Chipmunkery Madness

For the first time in along time, some of the cutest new arrivals here at SOS don’t happen to be baby Owls!

Some friends of an SOS staff member had a private chipmunk colony at home whose numbers had increased to the point where the colony needed to be split in order to maintain a healthy population. So the decision was made and we agreed to take in these cute little critters, which meant that we had to create a new enclosure for them virtually overnight!

We decided that the best thing to do would be to customize an existing aviary located beside the Flying Ground, built earlier this year by our Head Falconer, Andy Hulme.

Originally, the new double aviary was to house a pair of Little Owls, and next door to them, a pair of Burrowing Owls. However as with many bird and animal centres, the collections are constantly evolving, changing and growing - meaning enclosure space keeps being re-defined and re-utilized. And, as everything else at SOS gets recycled and re-used to comply with our passion for conservation and the environment, that is exactly the way it should be.

So what is a Chipmunk and where do they originate? Well, a Chipmunk is a type of ground squirrel, a small striped burrowing rodent which is very fast and continually active. They love to jump and climb and are amazing escape artists - something which we learnt to our cost as despite our attention to security, a couple managed to escape within 48 hours of joining us, though thankfully all twelve of our furry new friends are now well and truly accounted for!

There are many species of Chipmunks around the globe, the most common being within the genus Eutmias. These originate from the coniferous forests of Northern and Western America, Canada, Mexico, Mongolia, Siberia, Korea and China. Chipmunks in the genus Tamias are found in the deciduous forest areas within Eastern Canada and North America.

The latter species of Chipmunk are the larger of the two, with a head-to-tail length of between 20-35cms, whereas the European and Asian Chipmunk are smaller. Due to the size of the new SOS chipmunk crew, we are convinced that we now have a coloney of Europeans on our hands!

Although they are commonly depicted with their paws up to the mouth,eating peanuts, or more famously their cheeks bulging out on either side, chipmunks eat a much more diverse range of foods than just nuts. Their omnivorous diet consists of grain, nuts, birds' eggs, fungi, worms and insects. Come autumn, many species of chipmunk begin to stockpile these goods in their burrows, for winter, whilst other chipmunk species make multiple small caches of food. These two kinds of behaviour are called larder hoarding and scatter hoarding. Larder hoarders usually live in their nests until spring.

These small squirrels fulfill several important functions within forest ecosystems. Their activities with regards to harvesting and hoarding tree seeds play a crucial role in seedling establishment. They also consume many different kinds of fungi, including those involved in symbiotic associations with trees, and are also an important vector for dispersal of fungi spores.

In the wild chipmunks are very opportunistic predators and infact they themselves play an important role in the food chain as prey for other predatory mammals and birds. One raptor species with aparticular taste for chipmunks is the Great Grey Owl, which shares the chipmunks North American home.

Later this year we will be adding a Great Grey Owl to our collection here at Stonham. (We will of course let you know when he or she arrives). But in the meantime, why not pay us a visit and sample some North American Ecology for yourselves, as our stripy little friends would love to meet you!