The Cardinal’s Nest And The Evil Chipmunk

The prairie rose (Rosa setigera) and the trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) are collaborating nicely to create a viney (not really a word, so sue me) tangle against the back brick wall of our attached garage. The kind of tangle, I hope, that will tempt birds to build nests.

Trumpet Honeysuckles
A tangle of rose canes and trumpet honeysuckle vines.

So we were very happy when we noticed a cardinal flying back and forth to where the tangle was thickest. When I looked there, lo and behold, I did find a nest – no sign of any eggs, though.

Northern Cardinal nest
Cardinal nest nestled among the vines.

A day or two after this discovery, I noticed leaves shaking and wiggling in that spot. Could there already be a juvenile bird?

Sadly,  no. It was a chipmunk. I scared him off by shaking a vine, causing him to leap to the ground right in front of me from a height of about 5′. Kind of impressive, for a chipmunk.

Chipmunk
Chipmunk

Subsequent checking online revealed a disturbing fact: chipmunks eat eggs. They even eat baby songbirds. That’s what the little creep was looking for.

I always thought there was something sinister under that too cute “Oh, look at me, aren’t I adorable” chipmunk act. Under all that saccharine posing, Alvin and his friends engage in the devouring of helpless baby songbirds.

Alvin the Terrible
Alvin the Terrible. What’s behind that smile?

They are also much better at climbing than I would have ever thought. Apparently the tangles in my garden need to get bigger and thornier before they can be considered safe.

One other thing, though. It seems the Cardinal nest has been abandoned. There is no traffic back and forth. And there are no broken egg shells or anything of the kind.

Available: One nest, never used.
Available: one nest, never used.
Where is your nest now, Mr. Cardinal?
Where is your nest now, Mr. Cardinal?

Has the nest really been abandoned? It seems a shame, and yet perhaps it is for the best, given the presence of Alvin the Terrible.

Have you ever seen nests abandoned before being used – or chipmunk atrocities – in your garden?

53 Comments on “The Cardinal’s Nest And The Evil Chipmunk

  1. That darn chipmunk! They are a bit of a nuisance around here as well, though I had no idea that they ate eggs?!?! The start of the nest in your honeysuckle was lovely…I wish it would have worked out differently!

  2. I’m never going to look at chipmunks the same way. I hope you get some nesters–maybe that’s his bachelor pad?

  3. One more cute animal with its wickedness revealed.

    We have a song sparrow nest (now with chicks) somewhere in our huge pampas grass. Today I heard, then saw, a blue jay menacing it. I think it wasn’t successful, since I heard the babies afterward. I really hope the parents built it well inside the pampas for good protection from marauders. There are so many perils for songbirds.

  4. Very fine nest…did you notice the two types of materials? It’s loosely built of twigs and rough grasses and then lined with fine grasses. My Peterson Field Guide, Eastern Birds’ Nests by Hal H. Harrison, says the cardinal can leave the nest for up to 6 days before laying eggs. With Mr. Chippy on patrol, perhaps it’s better if she has moved on. I lost a nest of Carolina wren eggs this spring, but it was built just 4 feet off the ground in a large urn and was easily accessible to predators. Silly bird. In SC it is against the law to collect nests but here is a tip if you want to save a nature item for educational purposes–put it in a ziplock bag and freeze it for several days to kill mites and etc, then store it in a clean ziplock bag in a small box lined with tissue paper to preserve the item’s shape.

    • You were much more observant than I about the nest. I am somewhat heartened by the six day hiatus but perhaps it is better the Cardinal does not come back.

  5. I just learned that about chipmunks a while ago myself, and they dropped a few notches on my favorite animal list. They are rodents though, and rodents will eat just about anything.

  6. A cute smart rodent. Let’s hope Monsieur and Madame Cardinal find a superior home for their new family. We had a chipmunk find its way into the house (it appeared on the back of the sofa – first thought was, “that would be the perfect colour for my new drapes”. Kevin benched the cat in the loo because he thought he’d kill it….. After 2 hours of less than successful hunting, cat was released, chippy caught, then removed from cat’s mouth and put outside on his back- all 4 little clawed paws up to the heavens. Who knew they played dead. Then when he realized no one was there, jumped to his feet and ran off into the garden.

    • I’ll do you one better. A while back when we lived in Wisconsin we had a squirrel living among the joists between the first and second stories of the house. One fine day it chewed through the ceiling and dropped down onto the living room floor.

  7. Oh Jason, I was so disappointed to learn this fact when you wrote a comment to me about the chipmunk that has moved in to my garden. I had suspicions that the little rat had eaten a robin’s eggs. A robin nests by our back door every other year or so. This year was it’s year to do so. I noticed that one egg was laid then disappeared. Highly unusual. At first I thought she knocked it out when we opened the back door so often yet I couldn’t find the egg on the ground. Then a day or so later I saw two eggs in the nest and thought well she would try again. Then they disappeared. When two disappeared I figured the nest had been predated. Hearing your story I knew who the culprit was. This makes me sad. I feel that I have no control over this situ. I guess I will have to let nature take it’s course. I garden for wildlife but I don’t like what all happens.

  8. Thanks for enlightening me….I didn’t know that chipmunks ate bird eggs. I am hopeful that mine are so busy at my feeders that they won’t bother the birds (maybe wishful thinking on my part). I’ve had eggs disappear from nests before but I usually blame it on the snakes. Between, snakes, raccoons, other birds, and now chipmunks they have a tough road ahead. Your vine looks like it will be a good place when it fills in more. I hope you have good news to report in the future.

