Right in Our Backyard
Chipmunks Taking Over Prime Real Estate –
By Bill Lawyer
I’ve lived in Rye since 1975, and for many years I never saw a chipmunk anywhere around town, even though there were plenty of nooks and crannies for them to fill.
In 1978, I became director of the Greenburgh Nature Center, which had opened three years earlier. While located right off busy Central Avenue, most of the 33-acre property is woodlands. One of the first projects I initiated was an inventory of plants and animals. By all indications, we had a healthy population of chipmunks. One of the most common calls we received from area residents regarded what to do with an injured member of the species.
One day a man drove into the Nature Center with an injured chipmunk, and in his haste to have us treat it, he ran over another one, which was dead on arrival. These small, striped critters have a bad habit of darting out into the streets in face of heavy traffic.
Two years ago, I was contacted by Jordan Fenster, a reporter for the Journal News, who was writing about the chipmunk population. Everyone he interviewed, including me, observed that the number was rising significantly. But, I explained, an accurate census was difficult because chipmunks have multiple nests and food sources.
One of the challenges of doing research on wildlife is that most of the funding in focused on dealing with nuisance or dangerous animals and plants. So far, I have not witnessed or heard of a chipmunk attacking people or pets.
Because of Lyme disease, millions of research dollars have been spent on ticks, with the emphasis on deer and mice as vectors. But that’s changing. In a recent study carried out by scientists at Penn State University, they found that over 10 percent of Lyme disease bacteria is carried by chipmunks.
How can we explain the increase in the chipmunk population? In 2016, after a mild winter, we started seeing more of these chirpy rodents. But the past two winters have been harsh and cold yet this spring there as many chipmunks as ever.
The only difference I have observed is that they were a little slower in getting out, perhaps because they had used their expandable pouches to store up more food the previous fall.
Just as there is a booming real estate market in Rye for our human population, so there is a sizable increase in Rye rodents’ demand for prime property, near food and water. They are omnivorous, and Rye has lots to offer. I guesstimate that there are hundreds within a two-block radius.
Chipmunks are fun to watch, and they will not make any contact with humans unless they are threatened or misguidedly fed in an attempt to domesticate them, as people used to do with raccoons.
As long as you don’t bother chipmunks, they won’t bother you. To discourage them from setting up house right in your backyard, spread natural repellents like peppermint oil and keep wood and rock piles to a minimum.
Chipmunk on the run