by A. Richard Miller
visits since 040908; last updated 110623.

Chipmunks are very common in New England, although their population varies from year to year.

Chipmunks make good pets. When I was in college, I knew a girl who took one to classes with her at Vassar College -- in her sweater! It would pop its head out now and again, and was very friendly.

We like the wild chipmunks that scamper through our yard and the nearby woods in Natick, Massachusetts. Years ago, Jill patiently trained a wild chipmunk to come when she called. Here's how. First, she left a few sunflower seeds at the corner of our back porch every day, and then next to where she'd sit and read a book. Once the chipmunk dared take the seeds from next to her, it was only a matter of time until it would take one from her hand, opened on the ground. Within a few days, the chipmunk trusted Jill enough to let her lift it up in her palm while it took the seed. After that, soon it would leap up into her palm for its sunflower-seed reward. Within a week or two, it would try anything: scampering up her arm to take a seed from her shoulder, from her shirt pocket, even from her lips with a kiss. Guests were astonished. It was a great show!

Kids: Chipmunks may be illegal as pets. And wild animals must be handled carefully; you can hurt or scare them, and they can bite. If you want to learn to work with wild animals, ask someone who knows.

This afternoon (September 8th, 2004), Jill went out back after a heavy downpour. A large children's swim tube was lying on the ground, and its center depression had filled high with rain water. To her dismay, inside it was a little chipmunk, swimming for dear life but unable to get up its slippery sides!

The chipmunk must have jumped on and then slid down into the too-deep water. Its thrashing was slowing down, and Jill could see that it was close to drowning. She hurried over and lifted it out. She set it on the grass. It just lay there, shivering violently. So she brought it indoors in her hand -- limp, shivering, eyes closed, fur all soaked and bedraggled. Jill called for me to help. What to do?

We put a dish towel next to the kitchen sink, put the little chipmunk on it, and covered it with another. Jill gently dabbed at its fur, drying it as well as possible. It was still shivering violently, and barely opening its eyes. So we put one of the towels into our microwave oven. Fifteen seconds turned out to be about right, to warm a damp towel enough to warm a damp chipmunk. It was still shivering, but less and less.

After perhaps a half hour, and many towel trips to the microwave oven, our little chipmunk began to perk up. We had a bucket ready for it, to ease its way back outdoors. But suddenly it bolted for the far corner of the counter, and beat Jill to the draw! We finally coaxed it out from behind the food mixer. It jumped onto the window ledge behind the sink, then made a reassuringly healthy leap back towards the mixer -- where Jill was able to scoop it into the bucket, give it one towel to cuddle under, and the other towel for a lid. We gave it a walnut half, too. We sat it near the back door for another hour to let it recover further, then put it, bucket and cover towel and all, on our open porch for a while longer.

Before Jill and I said goodbye to our new friend, we remembered to empty the water from the swim tube and to stand it on edge.

We think our little chipmunk is better. After we left, it left the bucket. In a day or two, perhaps it will come back for another visit under less harrowing circumstances.

In May 2010, Kat Caren sent us this (literally!) heart-warming follow-up message:

Just read your story (about the near-drowning of the chipmunk) - and wanted to report I just had a similar, harrowing experience...

Opened up the storm door of our 1924 chestnut log cabin here in the NJ Highlands (Apshawa section of West Milford Township) to find my young cat circling a rainwater-filled tub next to the porch, which contained a desperately swimming young chipmunk. After calling my companion, I next noticed the poor thing sink like a stone...

Harvey came out and, using a broom, lifted the chipmunk out of the water and placed it on the ground. I scooped up the cat and put her inside. Then, carefully (with gloves on) picked up the apparently deceased chipmunk, who was so young and cute. Harvey said "It's probably dead", but I noticed its little front paw moving. He went to the barn to get a box, and I grabbed some clean rags and started drying it off as best I could, rubbing it gently to warm it up. I placed the box in a sun-lit window and checked in on it every few minutes. Miraculously it was breathing - laboring to breath - and so I came in and did a "chipmunk drowning recovery" search and, lo and behold, came across your story... Well, we don't have a microwave but I put a small towel in the clothes dryer and after a few minutes, ran outside and wrapped the little rascal in the warm towel, which really did the trick!

Within a minute or so, the little thing started to move about and squirm when I held it in my still-gloved hand. After a few minutes, I took him to the other side of the barn (where there are lots of stone walls) and encouraged him to run... It took a few minutes, but he eventually took off.

I'll never forget this experience, and thank you for the story of what a little warmth can do for a soul.

Enjoy the day,

In June 2011, David Sherman sent us this follow-up message:

I did a search on “swimming chipmunks” and came upon your site. I thought you’d be interested to know what happened today (6/22/11). First of all, I have many chipmunks on my property and we feed them along with the raccoons, skunks, squirrels and birds. We DO NOT feed the bears which are intent on spoiling it for everyone else with their destructive behavior.

Today, I was fishing on Silver Lake in Harrisville, NH. I was on my way back in when I saw an object off in the middle of the water apparently moving. As I got closer, I thought it might be a turtle but was amazed to see it was a chipmunk! What on earth was it doing out there and how did it get there? It barely had its head above water and although it was plodding along, it didn’t look as though it could continue much longer. I scooped it up with my net. The poor little guy was shivering but seemed happy to be out of the water. I was afraid that it might be scared as a captive on the boat but it just stayed there.

After I landed I went to scoop it up with my hands but although it didn’t fight me or nip at me, it wasn’t comfortable with being picked up. It was still on the fishing net so I lifted it up and placed the net on the ground. It soon ran off to the copse of woods next to the launch ramp. After I loaded up, I saw that it was running around exploring its new home.

Hatred towards these animals infuriates me (squirrels, too). They intend no harm to anyone, except nuts. Sure they dig up the property but would we prefer a world with no wildlife?

David Sherman
New Boston, NH

If you enjoyed this, we think you'll also like:
The Chipmunk Chronicles, by Toni Will-Harris
Angst in August, by Ron McAdow