Chipmunks are one of nature's cutest creatures but they tend to damage garden plants, raid bird feeders, and dig tunnels that may compromise structural parts of the yard and your home. Most repellents that deter squirrels will also repel chipmunks, but you may prefer to know how to get rid of chipmunks in a more humane way. Read on for expert-approved ways to get rid of chipmunks without harming or killing them.
What Does a Chipmunk Look Like?
A chipmunk is a small rodent with chubby cheeks that grows 5 to 6 inches long and weighs only a couple of ounces. They are brown, but easy to see because they have two conspicuous white stripes flanked by dark brown or black stripes that run from their tiny heads down their backs. They move extraordinarily fast and they hold their short tails high as they run.
Signs of Chipmunk Infestation
Outdoors, you will know you have chipmunks by sight and also by the many tunnels they build. A chipmunk tunnel is only about 2 to 3 inches wide and flush with the ground (no mounds of dirt surround the hole as a means of camouflage from predators).
A chipmunk can get into your house either by way of the ground (if there is a hole in your foundation, crawl space, deck, or patio leading into your house) or from a branch hanging over a roof that can lead the rodent into your attic. You can't miss seeing them if they are in your yard but if they are indoors nesting, you will hear scratching noises, just as you would a squirrel. However, if you do hear noises, it's likely a squirrel or mouse rather than a chipmunk, because these tiny animals prefer burrowing outdoors underground.
6 Ways to Get Rid of Chipmunks
The Humane Society and other animal experts recommend making changes to your yard to reduce chipmunk damage and presence. The basic recommendations include:
- Bury L-shaped barriers of 1/4-inch hardware cloth (or other barrier material) around the home's foundation as well as sidewalks, porches, patios, decks, and retaining walls to keep chipmunks from burrowing.
- Surround the yard or home with a plant-free gravel border.
- Prevent chipmunks from digging up flower bulbs by planting the bulbs beneath a layer of 1/4-inch hardware cloth or in bulb cages. Cover the cloth with soil. The plants will sprout through the mesh grid, but the bulbs will be protected.
- Place 1/4-inch mesh hardware cloth as fencing around gardens and flowers.
Use Repelling Scents
There are no repellents specifically registered for use against chipmunks, and the use of repellents is somewhat controversial. However, the Humane Society states that “commercial repellents that promise to repel squirrels will also repel chipmunks.” Some squirrel repellents include:
- Thiram (a fungicide) applied to plant bulbs, stems, or bark
- Mothballs or flakes (Naphthalene) placed around gardens
- To make a homemade chipmunk repellent, mix together:
1 teaspoon Lysol, 3 ounces Epsom salt, and 1 gallon water
Follow all manufacturer safety warnings and application instructions when using any repellent product.
If you prefer to repel chipmunks using oils, herbs, or spices, here are a few suggestions. For example, chipmunks hate the following:
- Peppermint (leaves and oil)
- Cayenne and chili powder
Trap and Release Them
Trapping and relocating a chipmunk far from your home is an ethical way to deal with a particularly persistent animal. Check the local laws and recommendations for relocating chipmunks in your area before attempting to trap a chipmunk. Relocation may not be legal in all areas. Follow these basic tips for trapping and relocating a chipmunk:
- Choose a small trap (approximately 10 to 20 inches long) with small wire mesh so the chipmunk cannot escape.
- Place the trap in areas of known chipmunk activity, including traffic paths and near burrows (if you can find them). Locations under cover are better than exposed areas.
- Bait the trap so that chipmunks cannot retrieve bait from outside the trap. Applying peanut butter directly to the trap's trigger plate often works well.
- Check the trap often, and relocate the animal as soon as it is trapped. Release it in a suitable habitat at least 5 miles from your home, or as specified by local law.
Plant Aversive Flowers
As an alternative to protecting flower bulbs with buried hardware cloth, you can plant bulbs that chipmunks do not like to eat. In addition to peppermint, here are plants that chipmunks will avoid:
Protect Your Bird Feeders
Chipmunks are ground feeders and are attracted to seeds spilled from bird feeders. To help keep them away from bird feeders:
- Regularly clean up spilled seeds.
- Choose seeds to which chipmunks (and squirrels) are not attracted, such as thistle (they love sunflower seeds, however).
- Place bird feeders at least 15 to 30 feet away from any structure.
- Follow standard steps to keeping squirrels away from bird feeders.
Clean the Yard
Consider these important steps to keeping your yard clear of chipmunks:
- Never keep food items outdoors, including pet foods and birdseed, unless they are stored in rodent-proof containers.
- Eliminate potential areas of cover by removing wood and rock piles.
- Trim back plantings away from the house so they can't hide or run into them for shelter.
- Keep firewood and leaf and debris piles away from the home to keep chipmunks from burrowing beneath the pile (and possibly under the home’s foundation).
- Do not allow trees, shrubs, or other plantings to run continuously from wooded areas to the home, as this will draw chipmunks in.
Watch Now: How to Get Rid of Chipmunks
What Attracts Chipmunks Outdoors?
Chipmunks are a familiar sight on picnic grounds and campsites, but they're also no strangers to backyards in suburban and rural areas. Like most animal pests, they're attracted by food sources. They may even enter homes and other buildings, though rarely, in search of food. They may possibly find themselves in an attic, where they can nest and deposit feces.
Here are a few of the most common items that attract chipmunks:
- Seeds from plants
- Corn and other grains
- Acorns and other nuts
- Caterpillars and other insects
- Many types of human food
- Pet food
- Flower bulbs
- Bark (typically from shrubs)
- Carrion (less commonly)
Chipmunks dig extensive tunnels extending up to 30 feet long. They nest and rear offspring in the tunnels. Large infestations of chipmunks in a given area are uncommon because these rodents are territorial and compete for space. However, they can be found in numbers up to 20 in a backyard. While chipmunks typically bear four to 10 babies per year, the offspring are forced to move out and find their own nests at about 10 weeks from birth. If there's no room for them nearby, they have to find homes elsewhere.
If it's the cold season and you think you've solved your chipmunk problem, don't celebrate just yet; chipmunks are largely dormant and stay inside their burrows from mid fall to early spring, when they emerge to begin foraging for food (they rely on stockpiled food during the winter).
Do chipmunks carry diseases?
Chipmunks can carry several diseases, including plague, Colorado tick fever, rabies, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Do chipmunks bite?
Chipmunks are not aggressive toward humans but are capable of biting them.
Can cats catch or kill chipmunks?
There are many reports of pet cats catching and killing chipmunks from around a yard. Chipmunks are fast, but cats are even faster. If you have a cat that’s a good hunter, it may help minimize a chipmunk problem.
How do you spot chipmunk tunnels?
Chipmunks hide their tunnels from predators, so you may have to look hard to see them. Tunnel entrances are usually hidden under or next to wood piles, brush, plantings, large rocks, or structures. Chipmunks also remove displaced soil from the area and often move entrances to make tunnels hard to find.
What To Do About Chipmunks. The Humane Society of the United States.
Chipmunk Control. University of Georgia Extension.
Diseases Indirectly Transmitted By Rodents. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.