Courtesy photo/Rachel Lovejoy

A few years ago, I lived in an apartment over a garage. My deck was high off the ground, so I created a little feeding station for the birds up there. One cold day in January, I noticed a single gray squirrel eating out of a bowl of seed. It was snowing hard, and the squirrel’s fur had collected a thick layer of snow. But that didn’t stop the little critter, along with quite a few birds, from making sure they all got a share of the bounty. They literally never stopped all that day, their every move dictated by how much food they could consume before night fell again.

Fast forward to 2020, and I’ve been witnessing a similar scenario being played out, only this time, in the form of a chipmunk that has taken up temporary residence in a rain gutter downspout outside my door. For weeks now, it has spent much of each day going back and forth from the downspout to the bird feeders just a short distance away.

Some time in September, I starting hearing the characteristic scratching sounds in the downspout, so I knew the chipmunk had appropriated it as its hiding place. I watched through a window as it climbed the shepherd’s hook, then made the leap from the pole to one of the feeders where it hung there as long as it felt safe. I got as close to the window as I dared without scaring it off and saw how it used its tiny tongue to pry the black sunflower seeds out through the small holes in the feeder.

As time went on, the chipmunk grew a little tamer, and I was able to sit outside watching it. While its antics mimic those of a squirrel, its motivation is different. Squirrels don’t hibernate, so they gorge on whatever it is they can find to eat. Chipmunks, on the other hand, do enter into a form of semi-hibernation, called torpor, in late fall that calls for storing food ahead of winter. So for every sunflower seed my little chippie actually eats, it packs a few more away in its cheek pouches. Needless to say, it has quite the comical look when they look like they’re about to burst!

A few days ago, I heard the scratching again, so I went outside to investigate. Sure enough, there it was, taking advantage of the unseasonably mild temperatures, and sitting demurely on the rainwater diverter that the downspout rests on. It stayed put at first, unsure as to whether or not it was safe enough to venture up the pole. When it disappeared into the downspout, I quickly scattered a large handful of seeds on the diverter in an effort to make the chippie’s job a little easier. Out it popped and immediately started gathering the seeds. Watching how hard it had to work just to stay alive tugged at my heart, so I felt it was only right to give it a helping hand.

Now some might argue that it’s wrong to encourage a chipmunk’s foraging, that I should let nature take care of its own. Yes, chipmunks are considered pests, and I’ve had actual experience myself with the kind of damage they can do to the things we humans consider necessary to our own survival. But darn it all, I just can’t do it. I just don’t have it in me to go out there and shoo that chippie away. As opposed to the squirrel’s greediness, I think it’s the extra element of resourcefulness in the chipmunk that moves me, how determined it is to get what it needs, and how hard it’s willing to work for it. Then, too, there’s that cute little face, those big dark eyes and the bulging cheeks. One look, and I’m a goner. Every. Single. Time.

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