Anyone who spends much time in the outdoors in late summer or fall has seen our eastern chipmunks gathering nuts and seeds. “Chipmunk cheeks” is a most appropriate description for the way these critters look as they stuff their cheek pouches and scurry back to their burrows.
The chipmunks are gathering their winter food supply – for, although we probably won’t see them until spring, they don’t hibernate. Instead, they go through sleep/wake cycles; sleeping for extensive periods, then waking to eat some of the food they’ve stored in chambers in their burrow. The storage chambers contain the fruits (that is a pun, is it not?) of the chipmunk’s labor – hickory nuts, acorns and other seeds and nuts.
Now our black bears also favor hickory nuts and acorns as a fall food while they gorge and build up the fat reserves which will see them through their winter’s nap. Bears will gather individual nuts from the ground and climb trees to get them directly from the branch. But, it’s apparently much more energy efficient to locate chipmunk burrows and raid their storage chambers.
The Big Woods are full of chipmunks and has a significant population of black bears. Occasionally I’ve walked up on a bear excavating a chipmunk burrow –
Once the bear was partially submerged in the hole –
Scattered throughout the woods are numerous signs of the bears’ diggings –
There are several old roads through the Big Woods that have been improved by the addition of a few inches of fist-sized crushed rock that was covered with smaller aggregate. The gaps between the larger rocks seem to have been ideal for chipmunk burrows. Now the bears are digging up the roads to get at the stored nuts. In a one hundred foot length of one road bears had dug at four different spots.
And what of the chipmunks that have lost the contents of their winter larder to a bear?