How To Get Rid of Chipmunks
16–18 minutes to read | Updated for 2018
Are chipmunks interchangeable with squirrels? Not exactly.
In fact, these two animals have real differences in size, weight, color, and behavior. As you learn more about these small mammals, you’ll find out why chipmunks can make a bad impression – especially in gardens and farmlands – despite their cute appearance.
Chipmunks Versus Squirrels
Both species are members of the squirrel family. When you know what to look for, however, the differences will be obvious.
- Size: Most chipmunks don’t even grow to a foot long. Squirrels are definitely larger, with some species measuring up to or even more than two feet long.
- Weight: Chipmunks are very light mammals and often weigh less than six ounces when fully mature. Squirrels are heavier and top out at between one and two pounds when grown.
Common Species of Chipmunks
How To Identify:
- Reaches up to one foot in length, including a tail of 3”-5”
- Weighs two to five ounces
- Rusty red to brown fur on its lower body with two pale and five dark stripes on its back
- Two brownish stripes on its face
- Found from the Midwest to the eastern U.S.
How To Identify:
- Ranges 6”-11” long, with a tail making up half its length
- May weigh as little as two ounces
- Fur colors include gray, brown, reddish, and white with stripes
- Found in Canada and western U.S.
What is the Lifecycle of a Chipmunk?
A young chipmunk is born after a one-month gestation, leaving the burrow only when it is ready to move about on its own.
Some even wait until they have reached nearly two-thirds of their adult size before they venture out. But when they do make the journey aboveground, they are ready to breed in the first year. It is worth noting that the lifespan of a chipmunk is about three years.
A chipmunk’s life is mostly solitary – until breeding season. While other mammals experience one breeding season per year, chipmunks have two. During those times, the females will attract males with a shrill, birdlike chirp as an invitation.
The First Season
The first season occurs on milder winter days near springtime as they briefly leave their burrows. This is likely the only time homeowners would see chipmunks during the colder months, and the young are born in April or May.
The Second Season
The second breeding season occurs during summer – often during July and August – and the females give birth in early fall.
Chipmunk females usually produce two to eight young per litter, more than replenishing the population. But as links in the food chain, they are prey to larger animals. Homeowners don’t see large numbers of these mammals in their yards, and there is no chance of infestation.
Can Chipmunks Transmit Disease to Humans?
When bitten by or hosting an infected flea or tick, the chipmunk becomes a carrier of disease.
These illnesses include:
- Colorado Tick Fever: Similar to the flu and fairly mild in humans.
- Plague: May result in flu-like symptoms or lead to pneumonia. A doctor’s care is required.
- Rabies: As a potentially fatal virus to all mammals, rabies strikes the nervous system – though symptoms might not occur for weeks.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: Known for flu-like reactions and a skin rash that may spread across the body.
The greatest concern comes from a chipmunk’s bite, as its saliva can transfer disease. Any bitten area of skin should be checked by a doctor, and treatment will likely be needed.
What Are the Best Ways to Avoid Exposure to Disease from Chipmunks?
- Never feed rodents in the wild.
- Never touch injured or dead rodents.
- Do not camp or rest near animal burrows.
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Now that you know their differences, you can consider what makes your home popular with chipmunks.
Why Do Chipmunks Keep Visiting My Property?
If you have a garden and the terrain suits their preferences, your property becomes even more enticing to chipmunks.
- What do they eat? Some of the same foods that grow in gardens feed right into this furry rodent’s menu. They feed on the seeds and fruits of many trees and shrubs. Chipmunks are omnivorous, so their diet also includes insects, small reptiles, amphibians, and young birds and eggs.
- Why do they live near my home? This depends on geography and the features of the land. Chipmunks dig their burrows in a variety of locations: woodlands, lawns, gardens, parks, woodpiles, and brushy areas. If your home features similar terrain, you may discover one or more burrows. Though chipmunks are skilled climbers, you’ll see them more often scurrying on the ground near their burrows.
- Which regions or states see the largest populations? Chipmunks are found from Canada to Mexico with the eastern and western species found in their respective halves of the U.S.
A chipmunk will always seek a habitat that offers cover. It will build burrows in wooded and rural areas as well as man-made and developed settings. It is common for one to create a shallow burrow for daytime rests while foraging and a deeper, more spacious burrow for winter hibernation and food storage. The burrow is the center of a chipmunk’s life, and this mammal rarely journeys more than one-third of a mile from its home.
What Damage Can Chipmunks Do to My Property?
The good news is these small mammals aren’t capable of doing significant harm to your home or yard. As more of a nuisance pest, they leave their mark in two ways:
- Light structural damage. Near rural and suburban houses, chipmunks may choose to dig their burrows near the patio, stairs, retention walls, or even the foundation. This can weaken supports or damage these areas.
- Chewed-up gardens. Chipmunks are known to gnaw on and devour fruits, plants, and vegetables and dig up flower bulbs, making them a nuisance to gardeners. Bags of bird seed or pet food should be kept indoors as these might be a tempting snack.
