You may have seen a chipmunk before, but have you heard one before. Do you know what sounds they make?
Chipmunks make a range of noises that sound like chip-chips, chuck-chucks, and trills.
If you have seen a chipmunk, then you know they are one of the most adorable creatures on earth. They have chubby cheeks, captivating round eyes, bushy tails, and a striped back. Chipmunks are agile and move quite fast.
There are about 25 species of chipmunks, most of which inhabit North America except for the Siberian chipmunk.
Chipmunks have an omnivorous diet and tend to eat a variety of foods. Their diet consists of nuts, seeds, fruits, grasses, shoots, fungi, and insects.
They are sometimes considered a pest by humans because they invade cultivated land and eat grains or vegetables from farmlands.
In the early times, these little creatures were referred to as ‘chipminks’ and ‘chip squirrels.’ Such names probably came from the sounds that these animals make. Let’s look into what sounds these lovely creatures make.
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Chipmunks do not make much noise, which is one reason why so many people are not familiar with the sounds they make. However, they do communicate with each other.
There are two familiar vocal sounds that you hear from these animals. Both types of sounds are meant to alert others of impending danger, normally due to a predator in the vicinity.
The most noticeable noise is usually the ‘chip-chip‘ sound. This one is produced in a high-pitched frequency and almost sounds similar to a bird’s chirp.
Chipmunks use this sound as a warning call when there are ground predators around. When one of the chipmunks notices a predator such as a cat, coyote, or raccoon, they make this kind of a call.
The other type of sound squirrels produce is the ‘cluck cluck.’ This is described as a deep, clucking sound that comes out in a lower tone. This is meant to warn the other chipmunks of danger from aerial predators such as hawks.
Chipmunks have distinct warning sounds for both the ground and aerial predators. Once the others receive the message, they all scamper for safety and hide in their burrows.
In some instances, the chipmunk’s alert calls discourage predators from launching an attack. Domestic cats may give up hunting a chipmunk once the element of surprise is lost.
There is also a chipmunk mating call. Typically, chipmunks tend to be loners, ignoring each other. They go about their activities alone and only come together in late spring when in the breeding season. At this time, they have their mating calls.
Male chipmunks are usually ready to mate at about two weeks before the females. Males can travel for long distances in search of female territories to confirm if they have reached estrus.
Chipmunks have a way of communicating with members of the opposite sex. They are known to produce chirps and croaks when pursuing their potential mates. Shortly after mating, females drive away from the males from their territories.
Chip-chips and chuck-chucks may last for a few minutes and are sounds that they make continuously. Trills, however, are brief vocalizations.
They are used exclusively as desperate alarm calls when a chipmunk is on the run from a predator. When you hear such a sound, there is a predator in pursuit of an unfortunate chipmunk.
Upon hearing these calls, other chipmunks spontaneously increase their vigilance. Those outside their burrow scamper back in. Chipmunks that were already inside their burrows will avoid coming out until they know the coast is clear.
Chipmunks are not the kind of animals that would silently run away from a predator. Sounding an alarm may seem dangerous because it discloses their location to other predators within the vicinity.
Chipmunks seem to believe that the benefits of warning other chipmunks outweigh the risks involved. It has been noted that chipmunks may trill more often and loudly when passing through a territory closer to their family member burrows.
This may mean that even if they are solitary creatures, they care for their relatives.
Chipmunks are very territorial and use vocalizations to defend their territories. In the case of intruders, chipmunks fiercely defend the territory surrounding their burrows. Most adult chipmunks are protective of the area around 50 feet from their den.
Chipmunks feel threatened when they spot others encroaching on their turf. Chipmunks are such small animals, and this makes them vulnerable to many predators.
This is why territories are a matter of life and death to them. Their turf is where their burrows are located. The burrows are hiding places from predators and the harsh weather elements, especially during winter.
Chipmunks possess a prominent and powerful territorial streak. When warding off intruders, they usually react by being extremely loud. The loud vocalizations are meant to scare away others and portray dominance in that particular territory.
They make deep sounds repetitively reminiscent of ‘chucks.’ Also, they give off a combination of ‘chucks and ‘chips.’
These sounds can go on for almost half an hour until the intruders have entirely left the territory. If the territorial calls are ignored, the chipmunk may result in aggression.
There are times when chipmunks make these vocalizations in response to the presence of humans. In these cases, they perceive humans as threats too.
When a chipmunk is surprised or shocked, they make a high pitched ‘chit’ sound. This is normally due to the sudden presence of a predator or intruder. Additionally, territorial conflicts are frequent between chipmunks that are new to each other.
Vocalizations are not the only way chipmunks communicate with each other. They also do so through body language. They have various postures that they use to portray both dominance and submission.
In friendly encounters such as mating, these rodents touch noses. This is a show of affection to members of the opposite sex.
They may also sniff each other’s cheeks or necks. Chemical information is essential during the mating process. Due to this, chipmunks can be spotted sniffing others’ rears.
The reason why they do this is that there are some secretions produced by the anal glands. These secretions can determine if a female chipmunk is ready to mate.
Chipmunks indicate aggression differently. When they become aggressive, they give a variety of visual clues. These can be flattened ears, sudden, jerky movements, and fluffed up tails. Chasing each other can also be a show of hostile behavior.
Communication Between Chipmunks and Woodchucks
Woodchucks and chipmunks are both rodents in North America and often share the same habitat. Chipmunks and woodchucks also have several common predators, such as hawks and foxes.
According to this study in the Journal of Mammalogy, chipmunks are familiar with woodchucks’ warning calls. They can understand the message that is being passed across and even respond to them accordingly.
Chipmunks eavesdrop on the alarm calls of woodchucks and have even learned the meaning behind it. In this case, they respond similarly if the message was coming from a fellow chipmunk.
Woodchucks can also recognize the alarm calls made by chipmunks. However, they don’t seem to be as responsive to them. This may be because woodchucks are larger than chipmunks. Therefore, they are less vigilant when it comes to predators.