Tame a Chipmunk and Have a Ball
Written by Barry Havens. From the Sept/Oct 1966 issue of "Feathers" newsletter.
You may have read that article a year or two ago in Reader's Digest entitled "That Charming Cheater, the Chipmunk." If so, you were probably fascinated by what some people can do to cultivate the friendship of wild things, and you might have wished wistfully that you could do it, too.
Well, you can. You can, that is, if you live — or vacation — in an area where chipmunks make their homes. And don't think that such areas are confined to the strictly rural surroundings, for chipmunks can be found not only in our local suburban areas but also right in the city of Schenectady- or Scotia.
So, if you are in a chipmunk locality at home or on vacation, why don't you try your hand at it? It can be great fun. All you need is a supply of peanuts (5 pounds for $2 at some stores) and a reasonable amount of patience. Here's how to go about it!
Step No. 1
Watch the chipmunks to see if they have some particular spot they frequent a great deal. Establish a feeding table in that vicinity — it can be a stump, or a large stone, a pile of bricks or whatever strikes your fancy. Put a couple of peanuts there and keep an eye on them. The chipmunks should soon find them and take the bait. Replace with more peanuts, and keep this up until the animals have become accustomed to finding peanuts there, and come back to the spot looking for more.
Step No. 2
Establish yourself near this chipmunk's dinner table and sit there quietly, without moving. The chipmunk should not take long to get accustomed to your presence, and he should then keep coming to his table for peanuts. Don't get too close at first; start far enough away so as not to frighten him, then move a little nearer, gradually getting closer as he gets accustomed to your presence. Finally you will be able to sit right beside the chipmunk's table without disturbing him. You should arrange something to sit on, and it should be of such nature that his dinner table will be right beside your lap.
Step No. 3
After the chipmunk has become used to your being there when he comes to the table for peanuts, start putting your hand on his table when he comes. When he gets used to that , keep the peanuts in your hand instead of putting them on the table. How long it will take for him to overcome his normal timidity and take a peanut from your hand depends on the individual chipmunk — and your patience and ability to hold still. But when he does, you've won your battle; from here on you'll find it relatively easy.
Step No. 4
Start bringing your hand, with the peanuts in it, nearer to your lap, a little at a time, between his trips. Eventually you will have him feeding from your hand next to your lap. Then move your hand partly up over to your lap, so that he has to reach for peanuts. Next bring the hand entirely on the lap, but near his table, so he can still see it and know where to go. Then move, a little at a time, between trips, so that soon he is coming entirely on to your lap to get the peanuts from your hand. Keep this up until he is entirely accustomed to using you as his feeding table.
Step No. 5
From here on, it's just a matter of training your pet. There are many possibilities for you to explore. It's advisable to get him used to coming to you as a feeding spot, rather than any particular location. This is a matter of training, for the chipmunk ordinarily associates additional food with the location where he found his first helping. Thus, he will return to the feeding table, even if he learned to take feed from your hand in your lap. One helpful aid in such training, use some simple sound repeatedly, like a whistle process. It is my experience that, in time, the chipmunk will come to associate the sound with feeding. I've had tame chipmunks that would come to me from some distance when they heard the feeding call. Once this sound is recognized by the chipmunk, you are likely to have more success in getting the animal to come to you in some location other than the one you tamed him. It is advisable, during this teaching process, to take a new position not very far away from the original feeding spot, moving to different locations nearby little by little, until the chipmunk finally recognizes you as the feeding spot rather than a fixed location.
Another training possibility is to teach the chipmunk to climb up your leg (wear slacks or trousers, for their claws are sharp) to take peanuts from your hand. The average chipmunk will learn this trick rather quickly, and there are many variations of it you may try.
It should be obvious that there are three stages to the successful training of a chipmunk: (1) you tame him, (2) you train him and (3) he trains you. For once your pets become really tame, they seem to lose most of their normal fears, and they make you their slave. Thus you'll find you dare not venture where they are without having peanuts with you.
If you have more than one tame chipmunk, you'll find it convenient to establish some system of distinguishing one from another. Most people like to give their pets names, and this is what I prefer to do. The names can be strictly arbitrary, or they can derive appearance, habits, or location of burrow. I have used all three forms. Chipmunks often show scars of combat with others of their species, and I have always had a Scarry among my pets. At present I have been feeding Creepy, Timmy, Scrappy, Blocky and Stubby, in addition to Scarry, and their names were derived from behaviour. (Creepy, Timmy and Scrappy — Timmy was timid at first), location (Blocky liked to hide in a pile of concrete blocks), and appearance (Stubby had nothing but a stub of tail.)
By watching where the chipmunks go with their peanuts, you'll usually be able to find their burrows. Those that have established burrows usually hide the peanuts there, presumably storing them for the winter. Some, however, seem to have no definite burrows, and they bury their peanuts in random spots. I suspect these are ones who have but this year been born and emerged from the burrows of their parents. Until you develop some other method of identification, the burrow location is a good one.
Chipmunks are constantly on the alert for other chipmunks, whom they automatically resent and will chase from the feeding area. The most aggressive chipmunk is one who is in his own territory, for these animals, like others in nature, establish definite territories near their burrows, and they will chase and fight any chipmunk intruders in defense of those territories.
When one chipmunk sights the approach of another, he usually will "freeze." When the second chipmunk becomes aware of the first one, he too is likely to "freeze," and this tableau will continue until one makes a move, when one or the other will take up the chase and the other will flee. Sometimes, however, the hunger becomes the hunted, depending on various circumstances, the most important of which is whose territory it is.
These chipmunk chases and battles can be disconcerting when they occur "over your dead body," so to speak. Two chipmunks reaching your lap in search of peanuts at the same time usually spell trouble, and there is rather more likely to be a brief Donnybrook right there.
Not all chipmunks are alike in their characteristics. Some are definitely more precocious than others, learning quickly and adapting to circumstances. Others may tame readily but act quite stupidly, seemingly finding it difficult to adapt to changing conditions. You're likely to find one that combines a number of desirable features, and that one will become your favorite.
My favorites are Creepy and Scarry. Creepy lost his original shyness (he was so timid he would creep to me on his bell, ready to fly at the slightest alarm) quite quickly and developed a degree of relative intelligence that is unequalled among the others of my pets. He recognizes me wherever I may be, and will come begging when I least expect it. Others, in contrast, recognize me only at the site where they first learned to associate me with peanuts. Still others will pay no attention to me, even when they're close by, until I make a sound. Scarry is even more precocious than Creepy, but he lives farther away from me and I don't see him as often.