The chipmunk's main form of defense consists of avoiding predators. He'll warn other chipmunks of possible danger, run away, stay in his burrow and change his activities in response to alarm signals. He's small and isn't equipped to fight, so his best chance of staying alive lies in staying out of harm's way.
Many animals and birds eat chipmunks. These predators include owls, hawks, weasels, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, lynxes, cats, dogs, snakes and even their relatives the red squirrels, depending on the location. One of chipmunk's first lines of defense is locating his home so it's as safe as possible. Many chipmunks, such as the eastern chipmunk, create multichambered burrows underground. They store their food, raise their young, sleep and spend the winter in their burrows. Other chipmunk species choose the safest places they can find for their nests, such as hollowed out logs or bushes where they have some protection from potential danger.
When danger approaches, a chipmunk sounds the alert so other chipmunks will know a predator is approaching. Chipmunks communicate with distinctive calls when they sight a predator and use a trilling call when being chased by a predator. A shrill, repeated chirping noise indicates danger. The chipmunk's alert may discourage certain predators, such as domestic cats. Cats often give up the hunt when they lose the element of surprise, so the chipmunk's scolding call may serve as a defense as well as a warning to others.
Chipmunks may respond to alerts by staying in the burrow, evading danger by remaining underground where most predators can't get them. A foraging chipmunk will carry less food after hearing an alert and will use the most direct route home to reduce his risk of being attacked. He forages strategically, choosing areas with dense undergrowth, logs and rock piles so he can hide from predators. He remains alert as he hunts for food and when he eats, always watching and listening for signs of the animals and birds who want to eat him.
Speed may be the chipmunk's greatest defense, especially when she's alone with no one to alert her to predators. She can race up a tree to get away from animals who can't climb or lack her agility. With one leap, she's out of reach of a dog. Chipmunks also will run across the ground or along a tree limb to escape a predator. Her small size allows her to navigate in brush and between obstacles to get away from larger animals. Disappearing into her burrow or a thicket can foil a predator, saving her from becoming a meal.
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