No, it’s not your imagination, there is a crazy number of chipmunks running wild this season. I first started noticing them as I drove the back roads in Grafton and it felt like I was swerving every half mile when another one ran across the road in front of me. At least two chipmunk families have taken up residence around my gardens. Why so many this year?
The answer is fairly straight forward. Last winter’s mild temperatures and lack of sustained snow cover allowed earlier access to food this spring and a higher winter survival rate.
Lucky for chipmunks that Fall 2019 was also a good mast year, meaning a significant number of acorns, beech and other tree nuts were abundant. Nut producing trees do not produce the same number of nuts each year, rather conserving resources every few years to sporadically produce banner mast years. This tree strategy insures enough food for small animals with enough seeds left over to grow new trees.
The Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that there are typically one chipmunk per acre, but when the population peaks, there could be as many as 30 per acre. If you’re out for a walk in the woods, listen for their high-pitched alarm call, that sounds like chip, chip, chip and can be as regular as a metronome.
Chipmunks can have two litters each season, so expect to see even more chipmunks around this fall!
The combination of mild winter and high mast year has also been kind to mice and other rodent populations as well. Good news for larger predators like coyote, fox and owls whose populations in turn will increase next year due to plentiful food this year. This is the true meaning of the balance of nature: a dynamic ever changing shift in populations based on interactions of animals with each other and with other living and non-living influences in their world.