Theodore, Simon, Alvin..Alvin…Alvin!!!


There is no real solitude in the woods.   Even on the trails at Hill-Stead, which are nearly always quiet, your every move is noted.  Each bird, insect, amphibian and reptile, every mammal down to the least of the smallest order is aware of your presence.  Without the internet, how do all these creatures find out what’s happening?

 There is a certain natural antipathy between some groups of animals.  Bobcats and mice, for example, have little amity.  One eats the other, the other fears the first.  That’s the end of the relationship.  Some animals are mutually indifferent.  They have no use for one another simply because, well, they have no use for one another.  They live side by side each filling up his niche in the ecosystem without having any actual interaction, even to the extent of eating or being eaten. They are all alike in one way however:  they don’t trust people.  They vigorously warn of your approach.  Subtle bird cries, frantic scampering or studied silences can greet you.  Perhaps the loudest of the early warning systems is the clarion call made by the eastern chipmunk.


Quite a few people think the sound is a bird.  It has a certain bird-like quality.  Bird- watching types frequently refer to “chip notes”.  But the name for the bird sound was coined from the warning noise the chipmunk makes.  Surely you’ve heard it.  The Eastern Chipmunk has notoriously indiscriminate housing preferences, so you might encounter it as easily in your backyard as in the woods.  Indeed, the sound isn’t out of place in a lot of parking garages I know.  Chipmunks are everywhere.  About the only places they avoid are deep forests where little sunlight penetrates.

Passing along a trail you periodically hear the belligerent, “chip”!   Approaching the chipmunk’s position, the “chips” get closer together.  As you draw nearer there is a frantic twittering in the leaf litter.  This is repeated throughout the walk whether by one or multiple chipmunks, depending on the length of your walk.  You might be in danger of hearing loss in the upper registers if you walked far enough!  Remind me to skip the Appalachian Trail. 

Chipmunks are rodents, though cuter than some, and in the same way that mice can be troublesome, so can the “chippie”.  They play havoc with crops, for example.   The Latin name for the Eastern Chipmunk is tamias striatus.  “Tamias” means tresaurer or hoarder.  This is where chipmunks really excel, harvesting huge stores of food to put away for the winter.  They stash the food in a burrow, in tunnels up to thirty feet long with multiple entrances.  The entrances are disguised by the chipmunk who carries away the excavated dirt in huge cheek pouches so that mounds of diggings won’t give away the location.  They  are level with the earth around them to make them still more inconspicuous.  The chipmunk bunks down in a nest of chewed up leaves, and has several food caches within the burrow containing nuts, berries and seeds.

Not true hibernators, chipmunks doze during winter for long periods, waking up to nibble from the accumulated larder, which can amount to a full bushel of food.  The dozing is known as “torpor” from which creatures can be roused to eat or even roam around during a mild spell.  Chipmunks don’t fatten up in the fall as some animals do, they just stock up, carrying their groceries home in their capacious cheeks, which when full can be about the size of a ping pong ball. 

What with three miles of stone walls on the property as well as rocky forested areas, Hill-Stead is prime real estate for chipmunks.  The place has them by the score in every corner.  I just hope they aren’t too noisy for you.

See you on the trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist


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One Response to “Theodore, Simon, Alvin..Alvin…Alvin!!!”

  1. Krista Says:

    Torpor, nibbling while sleeping! Wow! These little critters have got the life. Wake up a bit, roll over and eat, go back to deep sleep. Repeat.

    Sounds like the life cycle of my house cat. Purrfect.

    Seriously cute photos!

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