Nature Notes – Watch for chipmunks, some are already out

By Jim Gilbert

This year on March 2, Julie Brophy saw an early chipmunk at their feeding station in Victoria.
In 2011 the first eastern chipmunk was spotted in the Waconia area on March 5, and in 2012 one was seen out sunning itself on Feb. 17. These animals are hibernators, yet unlike the thirteen-lined ground squirrels and woodchucks, chipmunks do not put on much pre-hibernation fat, but awaken each week or so during the winter to feed on acorns and other seeds stored in their underground pantries. They sometimes even emerge during winter warm spells. But we can always expect to see some out in early to mid-March — the beginning of their mating season. The first litters can be born in May and second ones in August.
Each male and female constructs and maintains its own burrow, usually in or near woodlands where there are rocky places, stone walls, or a wood pile. Burrows are about two inches wide, have several entrances, and can be as much as 10 feet long and five feet deep, with chambers for sleeping, food storage, and waste.
Eastern chipmunks are only active during the day. Although they do climb trees, they spend most of their time on the ground. Adult chipmunks maintain a territory around their burrows, using specific signals to indicate boundaries and avoid contact.
Their most common signal is a low bark, the “munk” sound, a single note sometimes repeated over and over for as much as an hour.
Chipmunks make up for their small size with big sounds. When faced with danger, they call “chip, chip, chip,” sometimes up to 130 “chips” per minute. In the springtime the “chips” may also serve a social function, as several chipmunks gather to call out their “chips” together. As with most rodents and other small animals, male chipmunks take no part in raising the young.

What’s happening outdoors now?
I observed my first of the year migrating American robins on March 15. First I head them and then saw three in one of our yard trees. Yes, they were singing and calling, and very flighty; not like the tranquil robins we have been seeing off and on all winter. Flocks of male red-winged blackbirds are arriving and some are seen and heard singing on their wetland territories. Migrating Canada geese were first noticed March 14, and we are now seeing and hearing them in pairs, standing on the ice of marshes and other wetlands, declaring nesting territories.

On March 28 a year ago
We had a partly cloudy day with a low of 40 degrees and a high of 54 degrees F. Forsythia shrubs and both apricot and magnolia trees were blooming. Crocuses and daffodils flowered nicely in gardens, and bloodroots bloomed in forest areas. Lawn mowing had begun. Remember, snow was gone by March 14, our first 70 degree day in 2012, and ice-out for Lake Waconia was March 18, the day after we experienced 80 degrees. The official ice-out for Lake Minnetonka was March 21 (average is April 13).