How to coexist with chipmunks and ground squirrels

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Chipmunks and ground squirrels are similar in appearance and behavior, and are often confused for one another. Locally, the ground squirrel family of rodents includes ground squirrels, chipmunks and woodchucks, Wildlife Illinois reports.

The eastern chipmunk is the only chipmunk species in Illinois, and it lives across most of the state except for the southeast portion, Wildlife Illinois reports. Two ground squirrel species live in Illinois. Thirteen-lined ground squirrels are common and abundant in the northern two-thirds of the state. The other species, the Franklin’s ground squirrel, is uncommon and listed as a threatened species in Illinois, according to Wildlife Illinois. The range for both species extends as far south as the Shelbyville glacial moraine, but they are generally not found south of that area.


Ground squirrels prefer grassland and prairie habitat, including golf courses, cemeteries, parks, yards and other areas with short-cut grass. Chipmunks prefer more wooded areas but avoid dense forests. Chipmunks are also commonly found in urban and suburban areas, Wildlife Illinois reports.

The burrowing and digging done by both chipmunks and ground squirrels sometimes brings them close to our homes. They can also be a nuisance because of their diet. Both chipmunks and ground squirrels eat a lot of plant material, although all are omnivores and also eat animal matter.

Ecological effects

A chipmunk on the ground.

(Photo by Chris Cheng)

Both chipmunks and ground squirrels are important ecologically for several reasons. First, because they dig and burrow into the soil, they help aerate it, which improves soil quality, Wildlife Illinois reports. They are also an important part of the food web because they are a common food source for predators such as coyotes, foxes, snakes, owls and hawks. Lastly, their body waste contributes to the organic matter in the earth around them, helping improve soil quality.

Mating and reproduction

Three young chipmunks on a log.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Both 13-lined and Franklin’s ground squirrels have one litter of offspring a year, and the babies — usually six or seven — are born around late May, Wildlife Illinois reports. Chipmunks have two litters of offspring a year, one in the spring and one in later summer. Chipmunk litters usually have five or six babies.

Baby ground squirrels are usually weaned at the age of four weeks, while chipmunks are weaned at the age of six weeks. Both chipmunks and ground squirrels are solitary animals that live alone except to mate.

Health risks

A ground squirrel in the grass.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

None of the chipmunks or ground squirrels that live in Illinois pose any health risks to humans.

Problems and solutions

A chipmunk with a peanut in its mouth.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Chipmunks and ground squirrels can be a nuisance both because they burrow in the dirt around foundations and other structures around our homes and because of their diet. Modifying your yard can help discourage damage caused by feeding, while installing barriers can help prevent them from causing problems around foundations.

To avoid problems with chipmunks, do not plant too close to your foundation, Wildlife Illinois reports. You can prevent damage from 13-lined ground squirrels by allowing herbaceous vegetation to grow tall along your property.

You should also remove seed-bearing weeds, which are a good food source for both animals, and consider keeping the soil where they are present moist with overhead watering. (However, keep in mind local watering restrictions.)

If chipmunks and ground squirrels are digging around and under foundations, consider installing a barrier around the foundation to keep them away. You can use hardware cloth, placing it around the foundation and bending it at a 90-degree angle then burying it with soil, Wildlife Illinois advises. If you have holes or cracks in your foundation, close or cover them so no animals can gain access.

If animals on your property continue to cause damage after corrective measures have been taken, consider humanely removing and relocating them only as a last resort. Chipmunks and 13-lined ground squirrels are not protected by the Illinois Wildlife Code and can be trapped without a permit. Franklin’s ground squirrels are threatened in Illinois, and handling, capture, relocation and lethal removal is illegal and prohibited without an endangered and threatened species permit issued by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. If you do not want to remove a chipmunk or 13-lined ground squirrel yourself, contact a licensed wildlife control operator to contract their services.

If you trap a chipmunk or ground squirrel, you will need to relocate it at least 5 miles to 10 miles away from your property. You must have written permission from the property owner before releasing a chipmunk or ground squirrel on land you do not own.

All wildlife in Illinois are under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The Forest Preserve District of Will County does not treat, rescue or remove wildlife from public or private property. Both the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Wildlife Illinois maintain lists of wildlife rehabilitators you can contact for assistance with injured wildlife.

(Lead image via Shutterstock)

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