Speaking of Nature

Chipmunks sneaky-fast seed thieves

Sunday, October 13, 2013
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Caught in the act! This little chipmunk can move seed with surprising speed, costing me a surprising amount of money.
Caught in the act! This little chipmunk can move seed with surprising speed, costing me a surprising amount of money.

It’s 4:50 on Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting on my deck because I’ve had a curious thought running through my head for some time now. I’ve been wondering how much I’m being swindled by one of my wild neighbors and I’m out to find the answer. Susan thinks I’m out of my mind.

The neighbor I’m speaking of is the chipmunk that comes to raid my feeding operation. With a little — a very little — planning, I’ve set up an experiment to see if I can get to the bottom of this.

I’ve prepared a sample of the shelled sunflower seed that I routinely offer to my feathered friends. This particular seed is a little more expensive than the in-shell variety, but it cuts way down on the general mess and keeps the lawn under my feeder alive.

My experiment is crude but will offer at least an idea of the extent of the theft. A small sacrificial offering of seed has been placed out to simply attract the chipmunk’s attention.

Once that is gone, I will put out the measured sample and start my stopwatch as soon as the chipmunk makes its first appearance. I will stop the timer when the last seed is gone.

This will give me an idea of how quickly an ounce of birdseed can be removed by the chipmunk. All I have to do then is multiply by 16 to find the time required to collect up a pound of seed, followed by an additional multiplication by 40 to calculate the time required for a 40-pound bag of seed. Then by dividing by 60 (for minutes in an hour) and 12 (for daylight hours in a day) I can calculate the daily cost of a single chipmunk’s efforts.

Now all I need is the chipmunk’s cooperation.

5:20 — Chipmunks sighted in the driveway.

5:21 — I put out a little extra bait to let them know there is food to be had.

5:33 — The bait is gone and the chipmunk is getting closer to my location.

5:34 — The game is afoot!

5:40 — 1 ounce of mixed seed is in place.

5:55 — Has my plan backfired?

5:58 — There is a chipmunk staring at me from the flower pot.

5:59 — Start the timer!

I had a little scare there for a moment when the chipmunk was more interested in the widely scattered bait seeds out in the driveway, but eventually things went my way. The chipmunk faithfully returned for a total of six trips, but the design flaws of my experiment made themselves known at the very end.

Calculating losses

At the 19-minute, 30-second mark, the chipmunk suddenly changed its route and went for the seed I put out for the chickadees, leaving about 25 individual seeds from the 1-ounce sample unclaimed. But I’ve got some data.

Using 20 minutes-per-ounce as a nice round number, I calculate that the chipmunk can remove a 40-pound bag of seeds in a little less than 18 days. Thus, if the chipmunk were not distracted by other chipmunks, or limited by competition from the hungry birds that also come to eat, it could remove about $2.24 worth of seed per day.

I’d have to do a lot more research to confirm these initial estimates, but it feels like it is safe to say that there are literally bags of seed hidden underground around my house and I don’t really want to contemplate the value of all that seed. Thank goodness chipmunks hibernate for the winter!

 

comments

October 13, 2013
6:29 p.m.
williamstatler says...

Chipmunks gotta eat too. They're not stupid! You provide them with easy food... they take it. Wouldn't you?

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