Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
January, 2008
Regional Report

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I don't mind this chipmunk enjoying a seed ball, but I wish he'd be content to stay out of my house.

Desert-Dwelling Chipmunk

My urban wildlife habitat seems to be spreading indoors. I thought odd noises coming from the kitchen were just signs that I was losing my marbles, but instead I've determined there's a chipmunk living in my dryer hose.

I'm sure it's the same chipmunk who regularly swung from a seed ball hanging on the plant stand next to my front door. I've lived in this house for many years and have never seen a chipmunk out in the yard. There's so much surrounding development, it's hard to imagine where it would arrive from. Then a stray cat started hovering and I feared the worst when there were no more chipmunk sightings on the seed ball.

One day, I heard the mini blinds clanking in the kitchen, followed by a light tapping sound, like someone rhythmically chopping vegetables. It seemed odd to me that an intruder would stop to adjust the blinds and make a salad, so I decided to investigate. Thinking that the Gila woodpecker was perhaps banging on the eaves again, I went to the window to peer out. Instead, in a houseplant in front of the window, I spied a chipmunk's backside. The little critter was digging like crazy, spewing soil over the edges onto the floor, tunneling for food or escape. The pot rattling on the saucer sitting on the tile floor provided the chopping sound. We startled the bejeesus out of each other, and he or she dove beneath a bamboo plant stand in the corner. Alvin? Alvina? I decided Alvie would cover either gender.

I opened the sliding patio door, which is about 5 feet away, and barricaded escape to the rest of the kitchen. I thought I'd lift the plant stand slightly so Alvie would sense fresh air and charge on through the wide open door. I lift, Alvie charges -- right over the barricade and across the kitchen to dive beneath the laundry closet door.

I slowly ease open the accordion doors. Alvie is nowhere to be seen in the smidgeon of space aound the washer and dryer. I try to peer beneath, but it's too narrow to see anything but dust. Maybe Alvie will run back and forth and dust the floor with that bushy tail, because there's no space for a tail to curl above its head. (I try to see the positive in any situation!)

Identifying the Intruder
I have great respect for naturalists who define minute distinctions among species. I've been examining photos of the five chipmunk species that live in Arizona, but I can't figure out exactly what kind of chipmunk Alvie is. My best guess is a least chipmunk (Tamias minimus) because the coloration fits and it is described as living in the desert-like habitats of the state. The least chipmunk is the smallest chipmunk species in the U.S. The Colorado chipmunk's (Tamias quadrivittatus) coloration and markings seem like another possibility, although they reside in pinon-juniper habitats.

Chipmunks eat seeds, fruits, nuts, and insects, so desert plants in my yard would be an attraction. I never spray pesticides since insects are so important to the food chain, and I never have pest problems with all the birds consuming everything they spot. The least chipmunk is common around campsites and will eat people food, which would help explain its survival in an urban area.

I've been leaving my doors open for several days, with enticing nuts and cereal grains to point the way to the exit. It's difficult to tell if Alvie departs when I'm not sitting right there, and of course, if I'm sitting right there, Alvie won't leave. I shut the doors at night, and by morning the food is gone. I hear muffled clunking noises behind the dryer, but there's insufficient space for me to look without dragging out the appliances, and I don't want to inadvertently squish Alvie. I've obviously been outsmarted by a rodent with a brain the size of a pea who has decided it's much warmer indoors than out. It's time to rethink Alvie's exit strategy!

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