Chipmunks are members of the squirrel family (Sciurinae), but they are smaller than squirrels and are primarily ground dwellers. Chipmunks are good climbers but most commonly travel and feed on the ground, and they live in underground burrows that they dig. Eastern chipmunks (found in the Midwest and eastern U.S.) can be 12 inches long, including a 3- to 5-inch tail and have reddish-brown fur and five dark stripes on their backs. They can weigh up 2 to 5 ounces. Western chipmunks (found in the western U.S. and Canada) are somewhat smaller, at about two ounces and 6 to 11 inches long. They can have white striping and typically have darker striping on their faces than their eastern counterparts.
Chipmunks commonly cause damage to garden plants. They dig up bulbs and eat fruits, seeds, and nuts, often destroying the plants in the process. They also will eat small birds and bird eggs, among other animal and insect life. Less commonly, chipmunk burrows can undermine the earth below retaining walls, decks, patios, and other outdoor structures, and even under house foundations. While they live in their burrows, they will enter homes and other buildings in search of food.
4 Ways to Get Rid of Chipmunks
There are many ways to control chipmunks, including taking steps for prevention, trapping and releasing, and using homemade chipmunk repellents. Because chipmunks are rodents, many of the same methods used to control them are similar to those used against rats, mice, and squirrels. But the most humane, and often the most effective, methods are exclusion and prevention.
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.
- 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.
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 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.
Trapping and Releasing
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 it 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.
Protecting Bird Feeders
Chipmunks are ground feeders and are attracted to seed spilled from bird feeders. To help keep them away from bird feeders:
- Regularly clean up spilled seed.
- Choose seed to which chipmunks (and squirrels) are not attracted, such as thistle.
- Place bird feeders at least 15 to 30 feet away from any structure.
- Follow standard steps to keeping squirrels away from bird feeders.
Watch Now: How to Get Rid of Chipmunks
What Causes Chipmunks?
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. These include but are not limited to:
- 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 within a backyard. While chipmunks typically bear 4 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).
How to Prevent Chipmunks from Living in Your Yard
In addition to the exclusion tips provided above, there are some basic steps you can take to ensure that you're not attracting chipmunks. Most importantly, do not keep food items outdoors, including pet foods and birdseed, unless they are stored in rodent-proof containers. Eliminate potential areas of cover as well as food by removing wood and rock piles and trimming back plantings away from the house. As an alternative to protecting flower bulbs with buried hardware cloth, you can plant bulbs that chipmunks do not like to eat, such as daffodils (Narcissus) or allium.
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.