Last fall was a huge “mast” year in Westford. In other words, there were a lot of acorns on the ground. We predicted that there would be a lot of chipmunks this spring as a result of the abundant food source, and that prediction has certainly been realized. “Lots of chipmunks” would be an understatement. Lynn Warren writes about chipmunks in her article “More Than Cute” for the May-June, 2016 edition of National Wildlife magazine. Warren reports some new research on chipmunks done by Charline Couchoux at the University of Quebec. Couchoux wanted to know how chipmunks communicate with each other.
Couchoux captured and collared twenty-one chipmunks with tiny sound recorders. Each day she recaptured her subjects and downloaded their soundtracks. Using this method, she was able to record three times as many vocalizations as had been previously recorded. For instance, she learned that high-pitched chips signal predators approaching from the ground, while low-pitched chucks signal predators approaching from the air. She recorded vocalizations between neighbors and between mothers and young. Chipmunks live together in high-density family groupings of up to thirty individuals per acre, though each lives alone and doesn’t share his or her food supply.
Chipmunk burrows are excavations that extend 18 to 36 inches below the surface, and may reach 30 feet in length. Their digging habits are good for the environment as they aerate soil and distribute microorganisms. In winter they gather acorns, nuts and seeds to store in their burrows. They may stockpile up to eight pounds of food for one winter. In winter, they enter a state called “torpor” in which their metabolism slows. Torpor reduces their need for nutrition. They are not in true hibernation however, and do rouse themselves to eat periodically.
Chipmunks’ communications are essential for life and death decisions. Each chipmunk has a unique personality and may react differently when faced with the same situation. Some are easily startled and may not be deemed to be reliable communicators by the others. Others are calm and bold, and their communications are taken seriously by the others. Couchoux states, “Chipmunks are amazing….They’re not the simple animals people think they are.”
Of course, sometimes chipmunks may make holes in your garden where they are not wanted. Some hints for dissuading them from making homes where you don’t want them include, surrounding garden beds with edgings of paving stones or gravel, planting some unappetizing plants such as daffodils, grape hyacinth and fritillaria among your other garden plants, and installing noisy wind chimes or fluttering garden flags. You can also try cooking up a concoction of crushed garlic and chopped chili pepper steeped in hot water, straining the mixture and then adding a few drops of vegetable oil. This you can apply with a spray bottle to your plants. Chipmunks and other rodents don’t like it.
But if you can’t beat ’em, enjoy them. They’re smart and funny creatures, and if we don’t have another banner mast year this fall, there will be far fewer chipmunks next spring.
Many thanks to all flora and fauna reporters for the month of June. Please send reports by July 26 for inclusion in next month’s column. You can write me at 10 Chamberlain Rd., call me at 692-3907, or e-mail me at MarianCHarman@verizon.net
Late May Reports:
Rob Morrison, Kelly Rd. Bobcat seen from time to time.
Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr. May 22, wood thrush singing in back woods, hairy woodpecker on suet. May 23, red-eyed vireo singing, male bluebird on railing checking out an old nesting box under the deck. May 24, pair of bluebirds around deck. Red-tailed hawk scared a dove; she flew hard against the glass slider but was unhurt. May 26, wood thrush and red-eyed vireo both sing in woods every day. Heard several coyotes calling near back of building late at night. May 27, house wren chattering by edge of woods. May 30, six doves, pair of blue jays in and out, downies always regulars on suet.
Dick Coleman, at Powers Rd. May 25, small red fox walking in road, looked like a pup. April and May, a great blue heron passes overhead early every evening, headed to the SE. “With amazing precision it relieves itself directly on my neighbor’s brand new Toyota Camry. Exactly the same flight path, same location, same time every day. This guy is good…”
Ginger Dries, Sherwood Dr. June report, family of wrens raised in nesting box. They seem to be starting a new brood in the second box. At the feeder, rose-breasted grosbeak, red-winged blackbirds. A pair of catbirds was building a nest in the azalea bush by house, and worked very hard on it. But, then they abandoned it, perhaps because squirrels and chipmunks were getting up there. June 24, a bear got my feeders. They were bent over, and one was apparently dragged into the woods. I’m back in business now, but I’ll try taking in the feeders at night.
