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Controlling Chipmunks

A species of small rodent, chipmunks are quite common in Georgia. There are considered minor agricultural pests, but they can cause significant structural damage under pallets, stairs, and retention walls. Chipmunks are ground dwelling critters with tunnels 20 to 30 feet long.

These little critters consume flower bulbs, seeds, seedlings, grass seed, pet foods, and birdseed from bird feeders. Chipmunks also will gnaw on wooden structures, eat garden vegetables, fruits, and flowers; clog downspouts and chew on bark and buds of ornamental plantings.

These critters are territorial and rarely become numerous enough to cause significant amounts of damage. However, when the resources are right, populations can reach 20 individuals or more in an urban setting. At this point, homeowners have several options to lessen or even eliminate the damage they cause.  While their natural habitat is in open wooded areas with amply food-producing trees and bushes, chipmunks will make their homes around the edges of forests and urban landscapes. In these areas, food and protecting are offered by shrubbery, flowers, and gardens, allowing chipmunks to thrive and eventually become pests. University of Georgia Extension recommends following the HEL model of control: habitat modification, exclusion, repellent, and lethal control.

For habitat modification start by removing any yard debris, wood piles, or brush that could be used as denning sites. An example (English ivy) provides shelter for many rodents, including chipmunks. Treat this areas as necessary in order to remove cover hence altering the chipmunk’s habitat. Other plantings can be removed as well if needed.

Next is exclusion. Prevent chipmunks from entering buildings by caulking holes where gas lines, television and internet cables, and air condition lines penetrate the house. It is important to seal off dryer and exhaust vent lines, downspouts and rain gutters with one-quarter-inch hardwire mesh. This prevents the chipmunks from building nests in these areas and stops potential damage from water backing up along the foundation walls.

In terms of the next step, repellents are rarely the long-term answer. Repellents may work for a period of time, but without altering the habitat long-term removal will not be achievable.

The final action that can be taken is lethal control. Trapping in large, wooden rat traps can be quite effective. These traps are usually baited with peanut butter or an oatmeal-peanut butter mix. Traps should be placed along runways or at burrow openings. Other forms of lethal control include poisons. Treatments registered for use against chipmunks can be found on the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s pesticide product registry.

On the legal front, all nongame wildlife is protected in Georgia. It is illegal to kill any species unless specifically permitted by regulations such as hunting and fishing laws. Normally, homeowners can protect their property from mammals causing damage, but it is always a good idea to check first with your local Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division.  Catching and releasing live animals into unfamiliar territory is not recommended. Live animals should also not be released on county, state, or federal lands.