Patients of the Week: Orphaned Townsend’s Chipmunks Released After Growing Up at the Wildlife Care Center

By Ashley Lema, Wildlife Rehabilitator

Back in May, these four orphaned Townsend’s Chipmunks were found inside of a car’s air filter by a good Samaritan in Hillsboro. Unfortunately, their mother was accidentally killed, and they were nowhere near being old enough to care for themselves; they still required her milk and protection. They were our first batch of many baby chipmunks this summer, a real favorite of mine every year. Luckily they were not without their parent for long, and came to us in rather good condition. Over the course of the next month-month and a half, we watched them grow from infantseyes and ears closed, requiring warmth and specialized formula every few hoursto large, independent, inquisitive, and quick chipmunks that were ready to forage and be on their own! 

By Ashley Lema, Wildlife Rehabilitator

Back in May, these four orphaned Townsend’s Chipmunks were found inside of a car’s air filter by a good Samaritan in Hillsboro. Unfortunately, their mother was accidentally killed, and they were nowhere near being old enough to care for themselves; they still required her milk and protection. They were our first batch of many baby chipmunks this summer, a real favorite of mine every year. Luckily they were not without their parent for long, and came to us in rather good condition. Over the course of the next month-month and a half, we watched them grow from infantseyes and ears closed, requiring warmth and specialized formula every few hoursto large, independent, inquisitive, and quick chipmunks that were ready to forage and be on their own! 

Three of the four Townsend’s Chipmunk babies cuddled together on their first day at the Wildlife Care Center.
Three of the four Townsend’s Chipmunk babies cuddled together on their first day at the Wildlife Care Center.

Recently another staff member and I were able to watch all four original babies, as well as two other singleton orphans that became adopted siblings in care, all go free back onto this incredible property they were found on, and with the folks that rescued them! One of the chipmunks ran out quickly. Another joined at first, but then retreated back to the safety of the transport container. We often remain quiet and patient for some time as the animals we’ve raised in our care take in their new environment and gain the confidence to run off. Eventually, while watching from a safe distance, we saw all of them out and exploring, some even climbing on the low branches of the tree seen in the video, hiding under brush, and even nosing around for food. It was a great way to start my weekend, and one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

Townsend’s chipmunks are a large species of chipmunk that can be found from British Columbia to southern Oregon. They prefer dense hardwood or coniferous forests, but will sometimes live in more open areas. These chipmunks may hibernate in regions where the winter is harsh, but in other parts of their range that have a more mild climate, they can be active year-round! They tend to be more secretive than most chipmunks and are heard more often than seen. When active, they tend to stay in the shadows or hidden by thick vegetation or brush. They are excellent climbers and use trees or their burrows as a refuge to escape from predators. You might catch a glimpse of one running with their tail held straight up, or even sunning themselves on a low branch!

Townsend’s chipmunks are generally a warm brown color, with five dark brown/black stripes alternating with four lighter tawny stripes on their back; the middle one usually the darkest. Their underparts, as well as a patch behind their ears, are a creamy white, and their bushy tail is grayish above, and reddish/brown below. They have two light and three dark stripes on the sides of their faces. They are most active in the late morning and early afternoon, and spend most of their day searching for and stockpiling food in their burrows. Townsendʼs Chipmunks are omnivores and have a fairly diverse diet including but not limited to: berries, nuts, seeds, fungi, lichen, insects, grass and roots. They can use their cheek pouches to carry food from their foraging areas back to their burrow, and can hold over 100 oats in their cheek pouches!

Three teenage chipmunks exploring their indoor enclosure; filled with natural bark, leaves, moss and lichen covered branches, and volunteer-made den boxes.

Something I find really cool (and adorable) is that their most important method of communication is vocalizations, primarily the use of alarm calls for intruders and predators. This is an interesting behavior because Tonwsend’s Chipmunks tend to be solitary and even territorial towards other chipmunks, but will still give alarm calls to warn others of the same species, which compromises their own survival.

How to Support Chipmunks and Other Wildlife

    • You can make a brush or rock pile to provide shelter for chipmunks. Fallen leaves can be piled over the top of brush and rock piles to encourage animals to even hibernate there!
    • Leave thick ground vegetation, bushes, and trees that produce berries, seeds, or nuts. If you have a lot of lawn space, consider planting native vegetation to provide more cover and food sources for wild animals.
    • Chipmunks, like a lot of wildlife, also like old-growth trees and dead trees called snags. An abundance of animals can make use of what looks like a useless dead tree to us. And it can take a long time for these habitat elements to develop, so it is important to preserve them if there are some on your property!

What to Do If You Find An Ill, Injured or Orphaned Animal 

    • If an animal is visibly ill or injured, has been in contact with a cat, or is definitely orphaned, the best thing you can do is contain the animal in a securely closed (but ventilated) box and keep the animal quiet and undisturbed until you can transport it to your closest wildlife rehabilitation facility. Do not offer food or water.

Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Wildlife Care Center accepts new patients from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day. You can also leave a message on our Wildlife Hotline at (503) 292-0304 or email wildlife@birdallianceoregon.org and one of our wildlife solutions counselors will get back to you and provide advice for your specific situation.

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We’re building a new Wildlife Care Center and need your help! If you would like to help injured and orphaned wildlife, please consider joining our crowdfunding campaign and making a gift to make this new facility a reality. We’re doubling the square footage, adding a surgical suite, and making many more important changes to provide the best care for our patients. Learn more at ForPortlandBird Alliance of Oregon.org

If you’d like to contribute to the Wildlife Care Center, please consider making a donation here. Your support helps us save lives.