Chipmunks, or by their scientific name Tamias, are a species of ground-dwelling squirrels. Small, fast, and undeniably cute, it’s not hard to understand why some homeowners would be happy to see them scurrying around. But don’t let their pleasant appearance and quirky nature fool you. Chipmunks can wreak havoc on a garden and create holes in your lawn. While most homeowners don’t mind them, others want them as far away as possible due to their destructive nature. Let’s see what all kinds of damage they can cause so you can decide if their presence is worth the risk.
Can Chipmunks Damage My House?
Technically, yes. While it’s improbable, chipmunks can damage your home. They do this by creating tunnels and underground burrows beneath your house. These burrows are massive, often extending well beneath plants, trees, shrubs, and bushes. Chipmunks create two kinds of burrows. The first type is shallow, single tunnels that chipmunks use as bolt-holes for escape and travel when foraging. The second is more sizable, cavernous burrows for long-term habitation and hibernation.
When a chipmunk burrows near human habitation, these tunnels will then begin to extend underneath human structures. While these tunnels usually don’t cause structural damage, they may eventually lead to erosion of dirt and soil structure beneath your home’s foundation. This weakening can lead to several problems with the foundation or patios, such as shifting or cracking. However, these cases are extremely rare, only occurring in the case of massive infestations that go untreated for a long time.
Can Chipmunks Damage My Yard?
While not nearly as destructive as moles or voles, chipmunks can damage a yard and flower bed. As they burrow and tunnel beneath your property, they will wear down the overall structural stability of the soil. This erosion can result in tiny holes, pits, and, more rarely, depressions. While the damage caused to a lawn is often minimal, it’s still there. Also, you won’t likely see any of the chipmunks’ entrances or exits right away. Chipmunks like to create their doorways underneath or next to larger covering structures. If you suspect you may have a chipmunk problem, look for small, 2 to 3-inch holes under stones, stairwells, porches, retention walls, or sheds.
Chipmunks’ main targets, however, are your gardens and flower beds. These little scavengers will voraciously dig through your garden to snack on or abscond with flower bulbs, seeds, and even certain fruits or vegetables. Chipmunks are omnivorous and eat just about anything they can get their hands on. As a result, nothing in your garden is safe, but they prefer nuts, seeds, small fruits (like berries), and especially flower bulbs. Chipmunks are also known to eat the leaves, stems, and bulbs of decorative plants – even potted plants aren’t safe, with some homeowners reporting chipmunks uprooting those as well.
Signs of Chipmunks
Detecting the presence of chipmunks is relatively easy. Chipmunks are active during the day in the spring, summer, and fall, so you’ll likely spot them scurrying around. They’re also known to nest inside or have burrow openings inside crawl spaces. Besides spotting them in the moment, you can also keep an eye out for some of these telltale signs of their activity:
- Uprooted flowers: Chipmunks aren’t subtle critters. When they scavenge your garden or flower bed, they go to town. It’s not uncommon to see scattered dirt alongside dug-up flowers, bulbs, or entire plants.
- Holes in your lawn or garden: As mentioned above, spotting burrow entrances can be tricky. But chipmunks will dig small holes to access plants, roots, bulbs, or vegetables. So if you spot small holes or dig marks in your garden, particularly next to damaged plants, it’s a clear sign of chipmunks.
- Seed or shell piles next to bird feeders: One of the main attractants to chipmunks is bird feeders. Since seeds, especially sunflower seeds, are one of their preferred foods, bird feeders are a veritable buffet. Chipmunks will often sit at or climb onto bird feeders to fill their cheeks with seeds. They will also make rapid return trips to feeders to store up as much seed as quickly as possible. These quick trips create a sizable mess in short order. So, if your bird feeders are depleting faster than usual, and you see scattered or piled seed next to your feeder, you may have a chipmunk problem.
- Tracks: Chipmunk tracks are difficult to spot but, when found, are highly distinctive. They have small, four-fingered front feet and larger, five-fingered back feet. They also don’t run or scamper, like most other small rodents. Instead, they have a bizarre hopping gallop to their stride. This odd, bouncing gait results in their back feet appearing in front of their front feet in tracks. These tracks are also tiny. Combine this with a chipmunk’s light weight, and they don’t often leave prints. When they do leave tracks, you can find them in fresh soil, semi-solid earth or mud, and snow.
- Droppings: On rare occasions, chipmunks will use crawl spaces or basements as an entrance to their tunnels. When they do, they will leave behind droppings as they come and go. These droppings are long, dark brown cylinders with blunted ends – they resemble small, dark brown grains of rice and can easily be confused with mouse droppings.
How To Get Rid of Chipmunks and Keep Them Away
Most homeowners don’t mind chipmunks taking up residence on their properties. Their risk of damage is small, and it can be pleasant to watch them scurry around. However, letting them stay can mean damage to your flower beds and gardens, so you’ll have to take proper precautions. The easiest and most effective way to protect your plants is with hardware cloth. As you begin to plant flowers or vegetables, place the cloth above the plants before covering it with dirt. You should also make sure that the cloth extends several feet around the perimeter of your bed or garden, as chipmunks will burrow right under the edge of it if placed too close.
If you want to deter chipmunks altogether, you can take plenty of proactive steps to prevent them.
- Manage bird feeders: Keep bird feeders at least 20 to 30 feet from your house. Also, be sure to frequently clean any spilled seeds from around the feeder’s base. Use a small rake to pile the seed up before sweeping it into a dustpan and depositing it into the trash. If chipmunks frequently access your bird feeders, you can use squirrel guards, also called baffles, to prevent them.
- Remove cover: Large objects like woodpiles, large stones, debris piles, rock piles, and turned-over wheelbarrows are all attractive structures to hide entrances near. Remove or store these objects to make your yard less appealing for chipmunks.
- Reduce insects: Grubs, mites, and various other insects are primary food sources for chipmunks. Critters like chipmunks will be drawn in if you have a yard or garden that attracts pests and insects. Reduce insects by keeping a clean and trimmed yard with good landscaping and basic pest management practices.
- Use repellents: There are many commercially available chipmunk and squirrel repellents, most of which see success. Scent repellents tend to be less reliable for chipmunks, but electric repellents can see good results.
- Seal holes: While not likely, chipmunks can find their way inside your home. Seal all entrances and gaps with caulking or expanding foam sealant to prevent this.
If you’ve discovered a chipmunk on your property, you have several options for its removal. The first and most effective is humane trapping. Be sure to check local laws and regulations on chipmunk trapping before trying to remove them yourself. If allowed, you can purchase live traps and place them where the chipmunks are spotted or where damage is apparent. You can use peanut butter, just about any nut, berries, or seeds to bait them. Once captured, you can contact local wildlife management services or wildlife control for relocation assistance. Also, it should be mentioned that while chipmunks and squirrels are skittish and not usually aggressive, they’re wild animals and will bite when cornered. When capturing them, do so with respect and caution, and don’t handle them directly with your hands.
Chipmunks are small, fast, and feisty critters that many homeowners enjoy. However, while cute and quirky, they can cause problems for gardens, flower beds, and yards. So if you want to enjoy their presence, you’ll have to take some extra steps to protect your plants. On the other hand, if you would rather keep these rodents at arm’s length, you can buy repellents while maintaining a clean and tidy yard. If you have a significant infestation, you can purchase live traps for relocation or call a pest control company to remove them.