For me, spring is signaled by the appearance of my favorite chipmunk scrounging under the bird feeder for fallen bounty. I know her by her shortened tail, no doubt from some close call with a toothy predator. I have never paid much attention to these ubiquitous little rodents. However, I am so amazed that this particular little dynamo has turned up for the third season in a row that I decided to read up on what she has been doing all winter.
Sleeping, it turns out, in a luxurious burrow up to four yards long with lots of cleverly hidden exits and entrances designed for quick refuge or getaway. While zzzzing out the blizzards, my chipmunk performs the marvel of slowing her heartbeat from 350 per minute down to 4 and dropping her body temperature from 36 to 3 degrees – a brilliant feat of energy conservation. Every two weeks or so, she wakes up for a snack and a visit to the loo, A very tidy housekeeper, she has hollowed separate chambers in her burrow for sleeping, lounging, food storage, refuse and a private toilet.
She certainly needs her rest. While I supposed she was playing about in the sun, she was urgently foraging to raise not one, but two litters of four or five babies per summer. Talk about a working mom! On top of that, she had to fill her food chambers for the winter – which accounts for her obsessive trips to the bird feeder to stuff her cheeks until her little eyes bulge.
She would then undertake a perilous journey over and over, observed from my window. First there was the scramble off the deck down the mock orange bush to the cover of the hostas on the ground. Then the sprint from the hostas across the mown grass to the spirea. A pause, then another dash over exposed space to the cover of the lilac clump. Her reconnoitre was most careful here, for she then had to hightail it across many yards of open lawn exposed to whatever bird or cat might strike from sky or underbush. At the edge of the hill, she disappeared from sight, no doubt to her burrow between the rock layers below. About ten minutes later, the whole thing would take place in reverse as she returned for another load As long as there was bird seed, she kept going.
She not only eats my bird seed, I learned, but will chow down on bugs worms, grass and seed and even small frogs and birds eggs. No wonder birds mob her when she approaches. Another of her jobs is to spread seeds and spores and the eight or ten new chipmunks she has added to the local economy keep the food chain going. Think of all those hungry hawks, foxes, coyotes, weasels and snakes that need their dinner. So hail the little soldier. I’ll put an extra ration in the bird feeder and cheer her on to last another season.