, Salem, MA


October 26, 2012

Where do all the chipmunks go?

Q: Where do chipmunks go in the winter? There are so many around the rest of the year, but not in winter. The squirrels are year-round residents and eat at the bird feeder, but where are the chipmunks?

A: Chipmunks, unlike the squirrels, hibernate in winter. These tiny creatures live in dens in stone walls, your house foundations and even in an old tree trunk, but always in a tiny cave down low to the ground where they store as much as 8 pounds of food for the winter. All summer, they spend their days eating and storing food in their den for the winter, which they carry in their deep cheek pouches while gathering.

Unlike other animals that hibernate with the addition of a layer of winter fat, chipmunks remain active, so they require less fatty foods for storage. They are omnivores and eat worms and insects and grubs, as well as seeds and roots. They give birth to their young once or twice a year, giving birth to a litter of two to 10 who are out and about gathering food at about 2 months old. They live about two to three years in the wild.

Rest assured — if the food supply is there, chipmunks will be back. Watch for them at your feeder.

Q: We have a wisteria over part of our patio that provides some shade and privacy but is in the process of overtaking everything. What is the best way to keep this plant in check? It sends its tentacles up into an overhanging tree and out toward our house. We are constantly trimming them back but are afraid we may be cutting off the sources of new spring flowers. How far back should we cut them, and is there anything else we need to do to this plant?

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