You may have seen a chipmunk before, but have you heard of one before? Do you know what sounds they make?
Chipmunks make various 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 striped backs. 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.
Humans sometimes consider them a pest because they invade cultivated land and eat grains or vegetables from farmlands.
In the early times, these little creatures were referred to as ‘chipmunks’ 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 so many people are not familiar with their sounds. However, they do communicate with each other.
There are two familiar vocal sounds that you hear from these animals. Both sounds alert others of impending danger, generally due to a nearby predator.
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 ground predators are around. When one of the chipmunks notices a predator such as a cat, coyote, or raccoon, they make this 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.
Sometimes, 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.
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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 about two weeks before the females. Males can travel long distances searching for 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 the males from their territories.
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Chip-chips and chuck-chucks may last for a few minutes and are sounds 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, a predator is pursuing an unfortunate chipmunk.
Upon hearing these calls, other chipmunks spontaneously increase their vigilance. Those outside their burrow scamper back in. Chipmunks 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 its location to other nearby predators.
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 members’ burrows.
This may mean that even if they are solitary creatures, they care for their relatives.
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Chipmunks are very territorial and use vocalizations to defend their territories. In the case of intruders, chipmunks fiercely defend the environment surrounding their burrows. Most adult chipmunks protect the area around 50 feet from their den.
Chipmunks feel threatened when they spot others encroaching on their turf. Chipmunks are such small animals, making them vulnerable to many predators.
This is why territories are a matter of life and death to them. Their turf is where their caves are located. The caves hide places from predators and harsh weather elements, especially during winter.
Chipmunks possess a prominent and influential 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 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 left the territory. If the territorial calls are ignored, the chipmunk may result in aggression.
Sometimes, 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, they make a high-pitched ‘chit’ sound. This is generally due to the sudden presence of a predator or intruder. Additionally, territorial conflicts are frequent between chipmunks that are new to each other.
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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 the anal glands produce some secretions. 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 tails. Chasing each other can also be a show of hostile behavior.
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Communication Between Chipmunks and Woodchucks
Woodchucks and chipmunks are rodents in North America and often share the same habitat. Chipmunks and woodchucks also have several common predators, such as hawks and foxes.
This study in the Journal of Mammalogy shows that chipmunks are familiar with woodchucks’ warning calls. They can understand the message being passed across and respond to them accordingly.
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Chipmunks eavesdrop on the alarm calls of woodchucks and have even learned their meaning. In this case, they respond similarly if the message comes 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.
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