You can tell the chipmunk from any other mammal by the two white and three dark racing stripes across the eyes on both sides of this small mammal's face. Look for a small sprightly ground squirrel about the size of an orange, with a small stocky and muscular body, a white underbelly and a furry tail. Chipmunks are fun to watch because they are always busily looking around, searching for food, or carrying food in their large cheek pouches to store somewhere for later. Look for this rodent's tell-tail scurrying - quick as a flash - low to the ground with their tail up and flickering like a flag. Don't confuse the chipmunk with the 13-lined ground squirrel. They are always alert and ready to take action from predators like hawks, owls, weasels, mink, red fox, cats and people.
Sometimes called "chipppie" or "chipping squirrel" because of its calls that are easy to recognize - listen for a low "chuck-chuck-chuck" or a higher pitched "chit-chit-chit-chit" when it is in danger or you are nearby.
In the winter, chipmunks partially hibernate, sometimes sleeping for weeks in November, but they also wake to eat or go leave the burrow and go outside.
Chipmunks often leave behind leftover piles of fruit pulp and pieces of shell from nuts they ate from nearby trees.
Did you know that Wisconsin has two different chipmunks? Click on their names to read more about each one.
This "big chipmunk" has a 5 ½-6 ½ inch body with a tail of 4 1/2 inches. It is larger than the Least chipmunk. The fur is a rusty brown color on the back and sides, with a white underbelly and necklace. The stripes on this chipmunk's sides and back stop at the rump. You'll find this critter living anywhere in Wisconsin with forests, brushy areas, and gardens. It likes rock piles & fences, and building foundations.
The eastern chipmunk lives in open hardwood forests, brushy or rocky areas, and yards. It eats mostly seeds, fruits and nuts of woody plants (acorns from oaks, samaras from maples, and a variety of berries). Sometimes it will eat insects like cicadas and grasshoppers, bird eggs, snails, small snakes, and garden bulbs.
When not scurrying around, it lives in underground burrows that may be short and simple, or very complex with many rooms for storage, sleeping, a dump, a latrine, and many hidden entrances. Some burrows even have a pantry that can store up to one half of a bushel of nuts and other food that can be carried in its cheeks! Have you ever heard the term "chipmunk cheeks?"
The females give birth to their litter of young midsummer, with four or five young. The babies are born hairless, blind and helpless.
Least chipmunks live in far northern Wisconsin in coniferous forest or mixed woodlands, forest edges, shorelines, and building foundations where there are brushy areas and fallen logs or rocks.
You'll have to look close to tell the least chipmunk from the Eastern one. It is smaller (body is 3 ½ - 4 ½ inches, tail is 3-4 ½ inches) and the stripes go down the back all the way down to the tail. Believe it or not, these critters are even more active and noisy than the eastern chipmunk! You'll have to look closely to see them, because they can throw their voices to sound like they are somewhere they are not.
During the summer months, the least chipmunk loves to eat insects (grasshoppers and their eggs, crickets, beetles, and larvae of moths and butterflies). The other half of the time, it eats seeds and fruits, including thin shelled nuts. It likes to store food in hollow logs or tree cavities.
In the summer, least chipmunks live in hollow tree stumps, an old woodpecker's hole, or among rocks. In winter, least chipmunks partially hibernate underground, but frequently come out to feed after November, especially on sunny nice days. Watch for them to become more active in March. They mate in the spring and females give birth to a litter of five or six young around May.
Chipmunks are pretty easy to see in Wisconsin and make for great wildlife watching!