Townsend’s chipmunk (Neotamias townsendii)
There are five species of chipmunk here in Oregon. All of them are adorable and each fills a slightly different niche. This week we’ll meet Townsend’s chipmunk (Neotamias townsendii).
Fun fact: All five species have one thing in common, they can all be spotted in Crater Lake National Park.
Townsend’s can be found in southwestern British Columbia, western Washington and Oregon. In Oregon, they are found from the Cascade Range to the coast.
As chipmunks go, Townsend’s are large; the second-largest species in our area. Of course, “large” in chipmunk terms means they average 10 inches in size, which includes their tails. Oregon’s smallest chipmunk, the aptly named least chipmunk, averages eight inches including the tail. In chipmunk terms the extra two inches Townsend’s has on the least is significant.
Female Townsend’s are larger than males, and tougher. Though all Townsend’s are pretty tough little critters.
Townsend’s are solitary chipmunks, each defending a territory about one acre in size. The territory can vary in size depending on how many other chipmunks there are in the area.
Unlike some other chipmunk species who live in available spaces such as tree hollows or even under logs in leaf litter, Townsend’s dig burrows underground. These burrows can be up to 10 feet long. Female Townsend’s are larger than males, so their burrows tend to be larger.
While each Townsend’s calls their own one-acre home, they only put effort into defending the center of their universe as it were. They spend most of their time in a 12-yard radius around the opening to their burrow and that’s the area they put their teeny backs into defending.
Despite each individual Townsends’ need for personal space; they will all work together in the chipmunk equivalent of a neighborhood watch group. They have a variety of warning calls described as “a quist, a quirt and a chipper” to warn other Townsend’s in earshot of potential threats.
Common Townsend’s predators include weasels, mink, bobcats, house cats, foxes, martens skunks, hawks, owls and snakes. Their stripey camouflage and propensity for keeping to the underbrush also help them avoid becoming a snack for a passing carnivore.
As for their own diet, it’s well-rounded. Strong smelling underground fungi (like truffles) are their favorite fare, especially in colder months. To round out their diet they munch on other available snacks such as berries and seeds. Most often they forage for their meals on the ground but are excellent climbers and will do so for tasty maple seeds and pine nuts. In a pinch, they will also eat insects and are especially fond of beetles. Who doesn’t like a nice crunchy snack?
Like other chipmunks and ground squirrels, Townsend’s have cheek pockets for gathering food. They can load up on groceries then scoot back to their burrow to tuck in winter stores. They will hibernate in the coldest parts of their range. In more temperate climates they’ll snooze away the worst weather days, but overall be active year-round.
While their overall range is large, Towsend’s do seek specific locations within that range. They prefer dense hardwood and conifer forests. They also seek out the riparian zone for its abundance of dense cover, water and food resources.
Females will give birth to between three and five kits early in summer, so the wee ones have time to grow and fatten up for winter. They’ll need to spend even that first winter on their own in their own acre plot and burrow. Solitary Towsend’s moms long for that “empty nest” feeling as soon as the days begin to shorten.