Even with several inches of fresh snow on the ground, Eastern chipmunks are starting to think about love. Mid-March around New York Harbor begins the first breeding period of the year for this small striped rodent; the second will be around mid-summer.
As snow starts to melt away and air temperatures rise, look for chipmunks to get active. Soon they will be leaving their warm underground burrows, where individual chipmunks have been spending the winter, sleeping and eating. Chipmunks are generally solitary animals except during breeding seasons.
Come early spring, male chipmunks have one thing on their mind – finding a female. Interactions between males and females and other males will lead to high intensity chases as groups of males compete for access to a single female in heat.
A female will frequently make a chipping sound to signal interest in mating. This mating call is the reason chipmunks are called “chip-munks.”
Eastern chipmunks are polygamous. Females will mate with several different males during a short mating period of just six to seven hours. Females will often remain within their home range while sexually active males travel over 500 feet from their burrow to mate. Quite a long journey for a little woodland creature.
Nearly all females will produce two litters per year; one in late April to mid-May and the other in late July to mid-August. Young chipmunks will be raised on a high protein diet of insects, earthworms, snails, slugs, and salamanders, along with some seeds, mushrooms, and berries. Chipmunks are omnivorous.
The gestation period lasts around 31 to 35 days. At the end of the gestation period, females give birth to between one and eight young. Typically, four or five babies are born in a single litter. Baby chipmunks are born blind, toothless, and hairless in underground nests. Pups will only stay with their mother for around two months, and then they are on their own.
It’s not easy being a chipmunk. Few adults live longer than 2 to 3 years. Most die due to predation from owls, foxes, coyotes, and raccoons. Habitat loss is another key threat. The destruction of deciduous and mixed forest habitat, especially the loss of mature maple and beech hardwoods is an important reason why chipmunk populations may be low or nonexistent in areas around New York Harbor. Quite a few chipmunks, though, can be found in Prospect Park in Brooklyn and some are even starting to return to Central Park in Manhattan. Long live the chipmunk around New York Harbor!