to perform structural modifications that will permanently exclude any more chipmunks from getting in to the home.