Dot Mooney, Monadnock Dr.. June 1, under Parkhurst Dr. power lines, heard house wren, prairie warbler, blue jay, song sparrow and chestnut-sided warbler. June 2, pair of redtails and sometimes a broad-winged hawk often gliding over woods–impressive. June 3, on Forge Pond side of Beaver Brook, a pair of mute swans and their four fluffy babies, close to green plants in water. One great blue heron on other side of road. At Howard Rd. wetland, chipping sparrow, red-winged blackbirds and warbling vireo. Some yellow pond lilies popping up, blue toadflax near road. During the day, my suet visited by downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers. June 4, saw a little chipping sparrow moving slowly through wet grass in the morning. He was fluttering his feathers as he went, then shaking them, and repeating this for at least a minute. It became obvious that he was taking a bath–clever. Male rose-breasted grosbeak, male cardinal and a blue jay on the deck at the same time–beautiful colors. June 7, two chickadees busy in front shrubs, two downies squabbling over suet, as usual, pair of chipping sparrows busy by front walk, two titmice around, tree swallows overhead. June 11, robins singing at 4:30 a.m. Early afternoon, female hairy woodpecker feeding suet to her nervous male baby, whose white feathers are so bright and clean. Male downy showing his youngster how to eat suet, but not feeding him. This day I had seen 19 different kinds of birds, just looking out my windows: robin, tree swallow, great blue heron, red-eyed vireo, white-breasted nuthatch, chickadee, cardinal, house finch, blue jay, cowbird, dove, titmouse, goldfinch, chipping sparrow, red-tailed hawk, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, grackle, turkey. June 14, male and female rose-breasted grosbeaks on feeder together, catbird calling, family of house finches around. June 16, fish crows around store parking lots on Rt. 110. June 17, at wetlands on Howard Rd., red-winged blackbirds, chipping sparrow, warbling vireo, several bullfrogs calling. Growing nearby was common St. John’s-wort, evening primrose, blue toadflax and bittersweet nightshade. I noticed a hole in the ground surrounded by remains of turtle eggs. These were perhaps dug out by a predator. By the water on Beaver Brook Rd., heard catbird and warbling vireo. Swan family was on pond side, more turtle nests that had been dug out, eggshells scattered around. Under power lines on Parkhurst Rd., towhee, prairie warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, catbird, chipping sparrow and an extremely talented mockingbird. Saw English plantain, white yarrow, evening primrose and lots of multi-flora rose. At home in the back woods, northern catalpa tree is covered with bright white blossoms. June 18, a downy and a hairy woodpecker right beside each other on railing, showing me that the little downy is only half the size of the hairy. Catbird calling from sumacs, daisy fleabane blooming near woods. June 20, three blue jays at feeders. These flashy birds provide an effective alarm system for other birds. Dove walking around in center of birdbath, then standing quietly in water for over a minute, enjoying the moment. Several grackles around the feeder. These birds’ tails have the same wedge shape as ravens. July 25, at Vose Rd., common St. Johnswort, spiderwort, white yarrow, spreading dogbane, brown-eyed susan, common milkweed, blue vetch, various goldenrods. A very chatty warbling vireo and common yellowthroat. “Summer is a splendid season.”
John Piekos, Dunstable Rd. June 3, “I decided to buy another trail camera with the goal of capturing a bobcat….the camera was only out one week and the very first photo on it was a bobcat, possibly pregnant.”
Doug Pederson, at Forge Pond. June 3, four baby swans with their parents, one getting a free ride on top. Also, three turkey vultures in an air show with an osprey and a red-tailed hawk, other birds chasing, and a mother mallard. June 6, at Forge Pond, June 6, red-winged blackbirds bothering a blue heron. Mother wood duck and babies, swans with only three babies left. Two blue herons flew towards me at the Forge Pond bridge.
______ Dave Coleman, at Tyngsboro Rd. June 6, pair of Canada geese with seven large goslings slowly crossing the road from Flushing Pond.
Andrew Bourget, Chamberlain Rd. June 6, bobcat at my neighbor’s house on Hunt Rd. (momma and two cubs). A few weeks ago, the bobcat strolled through our yard and crossed the road. Bald eagle on Drawbridge Rd. Barred owl on Lowell Rd. a few weeks ago, late morning.
Marian/Bill Harman, Chamberlain Rd. June 10, mom turkey and ten babies in yard. June 23, juvenile red-bellied woodpecker chased a catbird off the suet. Lots of baby birds about, especially house sparrows, and titmice and downy woodpeckers. A red-tailed hawk swooped under the feeder for something, but missed. Two red squirrels in the yard, very vocal, baby bunnies in the yard. June 25, mom turkey only has seven babies now.
Barbara Theriault, Tadmuck Lane. June 11, cowbird, red-bellied woodpecker, blue jays, titmice, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, cardinals, robins, house finch. June 13, bobcat sitting on the steps to the back yard between two planters, like a house cat! Also, chipmunks, hummingbird.
Kate Phaneuf, Drawbridge Rd. June 12, I am overrun by chipmunks, so have not been putting out any more seed. One great blue heron has been returning daily to the beaver pond. A very small rabbit hanging out in a small wild strawberry patch next to the house. On Palace Rd. between Providence and Tadmuck, saw a white turkey out for a stroll with eight to ten poults. I heard that white turkeys are most often female.
Cori Ryan, Stony Brook Rd. June 17, Grassy Pond is almost a mudflat now. You may wish to look for the rare grass. There was a sad looking heron there this morning.
Rosemarie Koester, Providence Rd. June report: Two pairs of blue jays, four to six mourning doves, chickadees, tufted titmouse, nuthatch, six grackles, two pairs of cardinals, one has a bit of balding. Four to six goldfinches, purple finch, house finches, two robins, male, female and juvenile red-winged blackbirds. One has a good time splashing in the birdbath. Pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks. They seem to like the cardinal seeds, several types of sparrows, heard hawk overhead, two to four turkeys, one partially white. A pair of turkeys fighting, and one watching. Mama turkey with thirteen little ones following closely behind, another mama with only three little ones. Squirrels, chipmunks, two rabbits, about eight chipmunks, heard a coyote howling one night. Two garter snakes, one snakeskin.
Ginger Dries, Sherwood Dr. June 24,
Marian Harman is a member of the Westford Conservation Trust, a non-profit conservation organization whose mission is the preservation of Westford’s open spaces and trails. The Trust welcomes new members and volunteers. Check out the Trust’s website at westfordconservationtrust.org, or visit us on Facebook.