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The Chipmunk Cluck

Over the years I have occasionally heard that clucking sound in the Turtle Mountain forest. It sounds as if it were the call of a bird. I had heard the call of a cuckoo many years ago and thought maybe that was what I was hearing. But I could never seem to spot the bird, and when I listened to recordings of both the black-billed and yellow-billed cuckoos it just didn’t fit.

I had given up on observing the source of this sound until recently when I heard it emanating from a wooded area again. And this time it was close by. Real close! It was a chipmunk! As I peered into the trees, I spotted a chipmunk and could clearly see its mouth and throat move in synch with the clucking sound!

I recently read that eastern chipmunks have three types of alarm calls. One is described as a chipping sound that is used when a mammalian predator has been spotted. The clucking, or sometimes called chucking call, is used to warn of avian predators such as owls, hawks, and eagles. Some sources note that it may also be used to warn of other predators. A trill is given when a chipmunk is being pursued by a predator. These calls could be similar for other chipmunk species as well.

According to Robert Seabloom’s Mammals of North Dakota two species of chipmunks are native to North Dakota, the least chipmunk, and the eastern chipmunk. Both species are native to Turtle Mountain and the Pembina Hills. However, the least chipmunk also can be found southwest of the Missouri River, while the eastern chipmunk can also be found in the Red River Valley. As you might suspect, the least chipmunk occupies a variety of habitats and is the species observed in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The eastern chipmunk is largely a species of the deciduous forest where acorns are an important food item.

So, keep your ears open for this interesting clucking call of chipmunks warning of a predator in the area. And of you hear it in the wild, look for a chipmunk.

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
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