Chipmunk Clucks Revisited

photo of one eastern chipmunk chasing another

Sometimes one’s memory is not so good. After telling a friend that I only had three solid observations of chipmunks responding to aerial predators by giving cluck calls, I went back to my original published study from 1978 and discovered that I had actually recorded a whopping seventeen (17) instances of this behavior, not just three as I had remembered. And come to think of it, I’ve observed at least three additional examples since my study, bringing the total to around twenty! Not bad, even from a scientific point of view.

Concerning my monograph on chipmunk behavior published in 1978, I am pleased to announce that you can now download a hi-resolution PDF copy, thanks to Smithsonian Institution. I had no idea they had made it available online (click on the graphic to access the PDF):

photo of Lang's chipmunk monograph
Reference: Elliott, Lang. 1978. Social Behavior and Foraging Ecology of the Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) in the Adirondack Mountains, Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology, Number 265, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Just so we’re all up to speed on this matter, be sure to check out my two previous blog posts: The Clucking Munk and The Chipping Munk. Below is a summary recording featuring the chipmunk’s aerial predator alarm call, cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck … (ending with a chip-trill), followed by high-pitched chipping, chip, chip, chip, chip …, the latter most often given in the presence of ground predators (at least that’s my educated guess):

An Eastern Chipmunk giving ‘cluck’ calls followed by another individual giving ‘chip’ calls. Recordings by Lang Elliott made in the Adirdondack Mountains of upstate New York.

One friend tells me he has heard chipmunks clucking in the presence of house cats, and it appeared to him that the cats were stalking the chipmunks and that the chipmunks were responding with the clucks. I would be the first to admit that clucks might be given in response to ground predators, even though my experience has been otherwise. Given that chipmunks may cluck for five or ten minutes after a hawk has flown away, it is quite possible that a cat would walk by during that refractory period, leading an observer to believe the cat is responsible. On the other hand, maybe they do cluck in response to cats. I certainly have no observations to the contrary.

To my blog followers: Let me know if any of you have something relevant to add to this discussion. Have you noticed the clucking yourself? And have you ever nailed down an event (aerial predator fly-by, ground predator walk-by, etc.) that you think actually instigated a clucking bout? Have you ever heard chipmunks cluck in response to cats nearby?

Comments

  1. Elizabeth O'Keefe says:

    Interesting information here. I definitely believe my two cats are to blame when it comes to chipmunk chirps. When my husband let’s the cats out earlier in the morning, the chipmunkss always wake me up. I look outside and always there will be one of my kitties at the base of the pine tree with the chipmunk starring straight down towards them. I wouldn’t blame the chipmunks as one of the relatives usually show up in our doorstep ;( -Liz from Tahoe

  2. I kept hearing a noise this AM that was the clunking noise you have recorded. I went out and saw a chipmunk hiding under a rock. I walked a little further and a huge hawk took flight, flying across our yard screeching as it flew overhead.

    I had not seen your blog yet and came in the house to tell my husband that I thought it was the chipmunk sending out a warning sound for the hawk that’s been hanging around for a few days. I googled and found your blog, sure enough you confirmed what I thought! I think my husband felt I’d made a huge leap to think that’s what it was so thank you for confirming my suspicions!

    Your recording was dead on the sound I heard before I saw the hawk fly overhead!

    • :>) It’s great that you figured it out on your own. I discovered the function of the call when working on chipmunk behavior as a grad student many years ago. Apparently, nobody had figured it out before me, at least among scientific circles (where conclusions are published). I found this surprising and consider solving that puzzle one of my most significant contributions to the study of natural history.

  3. Jo Friday says:

    Thank you!! We are new dwellers here in SE WI & have joined nature’s awesome surroundings. Within, we have several Munks…we have learned about their ‘chippie’ sounds, recognizing them easily. This morning we heard the CLUCKING!! Walking around in our screened porch, (the cat) & I were unable to observe any unordinary movement by the feeder, etc. Ahaha…….there sat Charlie on the berm not 15 feet from us……clucking, clucking, clucking. Not having heard him (them) make that pitch before, and thinking there must be a reason for THIS behavior, I googled your site.

    Thank you again….for your expertise! We looked around for aerial predators, then read the part about the MUNKs warning his comrades about CATS! Yep….well, very likely, in this case, ERnie CAT may have been the agitating factor…right here in the screened porch! Glad we learned of your blog site! Best regards!

    I

  4. We arrived at our cabin in MN a few weeks ago for our first summer long stay. After a few days we saw chipmunks and heard clucking but didn’t put the two together until I saw one on the front step clucking away. I have not seen any aerial predators here, but we have a screened on porch on two sides where the dog and cat diligently watch the chipmunks on the ground beneath the bird feeders. Before I researched the clucks I thought it was a taunt like squirrel barking. My dog loved your recording, i.e. went nuts trying to find they little guy she thought was ON the porch!

    • Thank you. It is amazing how pets will respond to the recordings. Enjoy your chipmunks.

    • While it’s easy to hear/see chipmunks clucking, it’s much more difficult to determine where the aerial predator is. One problem is that chipmunks will start clucking when they see a hawk fly by and then disappear. Even though the hawk has left the area, they may continue clucking for several minutes.

      Next time you hear clucking, I suggest that you scan the surrounding forest for a perched hawk. Or else go outdoors and walk around your cabin while looking all around, in hopes of scaring the hawk into flight so that you can see it.

  5. Zack Frieben says:

    Excellent! I love the White-Throated Sparrow in the background. I also like the Hairy Woodpecker, and Red-Eyed Vireo in the background. I once heard a “chorus” of clucking chipmunks in a forested area near a wetland. Due to its echoing quality, it sounded eerie. There were probably 10 clucking at once.

  6. We live in Jay, NY and one day heard one of our chipmunks making the clucking noise you have above. I also noticed a broad wing hawk in the area, who perches nearby quite often. I did not make the connection between the two.

    A week or so later I was sitting on our deck with my laptop and one our “Mr. Mumps” came up next to me. The scientist in me searched Google, it led me to this site! I played the clucking sound and turned up the volume – wow, Mr. Mumps ran under the logs behind me on the deck. While I won’t torture him with the sound again, this was very interesting. Thanks for the great info.

  7. I just heard an Eastern Chipmunk chuck calling to an immature Red-shouldered Hawk. The chipmunk kept going for several minutes after the hawk flew away. Fantastic!

  8. I don’t know why chipmunks chip or cluck, but I turned up the volume and their sounds from my speakers are driving my five miniature dachshunds NUTS!!! They’re running all around the desk and digging under the trash can, trying to find the source of the noise! The very first squeak sets them off. It’s hilarious to watch!

    I added a link to your website to the dachshund kennel website which I maintain, telling folks that not only are the nature sounds, pictures and videos wonderful, but their dachshunds will enjoy “the music of nature,” too.

  9. how does one follow a blog? my daughter would probably love to follow you, but need some guidance onthe tech particulars.
    thanks
    Nora

    • Nora: There are two good ways to follow our blog. First, you can hit the “subscribe by e-mail” button in the upper right corner of any old-miracle.mystagingwebsite.com blog post and fill-in your e-mail. That way you’ll receive e-mail notification of new blog entries. Second, your daughter Rachel can friend me on my Facebook profile or the musicofnature Facebook page (if she has a Facebook profile). I generally post notification of new blog entries to both Facebook accounts:

      http://www.facebook.com/LangElliott
      http://www.facebook.com/themusicofnature

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