The Chipping Munk

photo of Eastern Chipmunk standing © Lang ElliottWith regard to yesterday’s Clucking Munk post, which featured a recording of the Eastern Chipmunk’s “aerial predator alarm call,” some folks asked me to provide an example of its counterpart: the “ground predator alarm call.” So I’ve decided to do just that, as well as briefly describe the differences.

The ground predator alarm is a loud, high-pitched, staccato “chip,” given in a measured series (as you might guess, the chipmunk is named for this call). The energy of the call, frequency-wise, is mostly well above 3000 Hz. Here is an example:

In contrast, the aerial predator alarm call is characterized by a loud, hollow cluck at around 1200 Hz that is accompanied by a much softer high frequency aspect (clucks can be heard several hundred feet away):

It is true that you may come across a chipmunk giving calls that seem intermediate, but for the most part the two call types are distinct (at least that is my belief). In general, if the low clucking aspect of the call is present and dominant, the chipmunk is most likely responding to an aerial predator, although he might be giving the call because he hears neighboring chipmunks giving the call (clucking is contagious in this respect—if one chipmunk sees a hawk and starts clucking, a neighbor might soon join-in, even though he might not have seen the hawk).

A BRILLIANT IDEA: Why don’t we name this animal based on what sound he’s making? If we come across an individual who is chipping, we will call him a Chip-munk. But if we come across an individual who is clucking, maybe we should call him a Cluck-munk. I rather like that … Cluckmunk! And if he isn’t making any sound? How about Stripemunk!

There is yet another vocalization type made by chipmunks. It is called the “chip-trill” and is given by chipmunks who are diving for cover. I believe that chipmunks give this call no matter what the disturbance (a diving hawk, a fox or dog on the charge, or a human suddenly appearing). Almost always, if you hear this call, the chipmunk is rushing into a burrow, a tree hollow, or other shelter, although in my best recording he gives a chip-trill in the middle of a chip series:

If you’re interested, you can download a hi-resolution PDF of my original study, provided online by Smithsonian Institution:

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.

Comments

  1. Which of these recordings can I use to trick the chipmunks into leaving my home? I am overrun with the little devils and just want them gone.

  2. Zack Frieben says:

    I’ve heard the chip-trill many times, and they are usually always extremely close by. That makes sense, since they’re calls hurt my ears sometimes, that’s how close they can be. About the clucking call being heard far away, I’ve heard that on many occasions, echoing through the forests, and I have to admit they were probably hundreds of feet away.

  3. Lisa Rainsong says:

    This is SO interesting! I’ve heard all three of these calls (including the trill in the middle of the high-pitched chips) but hadn’t considered that different calls represented different kinds of threats. I’ll certainly be paying close attention to this in the future.

    As other have reported, the high-pitched chips sent my cat (strictly indoors) flying to the back window where he can usually see chipmunks chipping right outside the back door. He’s still waiting for that chipmunk to emerge…

  4. Nicholas Hlifka says:

    Is this posted using the Sound Cloud player? I’m not sure, but this is another one that I am unable to play. All I hear is a garbled line that says something about XD Proxy. Just thought I’d let you know, in case you weren’t aware.

  5. Very nice post. Lang, I think that you have worked off your bad chipmunk kara for sure!

  6. Aerial alarm calls? I had no idea. Now I have a new tool in my arsenal for locating birds. I really love taking my cues from the animals themselves. Many thanks for the post.

  7. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    You should have seen my dog go on alert when I played the first call. I was amused because she left the room by the end of the last recording. We hear them at the park where we walk but they don’t live around our house. She must remember the calls. I have often blamed squirrels for these sounds.

  8. Your chipmunk calls – aerial, ground, and trill – awoke my two slumbering indoor cats. Alerted, and now on the prowl, one headed to a windowsill, the other to a glass door, both staring out. Genetic programming in action, and actually quite amusing as well. Since I’m not interested in producing any bad chipmunk karma of my own, the cats will remain indoors. Just thought I’d let you know that humans are not the only ones appreciating your recordings.

  9. Dorothy says:

    Ah, but showing the complex beauty of their calls and behavior (so one learns they’re so much more than cute) is good karma indeed.

    Thanks for the elaboration on aerial vs. terrestrial!

  10. Lang Elliott is the GOD of all chipmunks. Bravo!

    • Hi there Curt! Actually, I’m trying to work off some bad chipmunk karma. Long ago, when I did my behavior study in the Adirondacks near Rainbow Lake, I dug up two or three chipmunk burrows so that I could see how they were constructed and measure the amount of food stored in food chambers. During one of my excavations, I was joined by a class of Paul Smiths students who were part of the Ecology program. One particularly sensitive young woman got very upset about the whole thing, bursting into tears because I had destroyed a chipmunk’s home. In retrospect, I wish I had been as sensitive as she. While my activities certainly “uncovered” new knowledge (no pun intended), it was also violent and destructive on a personal level … “personal” meaning in terms of the chipmunk resident. So there you have it. Bad chipmunk karma for sure. Not very godly at all. The only thing I ever really did that was good for the chipmunks was feed them sunflower seeds. But even then, my motive was selfish: it made it easy for me to get photographs, the very photos I’ve been posting here.

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