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Chipmunks are early spring risers

Days get longer, the sun climbs higher and 40 degree temps return in early March. This temperature, our first time this warm since early November, puts us all in a mood of the coming spring, despite the snow cover. And we are not alone.

Days get longer, the sun climbs higher and 40 degree temps return in early March. This temperature, our first time this warm since early November, puts us all in a mood of the coming spring, despite the snow cover. And we are not alone.
The Northland is slowly awaking to the coming of the new season. Snow melt happens each day, forming puddles in the afternoons and icing again at night. The snow gets wet, freezes, and forms the crust that is so characteristic of March. The first pussy willows have emerged, and soon they are followed by the fuzzy buds of quaking aspen.
Feeder birds are now more restless, and those flocks of pine siskins and goldfinches that have wintered with us appear to be discussing their coming plans as they call and sing through these days. Early morning chickadee songs mix with the increasing drums of downy and hairy woodpeckers. Crows become more numerous and noisy each day.
A few winter sleepers are awake now. Each morning in our yards, we may see the tracks of raccoons and skunks mixing with the nocturnal tales of the local cottontail rabbits or snowshoe hares. Neither the raccoons nor the skunks are true hibernators. They both may sleep for a few of the coldest weeks in winter, but rise and move around in the milder times. Since they've adapted well to living with us, we may be seeing plenty more of these two critters in the months ahead.
Another early riser, often waking in March, is much more of a true hibernator and a much more appreciated member of our yard's community. Chipmunks are ground squirrels, and like others of their kind, they sleep through the winter. However, unlike most of their cousins, they'll wake periodically throughout the cold months.
Apparently, their little bodies are not able to store enough body fat to keep themselves sustained during all the winter season. At the times they wake, they relieve themselves of wastes and snack from their food cache. This might explain why we saw them carrying off food to secret hiding places last summer and fall. With bulging cheeks of seeds, berries and nuts, they remained active well into the cold weather. Some Northland chipmunks continue foraging until December before hibernating.
Often by mid to late March, these energetic little critters are back. At first they're a bit lethargic, but soon they return to the familiar form. We may see them coming to the bird feeders, along with the gray and red squirrels, as they take sunflower seeds for breakfast.
They may go back to the den some times for a few days, but the long sleep is over. Their chipping calls and twitching tails are soon part of the unfolding spring. Before long, they'll go about the serious business of mating and producing this season's new litters.
Yes, this well-loved small striped squirrel is considered by some to be a sign that the reluctant spring in the Northland is now imminent.
Larry Weber is author of the "Backyard Almanac." He lives in Carlton County and teaches natural science at Duluth's Marshall School.

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