If trees or shrubs run close to your house, you may be unwittingly offering them cover and easy access to your home.
Where Should I Look For Chipmunk Burrows?
If you’re looking for piles of dirt as the sign of a burrow, you may be surprised. Chipmunks build their homes free of dirt at the entrances and exits. The holes tend to be quite small, often only two to three inches in diameter, and may extend two to three feet under the surface.
Stumps, stony areas, fallen logs, and woodpiles are inviting spots for chipmunks. Cover provides them comfort. Patios, stairs, basements, and any well-hidden sites near a house or building will fit a chipmunk’s needs.
Being underground protects chipmunks from cats, foxes, skunks, hawks, owls, and snakes. As some of these predators grow to adult size, they have difficulty fitting into a chipmunk burrow.
How Do the Seasons Affect Chipmunks?
Like all mammals, chipmunks have their own internal clocks and a primal knowledge of the seasons. Food gathering takes on greater speed in the fall as chipmunks prepare for colder weather.
Fall and Winter
As winter begins, so does a kind of hibernation. Chipmunks don’t actually sleep throughout the cold months, however. They retreat into their burrows and enter an inactive state to live on their stored cache of food.
Spring and Summer
In early spring, chipmunks leave their homes for the first of two mating seasons. When warmer temperatures take hold, they run about aboveground but stay within roughly one-third of a mile from their burrows. The second breeding season takes place during the heat of summer.
How Do Chipmunks Affect My Home and Land?
Finding a burrow means that you’ve found a tunnel system that can extend over 30 feet. Your garden, lawn, or property may be supporting an extensive underground network. Keep in mind two behaviors if chipmunks are repeat visitors:
- Never touch an injured or sick animal. A wounded or frightened chipmunk may bite and spread an illness through its saliva.
- If part of your land is used for gardening, you may need to research exclusion measures that protect your plants, flowers, and vegetables while keeping chipmunks at bay.
Preventing chipmunks from making a home in your yard is far easier than having to remove them. However, you should continue to use the following prevention methods even after you’ve noticed a chipmunk problem. They’ll help you resolve the issue at hand and prevent it from happening again in the future.
Step 1: Build a Fence
Excluding chipmunks from your yard in the first place is the best way to prevent a problem. By using hardware cloth or wire mesh, you can create a perimeter around individual plants, your garden, or your entire property. A simple privacy fence around your yard won’t likely keep out chipmunks since these aren’t usually dug into the ground very deeply and also often have cracks and spaces through which chipmunks can pass. Your fence should be at least eight inches deep so they can’t burrow underneath.
Step 2: Seal Your Home
Chipmunks don’t necessarily want to come inside your home, but their small size makes it easy for them to venture inside. This is a lose-lose situation for everyone since they can cause a mess without even finding the type of food they need to survive.
To keep them out, take the initiative towards properly sealing your home. If you have cracks or spaces between your windows and doors, seal them with rubber or plastic. Tiny holes in your siding are also dangerous since a chipmunk can fit into a space as small as two inches wide. Use caulk, expandable construction foam, or concrete to cover any cracks or holes that you see on the outside of your house.
Chipmunks can also fit into natural openings like vents, chimneys and pipes. Especially if you’re already noticing chipmunks in your yard, cover these openings with some of type of mesh or other breathable materials so that they can keep chipmunks out while still maintaining their purpose.
Step 3: Use Your Pets
Chipmunks are the perfect size for cats and dogs to chase after and catch for fun, so letting your pet outside could be an easy way to control the chipmunk population. Even if your pets aren’t interested in hunting, their very presence could serve to scare the chipmunks off.
Cats have been known to present their owners with their catch, both alive and dead. This could be an even worse nightmare to deal with if they end up bringing the chipmunks inside.
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As a type of squirrel, chipmunks look similar to their cousins except with smaller bodies and chubbier cheeks. Their coloring is usually light to dark brown with characteristic black and white stripes along their bodies and heads.
But unlike squirrels, they create burrows in the ground and nest there rather than inside tree dens. Both are omnivores that feed on small insects, fruit, nuts, seeds and plants.
Since they’re rarely larger than five inches long and aren’t known to be aggressive, chipmunks usually aren’t a threat to humans or pets. But their burrowing and feeding habits can destroy vegetation and create unsightly holes along lawns. In extreme cases, their burrow holes can damage building foundations.
If you have a garden or lots of vegetation in your yard, you’ll notice chipmunk damage in the form of gnaw marks and dug-up flower bulbs. Chipmunks will also easily clear out bird feeders before any birds can enjoy the seeds. Their burrow holes usually aren’t more than two inches wide and don’t create any surface mounds or ridges, so they’re less noticeable or destructive than other ground-dwelling creatures like moles and voles. But these burrows can become a serious problem if the chipmunks make their way underneath your home and burrow near your foundation or other building structures.
