Various species of chipmunk are frequent and noticeable landscape inhabitants. They may be welcome visitors, usually in small numbers, or considered a nuisance, particularly when numbers build up or burrowing around structures raises concerns. These small mammals are active during the day and may be the only nuisance animal observed in the area, so it is understandable that they are the primary suspect when a shrub or tree is damaged by animal feeding. However, it is unlikely that a chipmunk ate shrub leaves, bark or wood.
Chipmunk Eating Habits
Chipmunks are omnivores, primarily consuming grains, berries, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, insects and salamanders and also preying on young birds and eggs. These small, ground-dwelling squirrels are most active during the early morning and late afternoon, carrying food around in special cheek pouches to hoard it. While they may eat the bulbs and seeds of desirable plants, the most damaging impact chipmunks usually have is through their burrowing. When these animals are present in large numbers, they can cause structural damage by burrowing under stairs, patios, retaining walls and foundations.
Diagnose Deer Browsing
Deer browsing may occur year-round, although it is most common in late fall and winter when other food grows scarce. Browsing strips shrubs of tender twigs, sometimes leaving just main stems intact, and the height of the damage is often indicative, as it extends several feet up off of the ground. If the shrub is large and almost tree-like, with a stem diameter of about 2 to 3 inches, male deers may damage the stem by rubbing their antlers against the tree. Deer are difficult to exclude completely, as tall fencing is required to keep them away, but metal cages placed around small or particularly valued shrubs can deter feeding. Spray repellents intended to give the shrub an unpleasant odor or taste may prevent browsing on a shrub, but you must reapply it regularly.
Mice, Moles and Voles
If the damage to the shrubs occurs in winter or first becomes apparent in early spring and is near ground level on the shrub stem, suspect mice, voles or moles rather than chipmunks, which are largely inactive during the winter. These animals usually feed on the stem and roots under the protection of the snow line. In autumn, removing grasses and other vegetation from around the base of the shrub, pulling mulch back from around the shrub and installing cylinders of 1/4-inch wire mesh around the base of the shrub and burying it a few inches deep can effectively deter these pests.
Rabbits and Other Possible Fiends
Rabbits and hares feed on twigs and buds and on bark. On the stem, rabbit feeding occurs no more than about 2 feet above ground or snow level and features paired gouges left by the rabbit's prominent front teeth. Where rabbits clip off twigs there is a clean, knife-like cut at about a 45-degree angle. The most effective way to keep rabbits from feeding on a shrub is to exclude them with chicken wire or wire mesh fencing at least 18 to 24 inches tall and buried 2 to 3 inches deep. Scattering dried blood meal around the shrubs may effectively repel rabbits.
Squirrels may occasionally gnaw on or strip bark when food is scarce in winter or early spring and strip bark for nesting material in summer.
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