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October 3, 2009

What to Do About Chipmunks

Some people think chipmunks cause problems—we think these little critters couldn’t be cuter

Adapted from the book Wild Neighbors

  • chipmunk

    Most common in forests, chipmunks also make their homes in yards. Andrew Merwin

  • chipmunk

    Stone walls are prime real estate to these little ground squirrels. Kathy Milani/The HSUS

  • Although chipmunks hibernate from late fall to early spring, they are known to venture out on warmer winter days. iStockphoto.com

Although most commonly found in forests, chipmunks will also make their homes in yards, where you might see them in and around stone walls, under walkways or patios, or in gardens. 

The pleasure that comes from having them around is great in comparison to any problems they may create.

Common problems and solutions

Public health concerns
Resources

Common conflicts and solutions

Chipmunks don’t usually damage property, but they may injure ornamental plants when they harvest fruits and nuts. Occasionally chipmunks dig up and eat spring flowering bulbs and burrow in flower beds or under sidewalks and porches. But there are no documented cases of a chipmunk burrow causing structural damage.

If you find a chipmunk indoors, she’s there by accident, and she’ll be glad to leave as soon as you provide a way to escape. Close all doors leading into rooms and closets, open doors to the outside, and let her make her way to freedom.

Tolerance

Some people believe that chipmunk tunnels under walkways and in the yard truly cause damage. Taking advantage of that misconception, some wildlife control businesses will trap and kill chipmunks for a fee. But this isn’t necessary.

If you have chipmunks in your yard, enjoy them. The pleasure they can give will outweigh any problems they may cause.

Keeping chipmunks out

You can make changes to your yard to limit the effects of having chipmunks as wild neighbors:

  • Use an L-shaped footer to keep them from burrowing around foundations, sidewalks, porches, and retaining walls.
  • Remove wood or rock piles and trim back plantings that provide cover or food sources around the area of concern.
  • Surround the area with a plant-free gravel border.
  • Plant flower bulbs beneath a wire or plastic screen ground cover or in bulb cages. This mesh should be large enough (1 x 1 inch) to allow plants to sprout but small enough to prevent digging.

Evicting a chipmunk loose in the house 

A chipmunk who has entered is there by accident and will be desperate to get out.

  • Place any cats and dogs into another room. Close all interior doors and open a window or exterior door in the room. 
  • Leave the chipmunk alone, so she can find her way out. 
  • If there is no possible exit, set a live trap baited with peanut butter on the floor near the chipmunk and leave her alone for a few hours.

If trapping isn’t an option, try capturing the chipmunk in a heavy towel.

  • Put on heavy gloves. 
  • Slowly approach the chipmunk with the heavy towel held in front of your body, so that she doesn’t see a human form. 
  • Drop the towel on the chipmunk and quickly roll it up, taking care not to put too much weight or pressure on her. 
  • Take the chipmunk in the towel immediately outside and gently open it on the ground, letting her escape.

Once the chipmunk is out, look for the entryway and take steps to keep it from happening again.

Bird feeders

If you want to discourage them from rummaging through bird feeders, try these tactics:

  • Pick up spilled seeds.
  • Place feeders where chipmunks can’t get to them.
  • Choose a different type of seed—for instance, they’re not fond of thistle, but sunflower seed is a favorite.

Repellants

There are no repellents registered for use on chipmunks. Commercial repellents that promise to repel squirrels will also repel chipmunks.

Bulbs soaked in a thiram-based repellent before planting may deter chipmunks. You can also simply use daffodils (Narcissus) or Allium for spring planting—these bulbs are usually not eaten by wildlife.

Public health concerns

Chipmunks are not considered to be a significant source for any infectious disease that can be transmitted to humans.

Resources

» Lawrence Wishner’s Eastern Chipmunks: Secrets of their solitary lives (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982)  
» Purchase a copy of Wild Neighbors; the go-to guide for useful, humane solutions to conflicts with wildlife
» If you are located within the D.C. Metro Area, take advantage of our wildlife conflict resolution service. Learn More

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