The Shadow Chipmunk

Every wild animal we treat lives a life that is whole and complete regardless of size or age, whether covered in pelage, feather or scales, or at whatever speed they pass through their experiences! Some animals live for years and even decades (including ants!), some live for less than a month. Some live the normal lifespan for their species, some die very young. But it doesn’t matter where you land in the various spectrums, your time here is your own and freedom demands that you make it count!

One quick little animal who occupies a relatively small range in the West – which thankfully includes much of California’s Redwood coast – is Tamias senexor as this small member of the squirrel family is more commonly known, the Shadow chipmunk, or Allen’s chipmunk, and in the Wiyot language, Salás.
The area shaded green represents the known range of Tamias senex, the Shadow chipmunk, in California.

Found in our state, as well as Nevada and Oregon, the only area this chipmunk’s range reaches the ocean is here in northern Humboldt and southern Del Norte counties, between the Eel and the Klamath rivers. North of the Klamath we find Tamias siskiyou or, the Siskiyou chipmunk and south of the Eel is Tamias ochrogenys, or the Yellow-cheeked chipmunk.

Mostly arboreal, nesting in trees as far as 70 feet off the ground, the social Shadow chipmunk typically lives from four to eight years. Weighing less than 100 grams, the females slightly larger than males, Shadow chipmunks dash through the forests and forest edges. While no one knows how fast a Shadow chipmunk can run, other subspecies are know to exceed 20 miles an hour.

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Quick as they are, they still can’t always outrun those who also must eat to live. Coyotes, hawks, raccoons, bobcat, all hunt these quickly darting, always aware rodents. Even owls can pose a threat at the shift change each day between our diurnal and nocturnal wild neighbors. Among these challenges, and in this community, the Shadow chipmunk persists and thrives, storing seeds, enjoying berries and mushrooms, taking care of business on their own side of the street and working hard for the success of future generations of Tamias senex.

At Humboldt Wildlife Care Center, we’ve admitted four T. senex since the beginning of this year. The first, admitted in June, too young to be on his own, was found cold and unresponsive on the trail at College Cove near Trinidad in northern Humboldt. Sadly the youngster did not live long, dying shortly after being admitted. The other three, all adults, were each admitted in the last two weeks! As is far too commonly the case, each was a victim, not of a natural predator, but of an un-contained house cat (Felis domesticus). This rehabilitator/writer’s own Felis domesticus safely indoors.

While many are unwilling to accept the very real threat to wild populations that feral and un-contained house cats pose, or laugh off the damage seen when a beloved furry member of their family who is permitted to roam freely brings a wild victim through the door, as wildlife rehabilitators and as cat advocates, we must urge that our ownership of long-domesticated predators makes us responsible for the injuries and deaths to our wild neighbors that they cause. Dogs too can pose a threat to wild animals. There is no natural sense or justice in the slaughter of wild animals by our pets. There are many excellent ways to protect wildlife, keep cats and dogs safely contained and still provide our companions with a rich and enjoyable life. Catios, harnesses and supervision can all allow house cats the enjoyment of the outdoors and keep them and our wild neighbors safe! Search the internet! The truth is out there!

Of the three chipmunks admitted this month, one did not make it, and one is still in care with a good prognosis, and one was released last week.

The morning of his release, after a week of antibiotics and only minor wounds, this Shadow chipmunk escaped from his housing before getting his evaluation and evaded re-capture for nearly an hour while his pursuer (me) made a complete fool of himself. He was definitely ready to go! Watch the video closely, he makes a very brief appearance!

The fourth chipmunk is currently in care, suffering a few puncture wounds that by themselves would heal well, but were potentially fatal due to the harmful bacteria found in cat saliva. A week of antibiotics ends tomorrow and after at least a day more of monitoring, this chipmunk stands a very good chance of being released as well. We’ll update this post when we can!

A dose of antibiotics os administered – small but mighty, protective gloves are always a good idea when handling adult wild rodents! 
A simply wonderful tail!

From rare seabirds to Shadow chipmunks, we operate Humboldt Wildlife Care Center to benefit all of our wild neighbors as best as we can, and to always promote co-existence – live and let live! Your support makes our work possible! Because of your help we are here 7 days a week, 365 days a year, providing the needed care for our region’s injured and orphaned wild animals. Please donate if you can. Every dollar helps! Thank you!