This is a blog about the native conifers of the Pacific Northwest. It is a companion to the Northwest Conifers site. The blog will focus on timely and interesting details about our conifers, their connections to the rest of the environment, and our connection to them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020


When walking in the woods, be sure to listen for the sounds of forest creatures. If you do, you may hear the high-pitched call of a chipmunk. It sounds similar to the excited call of a robin. You can hear the calls here:

Townsend’s chipmunk
National Geographic Guide to Chipmunk Noises

Chipmunks are magical leprechauns of the squirrel family. If you have ever watched them, you cannot help but wonder at the movements of these sprites. They move so quickly, it is as if they don’t move at all, but disappear from one place and instantly reappear in another. Running is a series of these magical appearances. The other magic trick of chipmunks is stuffing nuts in their cheeks. Just when you think a chipmunk's cheeks are stuffed full, it stuffs another one in. Then in an instant, it is off to store the nuts in its burrow.

Chipmunks are smaller than the Douglas squirrel. You can identify a chipmunk by the stripes on its back and the sides of its little face. Chipmunks live in our conifer forests and are adept at tree climbing. But they prefer to be near the ground and construct burrows underground. They feed on berries, nuts and seeds, but they don’t fatten up for hibernation like ground squirrels. Instead they store food in their burrow for winter. During their partial hibernation, they wake up from time to time to eat from their cache of stored food. In the spring, they emerge from the burrow at about the same weight as they were in the fall.

Three species of chipmunk are native to the Pacific Northwest:

  • The Townsend’s chipmunk (Neotamias townsendii) is the only species native to western Oregon and Washington. It’s about 10 inches long from its nose to the tip of its tail, about 3 inches shorter than a Douglas squirrel. At lower elevations, it is active throughout the year. You can see them in winter, perhaps munching on a fungus. All the photos here are of the Townsend's chipmunk.
  • The yellow pine chipmunk (Neotamias amoenus) lives from the summit of the Cascades to large areas of eastern Oregon and Washington. It’s about 8 inches long, 2 inches shorter than the Townsend’s chipmunk.
  • The least chipmunk (Neotamias minimus) lives east of the Cascades in Oregon and in central Washington. This chipmunk can survive in dry desert areas where no water is available. It’s nearly 8 inches long, slightly smaller than the yellow pine chipmunk.

Listen for these chipmunks when you are hiking in the woods. When you hear one, stop and look carefully. You may see it scurrying around in the bushes or sitting on a fallen log. Perhaps you can catch the magic of its movements.


More info

“Mammals of the Pacific States,” Lloyd G. Ingles, Stanford University Press.

Chiipmunks on Wikipedia 


No comments:

Post a Comment