Saturday, June 25, 2011

One Name That Is Not Very Well-Grounded

According to my online dictionary, a chipmunk is “a burrowing ground squirrel with cheek pouches and light and dark stripes running down the body, found in North America and northern Eurasia”. Perhaps its because I don’t have the most recent version of the wordbook – but it doesn’t mention anything about being found in trees or bird feeders – which are the two places where one of our resident terrestrial rodents has been spending most of its time lately.

Mars and I are not quite sure where on our property the tiny black-striped brown mammal spends its sleeping hours. It may be our garage – we have seen it slipping into that structure through a small opening on the bottom of the door. Or it could be one of our down spouts. We have those long extensions that direct the spillage away from the house and we have also seen him scamper into those caverns when we catch him unawares. Sometimes, when it is really quiet, I am certain I can hear the faint sound of pint-sized toenails ticking on metal echoing from inside the rain drains.

We know there are two of them because we have seen them together several times – sitting quietly in that suspended meditative state that members of the squirrel family frequently put themselves into. A couple of times we’ve seen them chasing each other around in circles in what is presumably some form of squirrel sex game. But all of those activities were earthbound.

Within the past week one of the pair – I am guessing the pursuer rather than the pursuee – has gone airborne. Although in actuality, unlike his larger gray cousins, his feet remain in contact with some material object at all times.

We have several bird feeders all located on or in the vicinity of an aging flowering crab tree whose dwindling number of branches provide a home for the avian restaurants and some degree of shelter to their diners. A large cavity sits at the juncture of the upward facing branches, into which we occasionally stuff corncob decorations or such that we are disposing of and want to share with our front yard wildlife

Under the tree we have a wrought iron shepherd’s staff shaped pole on which hangs (about four feet up) our “squirrel-proof” feeder – at least that is what it said on the box. It was a gift. Suffice it to say that it doesn’t work. The squirrels, along with the birds, suck food out of the tube at an alarming rate. And now the chipmunk is joining in the fray.

The squirrel’s favored method of access to the misnamed dining hall is the standing high jump. The little gray tree rodents position themselves on the grass one or so feet away from the gently swaying object of their desire and instantly levitate onto it. The ease of this maneuver would make Michael Jordan jealous.

The chipmunk prefers the Spiderman method. He runs up the post, over the crook, and down onto the feeder. Then he stuffs his cheeks and reverses his route. When we spy him doing his thing he quickly runs up the tree trunk and disappears into the
safe environs of the tree hollow.

That is all we know about it. Perhaps the wooden chamber is his love shack wherein he shares the booty of his triumphant dash to the stars. Maybe it is his storage area and ultimately the orifice will be awash in sunflower seed hulls, and no longer be open to the sky. Or could be he just takes temporary shelter – his wee heart pounding with fear at the imagined danger of those who are in reality his benefactors.

Anyway I don’t have the time to look into that right now. I am spending all of my energy trying to find out if the same person who came up with the term “squirrel proof” also dubbed these little critters “ground squirrels”. That would probably explain a lot.

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