Most kids have pets like cats, dogs, fish and hamsters, but how many have a pet chipmunk? When eight-year-old Marcus recently visited his grandparents in Fayetteville, he got to feed and pet Chippie.
But Chippie isn’t an indoor pet. She lives outside in the wild. Grammy and Bop, as Marcus calls his grandparents, tamed the little critter to eat out of their hands and jump up on their laps. And while she’s busy stuffing her cheeks with black sunflower seeds, they can gently stroke her fur. You can imagine how excited Marcus was when he got to feed Chippie from his hand.
“It was fun. I like her. Her fur is really soft. She’s so pretty. I’d like to have her be my pet inside but it’s better for her to be outside in the woods,” he says.
So, how were Marcus’ grandparents able to tame a wild chipmunk? It started on their deck, where they work in warm weather and where they’ve hung a few bird feeders. A lot of those seeds fall to the floor. The local squirrels rummage around to eat the seeds, but one day in June, Bop and Grammy noticed a different visitor, a little striped rodent who was on the deck zipping back and forth getting seeds.
“Why don’t we place some sunflower seeds close to where we sit and see if she comes?” Grammy suggested. And that’s what they did. Sure enough, the chipmunk came up to the chairs and started vacuuming up seeds. (In fact, for a while they called her Hoover, like the vacuum cleaner, but the name Chippie is the one that stuck.) On the very next day, she ate out of Grammy’s hand, and before long, was jumping up on their laps for the seeds they piled up there.
Chippie is an Eastern chipmunk and a member of the squirrel family but much smaller than a squirrel. She’s about 5 inches long, and 3 inches more if you add her scruffy tail. Like most of her brothers and sisters, she lives underground in a long burrow she dug in the neighbor’s flowerbed—and I mean long—from 10 to 30 feet! Her entrance hole is carefully camouflaged, and besides her comfy nesting chamber, she has several storage areas where she hoards food. Chipmunks are known for eating nuts but Chippie isn’t a fan. Sunflower seeds are her favorite meal, though she’ll gobble up a grape or cherry if you offer it to her. Her cheek pouches can stretch up to three times as big as her head! Grammy calls them saddle bags.
During the cold months, chipmunks hibernate in their dens, but they don’t store fat in their bodies like groundhogs and bears. Instead, they wake up when a hunger pang strikes and chow down on food from their stash.
Bop and Grammy live in a wooded area and keep a sharp eye out for the hawks that often sweep through or land in the trees to hunt for prey such as small birds… or chipmunks. Chippie keeps on the lookout, too, and if she senses any danger, will dash to her underground home.
These adorable little creatures inspired the Walt Disney movie “Chip and Dale,” and the songs and movies with Alvin and the Chipmunks.