Keep Your Yard Clean
The first step toward discouraging chipmunks from burrowing in your yard is to eliminate as many feeding and nesting opportunities as possible. This is an important step you can take toward preventative strategies, but it should also be your first step toward remediation if you’re already dealing with a chipmunk problem.
- Since chipmunks feed on fruits and vegetables, pick your fruiting trees and bushes as they ripen.
- Quickly rake up any fruits or vegetables that drop to the ground before chipmunks can seek them out.
- Use bird feeders that don’t spill easily and also aren’t as easy for squirrels and chipmunks to get into.
- Chipmunks love to burrow in areas that provide coverage from predators, such as near shrubs, trees, brush piles, tall grasses, or piles of leaves and logs. Monitor your yard regularly and keep it as clean, open, and neat as possible to reduce the amount of coverage for chipmunks.
If you’re only dealing with a few chipmunks on your property, trapping can be an ideal way to remove them quickly. This method will be much more difficult with a large infestation, and it won’t guarantee that other chipmunks will stay away from your yard. To eradicate chipmunks, you’ll need to pair trapping with other methods like repellents and fencing.
A live trap usually involves a spring-loaded or one-way door. Since chipmunks are also the same size as mice and rats, you can also use traps designed for these critters, like rat traps that usually operate with a snap-down bar that will kill the animal. There are pros and cons to each of these types of traps. A live trap is considered more humane and ethical, but you’ll need to remove the chipmunk before it dies or hurts itself. Releasing chipmunks from live traps can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, since they’re dangerous when they’re frightened and can also transmit diseases when they bite. Snap traps aren’t considered humane, and they also require a fast clean-up process. Otherwise, the dead chipmunk in your yard may attract a host of other pests. Cleaning up after and around the chipmunk carcass also leaves you vulnerable to infection.
Keep in mind that contacting a professional may be your best option if you’ve never handled wildlife before or aren’t sure how to use a trap.
How to Use Chipmunk Traps
- Check your state and local regulations to see if there are any limitations on trapping chipmunks. You may not be able to use a kill trap depending on where you live.
- Read the trap’s instructions before setting it up so that you know exactly how to use it.
- Bait the trap using any type of fruit, nuts or seeds. If you aren’t sure what to use, pay attention to what the chipmunks have been eating in your yard.
- Set the trap near a chipmunk burrow during the daytime when they come out to forage.
- Check the trap every day so you know if it has caught a chipmunk.
- To prevent your pets or other animals from getting into the trap, cut a hole in a cardboard box that is only large enough for a chipmunk and set the box over the trap.
- Peanut butter serves as a good bait since chipmunks love the smell of nuts and the peanut butter will stick to the trap without being knocked off.
Repellents alone aren’t effective for chipmunk removal, but they can be an additional step toward making your yard less appealing to the tiny critters. When used along your property perimeter and near your vegetation, chipmunks will stay away because of the smell. But these repellents will wash away after a while, so the animals will eventually return. Chipmunks can also eventually get used to them, so you should switch it up with different types of repellent to keep the critters on their toes.
Most store-bought repellents come in liquid spray form or in the form of granules. They usually contain either natural substances that repel chipmunks with their smell. These include certain essential oils, or traces of predator urine. The latter is much more effective because chipmunks know to stay away from certain animals that prey on them, such as coyotes and foxes.
The symptoms that people often experience when eating spicy food (watering eyes, mouth pain, and coughing) are similar to what a small animal like a chipmunk experiences when put in direct contact with them. Therefore, spicy peppers like cayenne pepper and chili pepper are both effective and non-toxic to plants and vegetation. To create your own repellent, add crushed peppers or hot sauce to a spray bottle and fill it with water.
In the same way that mothballs repel moths, their odor and materials will also repel chipmunks for a period of time. This is a good method to use if you’re trying to keep chipmunks out of your house, since you can drop the mothballs in a protective perimeter and push the chipmunks away from your property.
Many birds prey on chipmunks and can easily scoop them off the ground for a quick snack. You can encourage natural removal of chipmunks by introducing more of their prey near your property and allowing nature to take its course. Owls in particular are some of the best hunters of chipmunks and other small creatures like rodents. To encourage them onto your property, create an owl box as an easy-to-use nesting spot.
Using plywood, nail together a box that has the dimensions of 38”x18”x12”. Cut an entrance hole that is at least six inches wide, and add some small drain holes to the bottom. Place the box high up in a tree or on some type of beam.
Even if you’re comfortable performing chipmunk treatment methods on your own, a trained professional could still take care of the infestation quickly and more efficiently.
A professional exterminator will use a standardized inspection and treatment plan that meets your needs and has also been proved to work elsewhere. This will help them find exactly where the chipmunk burrows are and if they’re posing a threat to your home. Afterwards, the professional will create a targeted plan of methods that fit your needs, which can include whether or not you have plants and pets to protect and if the chipmunks have made their way inside your house. While their proven methods can be costlier than DIY efforts, they involve less trial and error. Many companies also include a satisfaction guarantee in which they’ll return until the problem is taken care of or refund your money if they aren’t successful.
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