Thom Smith: No hibernation for chipmunks in region


Q: Every spring, through summer, and into autumn, we enjoy watching the antics of the chipmunks. As winter is approaching, there is one chipmunk left. He appears on the deck in late morning, jumping onto the lawn to nibble a "whirly-bird" (maple tree seed pod) then back on the deck. He'll stay there sometimes for the whole afternoon. When he's not eating, he sits on the deck and just looks out on the lawn. Sometimes, he will not appear for a day or two. Then it's back to the regular schedule of eating and staring out as if he were daydreaming. Shouldn't he be racing around stockpiling food for the winter. What is their routine as winter sets in?

— Maryann, Great Barrington, Mass.

A: Wouldn't it be nice to know for certain whether or not chipmunks daydream? As for your question, the answer is apparently different among individual chipmunks. Ours, for instance, emptied the one sunflower seed feeder that is successful at deterring gray squirrels, but is not chipmunk-proof. In fact, it emptied it of gray-striped sunflower seeds three times before disappearing. And not once did I catch it daydreaming or even taking much of a rest.

I really did not mind as I was relying more on other seeds after I discovered most of our sunflower seed-eating birds much prefer black oil seed (or the shelled seeds aptly named sunflower hearts).

The eastern chipmunk doesn't hibernate, so it must store food for periodic meals during the long frigid winters of the Northeast. As a rule, our chipmunks retire in November, after having stocked larders with a wide variety of nuts, seeds, and grains. Rather than hibernate, they become torpid, semi-torpid or remain active depending on winter conditions. So, without fat gain, they survive on stored food that may include sunflower seed, as is the case of our chipmunk or chipmunks living in burrows beneath our shed. Any time from October through sometime in November, they are active storing available foods like acorns, corn, beechnuts and a wide variety of seeds and grains.

They will plug the entrance to their tunnels when they go underground for the winter, although some will venture out during warm sunny days, even in January or February, if a known food supply, such as a feeder is nearby. I remember Bartlet Hendricks telling of a chipmunk that visited one of his feeders on and off during sunny winter days at the base of Jiminy Peak Ski Area in Hancock.

Studies have been done to find out how much a chipmunk can carry in its cheek pouches. For instance, one study (Klugh 1923) found 31 kernels of corn crammed into its pouches, while (Fraleigh 1929) counted a total of 13 prune pits at one time and 70 sunflower seeds at another time. In season, they eat nuts seeds, grains, berries, corn, insects, earthworms, eggs, mushrooms, roots and bulbs. They are not fussy.


Read your [Dec. 20, 2015] column today on flocking, with the mention at the end of flocking for heat. I went to college in Chicago, and there was a large flock of escapee monk parakeets in the parks along the lakefront in Hyde Park.

In their natural habitat in tropical rain forests of Central and South America, they are fairly independent breeding pairs. These, however, winter on the lakefront of Chicago by making large nests and have survived for over 40 years. Read more about it at:

Thank you for all of your writing and wonderful observation sharing.

— Bob, Brattleboro, Vt.

These parakeets are small, bright-green parrots with a grayish breast and greenish-yellow abdomen, and are now found in several communities along the Connecticut shore, and even in a few places in eastern Massachusetts, with other populations I don't know about, I am sure. Native populations originated in temperate to subtropical areas of Argentina and nearby countries in South America.

Happy New Year!

A wonderful way to begin the New Year is with "What a Wonderful World" with David Attenborough:

Thom Smith welcomes your questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.


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