There’s a special bond that forms when a human gets a skittish animal tame enough to give some interspecies contact. On May 28, reader Christopher Moss from Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia sent this note and photo about his growing relationship with an Eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus):
I have made a new friend as I hang around the house. For years we have had a family of chipmunks living in a niche in a stone wall at the side of our parking area. No doubt many chipmunks have come and gone seamlessly, but we have always referred to seeing ‘the chipmunk’ as if it were always the same character. When the snow cleared this spring I noticed he (?) was rooting around in the leaf mold on the front deck, which contains many shrivelled grapes from the vine growing on the trellis that shades the deck. No doubt he prefers Eiswein to Beaujolais Nouveau. So I started putting out some bird seed for him, with an admixture of peanuts and sunflower seeds. Pretty soon he tolerated me, not even bothering to hide when I opened the door and stepped outside. In fact he would burrow into the heap of dead leaves knowing I was there, but quite unable to see me. I guess he was showing a degree of trust that I wouldn’t creep up on him while his head was buried in the leaves. Then he started to approach me after I first put down some food. Initially he would rush past me at a run, even running over my shoe before retiring. We have now got to the stage where when I go outside and he spots me (this morning he was up a crabapple tree a few yards away eating the blossoms!), he will come over to me and come up to my feet and do a little dance. Then he goes to root around in the leaves, and it pleases me to think he might be communicating that he is looking for food, although I doubt his brain gets anywhere near that kind of symbolic language. So I put some food down on top of a plastic container of compost from the composter which is also on the front deck. He stuffs his cheeks, and goes away loaded to the gills, as it were. About three trips will clean away all the food I put out, which is about half a cupful. Here he is at work:
I’m hoping to get to the point of hand feeding him, and possibly meeting the rest of his brood. I just broke off to go and offer him a refill, and he let me get within a couple of feet before he decided that was close enough, although he didn’t run away, he just moved back a little way so I could put the food down. He’s back and munching it now. I noticed today that he could make quite a noise by thumping his rear feet on the lid of the drum-like plastic container. I see this is a territory marking behaviour, and probably confirms his male sex. I doubt he sees me as a rival chipmunk, so maybe he is making sure other chipmunks keep away from his magic plastic bucket of food!
Then this came on June 10:
A couple of weeks ago I mailed you with the story of the chipmunk on my front deck, along with a photo. I’m pleased to report that today he came to my hand for the first time. When he gets comfortable with that I shall have to try taking a photo with my free hand (which will probably be blurry). My wife’s on the road for the next couple of weeks, but when she comes back she can take the picture of him being fed. I have known squirrels in public parks that would hand feed, and my brother rescued a baby grey squirrel forty years ago that he found half-drowned in a gutter on a London street—he became a charming friend. But I’m very proud to have got this little fellow to trust me enough to come to my hand.
I then said I’d publish the photos if he could send me a photo of the hand-feeding, and I got this yesterday:
Success with an iPhone held in my left hand!
A further update:
One little snag this week, in that my wife places black plastic netting over tubs that have just had bulbs or annuals planted – otherwise the raccoons will come and dig in the disturbed soil. Chippers himself got caught in the netting and twisted himself into a fine mess. It took me about twenty minutes to cut him free with some pointed scissors, but we got there and no harm done as he came back the next morning to my hand. The netting has now been removed!
Finally, as lagniappe, a landscape from Idaho by Stephen Barnard. The caption: “I get some nice sunsets this time of year.”