Recently, in beautiful warm weather, I released my latest little "visitor" into the wild. Rick at Cochran Mill Nature Center supervised my feeding and caring for my little buddy, a chipmunk pup brought to us after a cat attack.
Sadly, many animals do not survive a cat scratch or bite, but this little fellow wasn't injured, except for a kink in his tail. He was also pretty mature: compeletly furred and with his eyes and ears open. Of course, he still had the infantile proportions that make babies so cute -- a large head, big soft eyes, and little body.
Rick Examines The Chipmunk
From the start, my little buddy was wiggly and resistant to handling. He surprised me with his strength and agility. He climbed with his little feet and twisted his back until he almost popped out of my hand. I soon had to swaddle him while I fed him puppy formula from a syringe. He never suckled, but lapped quickly with his tiny tongue, which flickered at an astounding pace, along with his little heart which I felt thumping against my fingers. Even at rest, he breathed so quickly that I thought he was scared. Turns out chipmunks are just speedy little creatures.
Rick Gives My Little Buddy His First Meal
We gave the little guy real food, only suplementing with the formula. He liked pecans, dandelion greens, mashed cooked sweet potatoes,and wax worms, which he ate like an ice cream cone, holding them in his teeny "hands" and nibbling daintily.
Eating A Wax Worm
We offered him acorns, sunflower seeds, fruit, etc. Some of these things he moved around in his habitat and some he carried away and hid in his house. It's hard to say what he actually ate. Before long, I gave up trying to "nurse" him, as he struggled to turn his head away and practically screamed, "Please, lady! I'd rather do it myself!" So I fixed formula with a little cereal and he lapped it out of a bowl.
The Chipmunk Keeps a Close Eye on the Enemy - Hobbs the Cat
One day I offered him an earthworm which he watched from high atop his limb, then worked his way cautiously down to the worm's level. As he approached it, the worm twisted around and moved toward the chipmunk, who turned and fled!
The Little Guy Enjoys A Higher Viewpoint on His Limb
When I had time in the mornings, I liked to sit at my table and watch my little buddy. (I was told it is bad luck to name our fosterlings, so I didn't call him Buddy.) He was the cutest little chipmunk ever! Okay, he looked like all other chipmunks, I guess, but he is the only one I have ever had the opportunity to observe closely. He was brown-turning-russet with black and cream racing stripes on his sides. His face had cream eye-liner with a soft black stripe in the middle. Compared to squirrels, he had Cinderella feet -- so tiny his wicked step-sisters would be envious! And then he had the delicate ears, the twitchy whiskers, the chipmunk cheeks!
He Loved to Dart Through His Toilet Paper Roll
As I watched, he quietly slipped out of his house and scrabbled aorund searching for food. As he grew and matured, he became quicker, flitting back and forth, around, up and down. He was like a squirrel on speed! Often, he wandered around his habitat, as if he were casing the joint. He stood on his back legs and felt along the glass wall like a mime pretending to be in a box. He looked up and jumped, trying to figure out some way to escape.
I had to be very careful to keep him confined. I didn't want to try to catch a lightening ball in this house, especially with 2 dogs and a cat! Actually, he's pretty safe from the dogs, but, as he knows, a cat is fast and deadly.
"HMMM. . . I Wonder What's Out There?"
The little rascal delighted in zipping through his toilet paper roll and streaking into his house, which he barricaded with wood chips at each end when he went to sleep.
He didn't mind if I sat quietly at the table reading and watching him. Even photos didn't bother him. He ignored the flash -- I guess he was used to being a star!
Beginning to Look Grown UP!
Soon it was time to release my little buddy. I would like to keep him safe here and watch him like fish in an aquarium, but he deserves to experience real life. I realize that he probably won't live as long in the wild as he would in captivity. The average adult lifespan is 2 years.
We released him in the woods, so I won't have to worry about people hurting him, but owls, hawks, snakes, coyotes and other predatory mammals find his kind tasty. Rick said he has seen many other chipmunks in this area (some released by Rick), so maybe he'll be safe here.
Let Me Out, Please, I'm Ready!
Chipmunks live alone in burrows, which I read are clean and tidy, as the little guys have "refuse tunnels" where they put feces and debris. They don't really hibernate, but live on caches of food they have hidden and come outside on warm sunny days. Living in the Atlanta area, I guess local chipmunks come out quite a bit throughout the winter.
When we reased him, my little buddy moved a few inches away, then froze sitting up on his haunches for quite a while, little hands folded at his waist. He seemed to listen and observe this new world. Then he began to scratch around a little, then froze again. When we made a noise, he scampered to a boulder and darted under it, stopping just inside the cavity to peer back out. We left him there and went back to work. I was a little sad.
My Little Buddy Just Before Release - Isn't He Handsome Now!
But in spite of the struggle and risks my little buddy will face in nature, he deserves to enjoy the freedom and dignity of a chipmunk's life. As time passes, I hope that Rick will report seeing a little fellow with a kinked tail frolicking amid the autumn leaves and the spring flowers.
Later Note: I returned to the area where I released my little buddy. He met me with cries of joy and introduced me to his wife and pride of young. Then we sat on a big rock and sang "Born Free" for hours! All right, none of this happened, or ever would. It's just my fantasy, but it's difficult to send one's loved ones into the world and let go. Just ask my daughter!