For the Birds: Chipmunks scarce to many this spring

Photo by Chris Bosak A chipmunk looks up after grabbing sunflower seeds from a feeder in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2018.
Photo by Chris Bosak A chipmunk looks up after grabbing sunflower seeds from a feeder in Danbury, Conn., during the summer of 2018.

So, what is up with the chipmunk population this spring?

It’s well past the time when they should be lurking and scampering around our backyards and woodlands. The last few years the little imps have been ubiquitous and, depending on your perspective, entertaining or annoying us nonstop.

This year? I’ve seen only a handful, and others have expressed similar observations. I’ll share what others have written based on my request in last week’s column. At the end, I’ll share what my favorite wildlife expert has to say on the topic.

First, the people like me who have noticed a lack of chipmunks this spring:

“I finally saw a chipmunk at our house yesterday,” wrote Susan of Nelson. “Just one so far. We have plenty of gray and red squirrels, and it has been weird not to see chipmunks.”

“Lots of folks around Cheshire County are noticing a lack of chipmunks and squirrels this spring,” said Deborah from Fitzwilliam. “I believe it is the consequence of the low fall mast last year. Two years ago in the spring, we were tripping over chipmunks and squirrels after a huge acorn crop the year before.”

Sally from Keene wrote: “I have seen a chipmunk here in Keene. However, just one. They are usually a menace by this time of year.”

“I saw our first chipmunk three weeks ago, and just saw it again yesterday,” Rose from Swanzey wrote. “My husband also mentioned we haven’t seen them as frequently as we used to.”

Sue from the Monadnock Region wrote: “Chipmunks … we have two. Far fewer than in the past, but it is early.”

Not everyone has experienced a dearth of chipmunks, however.

“I have your chipmunk!” exclaimed Joyce from Keene. “He’s becoming part of the scenery now that he has discovered my new bird feeder. This feeder does a good job of frustrating the squirrels, who give up after a few munches. Mr. Chipmunk settles himself down within the middle part, and pigs out for quite some time.” 

Carol from Winchester and Diane from Keene have also seen several in their yards.

“I have at least two or three chipmunks running around the yard,” wrote Carol.

“I have had at least four different chipmunks in my backyard in the last few weeks. Three are familiar little friends, including one I call Stubby for his ‘shortened’ tail,” Diane wrote.

Based on the responses overall, it’s fair to say that chipmunks are not as plentiful as they were the last few years. Why is that? Like I often do, I turned to Meade Cadot of the Harris Center for Conservation Education. Here’s what Meade had to say (Deborah from Fitzwilliam called it correctly):

“There may be multiple factors, but I think the number one reason there are so few chipmunks now is that there was a widespread mast failure last fall − very few red oak acorns fell, and around here no beechnuts ether; and it was a pretty bad seed year all around,” Meade wrote. “You may have noticed there were very few blue jays around this past winter and early spring − for the same reason − no acorns or beechnuts.”

Thanks to all who wrote in and to John from Swanzey who suggested the topic. A bonus to the chipmunk responses is that I received a good amount of other bird and wildlife sightings from readers as well. I’ll share those in a column coming soon.

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