Their frantic activities can be entertaining. But this summer in New England, the varmints are embarrassing themselves, spinning up and down, digging holes in the gardens and digging tunnels under the lawns.
The abundance of acorns last fall meant there was still plenty of food on the ground when the chipmunks came out of the winter and started breeding this spring, said Shevenell Webb, a small mammal biologist at the Maine Interior Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.
The result is a bumper crop of critters.
” They are cute. They are fun to watch in the forest as they go in and out of holes and play peekaboo, ”Webb said. When their cheeks aren’t bulging with nuts, chipmunks make a distinctive “flea” sound, she said.
But they are also destructive. They can destroy lawns and gardens with their burrows, and can even enter homes, Webb said.
“We can’t grow a tulip without them digging it up,” said Steven Parren, director of wildlife diversity program for the Vermont Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, about chipmunks in his backyard . “They don’t even stop. ”
There were so many acorns in one of the areas he monitors that the rodents that depend on it couldn’t put them all away for the winter. Many remained on the ground this spring. In addition to chipmunks, he says, he sees more squirrels, rabbits and different types of mice.
People do not need to be overly alarmed by overcrowding. Small mammal populations tend to explode, then crash and burn.
This is life near the bottom of the food chain, where the ebb and flow of the food supply and chipmunks are easy prey for owls, hawks, snakes, foxes and raccoons. Even if their lives aren’t cut short, individual chipmunks tend to only live for three years, Webb said.
Many New Englanders remember a similar peak in 2018 squirrel populations in New England. The cycle of expansion and recession has been punctuated by a memorable number of road fatalities.
“We have never seen anything like it. It was a once in a lifetime event, ”said Webb.