7 Habits of Highly Effective Chipmunks

My wife and I live in a townhouse community in a “sub-suburban” area of New Jersey.

Behind our home is a gently sloping, semi-wooded area with mature, fairly good sized oak, elm and other deciduous trees, along with a variety of pine, cedar and other coniferous trees and shrubs. It’s a very nice spot, with just enough “wild” for most people’s taste.

A pretty broad variety of wildlife is native to this wooded bit of suburban serenity. Our avian wildlife includes some great bird varieties like robins, doves, blue jays, cardinals, meadowlarks, bluebirds, woodpeckers, hummingbirds and even some unusual critters like Eastern Towhees.

The furry menagerie includes squirrels, rabbits, the occasional groundhog and a very successful community of chipmunks. If your only familiarity with chipmunks is from Disney films and shows, here’s what real chipmunks look like:


They’re cute. No denying it.

They’re little. The biggest ones I’ve seen are less than half the size of a relatively small squirrel.

The biggest squirrels in our little wooded vista could likely backhand one of these guys right into next week.

But make no mistake about it. These are highly effective mammalian life forms who thrive no matter how much competition there is or how crowded things get in the townhouse woodland.

So I asked myself what it was about them that lets them be successful and do it with seeming ease?

What I came up with is the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Chipmunks (with respect to Steven Covey, since I’m pretty sure this isn’t remotely near what he had in mind.) Here, in no particular order of importance (except number 7,) is that list.

1. They’re Adaptable – These little characters manage to take care of business and explore their world no matter what the weather. When it rains, they move as much as possible with bushes above them, under our grills, table and chairs and even under any covers, etc that may be lying on the ground.

Same thing when the hawk is around. (We have several hawks in our vicinity.) They play the duck-and-cover game, but it’s business as usual. When the hawk is about, I’ve often seen a “look-out” chipmunk lurking between two of our planters while 2-3 others are packing themselves full of seeds. The look-out will make a sound and they’ll all scatter, but they come back soon enough.

Complaining about the weather or the hawk isn’t for them. They just adjust, adapt and overcome.

The lesson for us? Spend more time thinking about how to take advantage of a disadvantage than we do complaining about it. Figure out how to get something done in spite of adversity.

2. They Take Some Risks – We have a Shepherd’s Hook in one of our planter boxes. On the hook hangs a suet cage, which we try to keep filled (the animals love it and it attracts some beautiful birds.)

The squirrels will climb the shaft, get up on the curved part, then hang upside down to eat the suet. They’re pigs, really, and the birds let them know it pretty often.

One gutsy chipmunk must have seen the squirrels doing this and thought “why wait for the suet to fall? I’ll go to the source.”

Well, he made his way all the way up to the curve. He must have realized then that the squirrels are bigger than him.

But…while he was up there, he was eyeballing that suet cage with a whole new perspective. I have no doubt that I’m going to look out there and see that chipmunk hanging on that cage and gorging on that rich, fatty suet! Now that he’s been to the top, he knows he can get there AND he’s had a look at the challenge from a different perspective.

The lesson for us? Take a chance and see if you can’t get some new perspective. See if you can learn something about yourself and your world when you try something new, or try something familiar in a new way.

3. They Have Some Fun – These chipmunks just LOOK happy. I realize that’s probably my own projection ( maybe too much Disney in my youth,) but they do look like they’re grinning a lot.

These chipmunks play, too. They chase each other, leap from bush to bush, table to chair, wherever. They play. I absolutely realize that for them, play is a survival tool or a part of the mating ritual.

Both of those should be true for us as humans, too. After all, play is a part of our evolution that is being forcibly evolved out of us and it sure doesn’t seem to me like we’re any happier, healthier or more prosperous because of it.

The lesson for us? PLAY! Run around like a nut. Dance in the rain. Stomp some puddles. Skip rope. Climb a tree. Play hopscotch. Have a pillow fight. Real, physical play. You’ll feel better and you’re likely to do us a favor as a species, speaking from an evolutionary standpoint.

4. They’re Industrious – I watched one chipmunk go back and forth from the pile of sunflower seeds we’d put out to a burrow nearby for nearly 15 minutes. Maybe 20 trips. Every trip to the burrow, those little cheeks were stuffed full of seeds.

And can they burrow! A few years back, we dug out the large, built in planter that holds our rose bush. It’s about 4′ X 4′ X 3′ deep. We found no fewer than 20 burrows in that small space, all packed with seeds, peanuts, fur and other materials to line them.

Pretty impressive, really.Ron Burgundy Impressed

The lesson for us? Be industrious. Don’t be afraid to work. Do the job right and it will last.

5. They Save for the Future – Think about the two stories I just shared. These are both examples of this habit. Chipmunks will stuff themselves with seeds and suet. But not before they’ve taken a whole bunch of whatever they’re eating back to their burrows.

As a gardener, I’ve dug out a lot of chipmunk burrows in my lifetime. Never once have I found one empty of seeds, nuts or other “chipmunk-y” materials. They are relentless savers.

Earlier this summer, we observed two baby chipmunks doing the same thing. So apparently, there’s a two-fold lesson here:

Save for the future AND teach your children to do the same!

6. They Communicate – We hear them chittering all the time. Back and forth to each other. We used to joke about their “conversations.” Then, I read this story about research into animal communications: http://home.bt.com/news/science-news/animals-are-busy-having-conversations-all-around-us-say-scientists-11364276341883

Chipmunk nice
Makes me wonder what kind of discussion is going on here.

Maybe it’s a chipmunk apology for a missed birthday or anniversary.

Sometimes, we’ll hear a particular kind of chitter or other noise and notice a specific action right after. The “look-out” is a perfect example. There are others.

Communication is important to their survival, of course. But watching them, you easily get a sense that they are communicating because they CAN, not just because they must. How often do we take communication so much for granted that we ignore the beauty and shared experience of the world that comes with it?

The lesson for us? Communicate meaningfully. Be present with those with whom you communicate. Make it mean something, even if the only meaning is that you connected for a brief time with someone else.

7. Be Nice, But Don’t Ever Be Afraid to Stand Up For Yourself – There’s no denying that chipmunks are cute. Adorable, really. And they seem to get along with just about all the other creatures in our backyard woodland. Well, except the hawks. None of them get along with the hawks…

But as “nice” as they are, sometimes things get a little tough. Someone gets a little close to your baby and things get physical. Someone threatens your burrow and you come out claws first.
Chipmunk Fight Light Sabers
And sometimes, things escalate beyond claws and teeth.

I wonder how bad things have to get for the fight to get to the “chipmunk light saber” phase?


When it’s over, it’s over. They don’t appear to hold grudges (although I can’t say for sure) and they seem to have short memories about minor scraps.

The lesson for us? Be nice, but when the time comes, stand up for yourself and for what’s right. And definitely don’t just grab the light sabres for just any old scrap…

Hope you enjoyed this and maybe picked up a thing or two.

Keep the faith and keep after it!


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