Every once in a while, when we’re out in our summery yard enjoying birds and flowers, we encounter a snake. We’ve been around snakes for decades and know there are no venomous species in our area but we’re still startled when one slithers away.
Managing a yard to attract a diversity of wildlife sometimes encourages snakes to move in along with birds and butterflies. Usually the snakes that visit yards are non-venomous species merely looking for a place to live and something for dinner. Most common are garter snakes that mostly eat insects. We’ve written about garter snakes on Winding Pathways before. Sometimes we spot tiny brown snakes no bigger than a nightcrawler. They also eat worms and bugs. Once in a while we see a beautifully colored and patterned fox snake. They probably seek tasty white footed mice or maybe a chipmunk. And lots of folks combat the undermining work of chipmunks.
Watching backyard wildlife yields amazing sights and education. We recently noticed two things at Winding Pathways that reminded us about how many animals are downright smart.
Both involved a manufactured trap that supposedly catches House Sparrows. We have more of this pesky bird than we’d like so we set the trap under a feeder and baited it with cracked corn. A few minutes later an intrepid chipmunk entered the trap’s funnel-like door, feasted on seeds, and couldn’t find his way out. We gently released him and set the trap back on the corn.
A few minutes later we were amazed to see the chipmunk back and watch it tunnel under the trap to reach the bait! He’d learned that entering the trap brought trouble and figured out how to safely reach lunch.
Our sparrows are even smarter than the chipmunk. Not a single one entered the trap. Instead they feasted on corn and millet on the ground around the feeder. After a few hours they had eaten all the safe seed but they still wouldn’t enter the trap.
We now have new respect for the intelligence of both chipmunks and House Sparrows.
The chipmunk figured out how to tunnel under the live trap to reach the corn.
Having excavated, the chipmunk now enters the tunnel to get the corn.
In and Under!
With pouches full, the chipmunk emerges.
The chipmunk figured how to tunnel under the live trap, gather up the corn and emerged with pouches full.
Chipmunks are one of the most common backyard wild animals. These small striped rodents enjoy living in shady yards that have some form of structure for them to hide in or around. Sometimes people confuse them with thirteen lined ground squirrels, which are about the same size but prefer to live in large lawns in the open sun.
Several species of chipmunks live in the United States. Most are in the West and the most commonly encountered species is the Eastern Chipmunk that frequent yards.
Chipmunks love retaining walls and woodpiles, especially those that have many nooks and crannies. They are efficient diggers and sometimes make so many tunnels that a wall slumps or collapses and a woodpile teeters over.
The small mammals eat seeds, fruit, and an occasional insect. They are efficient tree climbers and harvest fruits like cherries on the uppermost slender branches. Chipmunk heaven is a shady yard with a retention wall and bird feeder to provide a daily seed banquet.
Some people resent chipmunks because of their incessant tunneling. Box trapping and moving the animals rarely reduces the population of a species that has many babies. Keeping bird seed off the ground and contained in feeders may reduce a chipmunk population somewhat. Hawks and snakes enjoy dining on these small mammals. Encouraging predators to share the yard will help keep chipmunk numbers in check.
We like the chipmunks that live in our backyard at Winding Pathways. They’re beautiful animals that make us smile when we spot one with cheek pouches crammed with seeds. They’ve undermined our low rock wall in a few places, but we just repair it and consider the damage a small price to pay for the wonderful entertainment chipmunks provide on summer days.
The charming but pesky chipmunk is an amazing forager and storer of food.
Wildlife sometime create yard mischief. Raccoons, possums, and skunks tip over trash cans in the middle of the night. Chipmunks tunnel under walls, moles heap mounds of dirt. And woodchucks and cottontails raid the garden.