Tuesday, January 31, 2012


The beginning of this story is a footnote to the story below. When Molly is in the house, her favorite daytime spot is on a throw rug by the sliding door leading out to the patio/deck area. South facing, she stays warm there on sunny days; but more importantly, it gives her a view of the bird feeder so she can keep an eye out for rogue squirrels infiltrating. 

Usually, when she heads out from that door, it’s a beeline to the base of the feeder or to the bottom of whatever tree she believes is most likely to harbor a squirrel. Recently, however, she’s made a stop by a large, decorative rock positioned adjacent to the steps leading down from the deck. I’d never seen anything there, but perhaps a squirrel had sat there, taunting her sometime earlier. 
Late afternoon, on January 28, I learned what had captured her interest. Perched on the rock was a Tamias striatus, an Eastern Chipmunk. 

“Go figure,” I thought to myself. “I thought chipmunks were true hibernators in that they stored up fat reserves in the fall, burrowed deep below the frost line and spent the winter months snoozing."

I’ve never lived where chipmunks were an abundant yard animal, and even here, though I’d spotted a chippy or two around the fringe of our yard, the population isn’t large. Maybe people who have healthy populations of chipmunks aren’t be surprised to see them out foraging in winter.

A quick check on the Internet proved to me I’m only partly right. Some animals such as bats or woodchucks truly hibernate. Their metabolic functions slow to near death and they live off of stored fat reserves all winter long. If you were to find one, you’d think them dead or at least unconscious. 

Other animals “almost hibernate” such as bears. These animals hunker down for the winter, their metabolism slows modestly, but they don’t often stir, feed or leave their burrow. 

Chipmunks have evolved in another direction. They don’t bulk up with fat reserves for the winter; rather, they store seeds and other foodstuffs in their underground burrows and then wake from their winter torpor when they get hungry. 

Now that’s the way to spend winter. Stay in a warm nest with plenty of food and wait for spring. 

I don’t know if the little chipmunk ran out of its stored food and is resorting to winter forays to glean the spilled seeds from the bird feeder or just likes to come out for a breath of fresh air on warm, sunny days. 

If nothing else, it’s just one more creature for Molly to monitor. This, while she sits in the warm sun waiting for spring, as well. 

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