    • Unfortunately there are a lot of critters who like to eat the eggs of songbirds. I too thought at first that the chipmunks were benign, if a little annoying.

  9. Huh! I never thought Mr. Alvine does such things though I know Mr. Squirrel always does those things. However, I do have seen them climb terrible height. I thought they can’t do so like squirrels do, but I was so much mistaken. I am always chasing after them for eating bird food.

    • Really, your chipmunks climb on to your bird feeders? Mine don’t really have to, they just hang around the ground underneath and eat the spillage.

  10. Huh, I never knew that chipmunks eat bird eggs, let alone baby birds, those dastardly little critters! I wonder if squirrels do too. Internet research ahoy!! Interesting post indeed, and I do hope that the cardinal comes back.

  11. That’s the sad thing about growing up, we can google things and find out unpleasant truths about all the little fairy tales we loved when we were young. Alvin the Terrible is right! Well, at least you’ve accomplished the first part of your dream: the cardinals built a nest. Hopefully next year they will return with a chipmunk-proof plan 🙂

  12. We were bound to be disappointed having listened to that “Nature the gentlest mother” propaganda for so long. Nature’s a bitch! It’s interesting who we feel sorry for. In my hood, we’ve recently had a couple of cats eaten by coyotes and we are all were sad. Do we feel the same sadness when the cat plays with frightened rodents and then eats them? Bird eating chipmunks are scorned (by me too) but we think nothing of robins eating tons of earthworms that are our soil’s best friends. What about when raptors eat other birds or humans eat docile domestic animals? Oh well, off to read something uplifting. Maybe a little Sylvia Plath?

    • It’s irrational I know, but I have my favorites I don’t want to see killed, mainly the song birds. Though I can be philosophical if a hawk eats a song bird, because I see the value of the hawk. As for rodents of all kinds, the more the predators gobble up, the better. We never will have to worry about rodents going extinct. Also I would cheer if someone would do something about the overpopulation of white tail deer in this state. For something uplifting, how about … Edgar Allen Poe?

  13. Hush, little chipmunk, don’t say a word,
    Mama’s gonna buy you a songbird…

    No, what was it? well never mind.
    Maybe cardinals are like wrens, they build more than one nest to make their female have the best picked… and then they speak about real estate going so bad.

    • How about:
      Hush, little hawk, don’t be a punk
      Mama’s gonna bring you a fat chipmunk.

      As I mentioned earlier, perhaps he built it as an investment.

  14. Hey, you are posting twice a day. I checked my email and this and the previous post arrived the same day! You do have a lot to post. This is a cute post even though you suspect the chipmunk of killing off baby birds. I never had that happen here. Unfortunately for Chipper, my cute little resident chipmunk, he got snatched by a hawk near the bird feeder that he always raided. Chipper lived in my garage and I guess he thought he had it made. Rest in peace little buddy….

    • I deny it! The ‘Westerland’ post I wrote Monday night, then the chipmunk/cardinal post I wrote last night. Also, I say: Good for you, hawk! Keep on hunting!

      • 😀 I checked again…Cardinal…July 9th, 11:00:42 PM and Westerland….July 9th, 12:06:01 AM. Must be email delivery time. Chipper was my pet. I was pretty sad to see him flying off squirming in his last breath. Bad hawk.

  15. Jason, I think this nest was not used and it’s for the best of course!
    Cardinal is very beautiful bird, colorful.
    Have a nice week!

  16. We don’t have chipmunks in our yard at all – NE Oklahoma is the far far west of their range. We have lots of other pests, like snakes, of course.

    Our coral honeysuckle usually has thrasher nests but this year the thrashers took over other shrubs and left the honeysuckle to the robins.
    Maybe some peace agreement among bird species?

  17. We had a nest of field sparrows in a bush by the front porch. Just as the babies were fledging Mr. Chippy was caught throttling one to death with his jaws around the baby’s neck. Nature isn’t always so pretty. Good luck on your cardinals re-nesting! I’m sure they’ll find another more secure spot.

    • Oh, how gruesome! I just read that it is common for cardinals to leave the nest for about six days after completing it and before eggs are laid. So perhaps …

  18. Here in the UK, people keep chipmunks as pets. I had no idea they could behave so badly. This post is an education and I am only too grateful that I don’t have a pet chipmunk, or else I would be giving it a piece of my mind.

  19. The chipmunk atrocity in my garden is that they eat the strawberries before I have a chance to pick them and then leave the hulls lying around on the steps next to the strawberry patch as a taunt. This year, though, I spotted a juvenile weasel hiding out in a thicket of rhododendron branches just above the strawberry patch, and it seems to have scared the chipmunks away — more strawberries for me. Any enemy of the chipmunks is a friend of mine!

    • Weasels get an unfair rap. Why are chipmunks cute and weasels – well, weasely? I wonder if weasels probably eat birds eggs, too (eg chickens), but I doubt they do any climbing.

  20. Noooooo!! I have a fat chipmunk in my garden! Apparently, he moved in at the suggestion of the rabbits. After not seeing any chipmunks in this area in 10 years I was so happy I left a pile of sunflower seeds outside its burrow. And then I did it again. And again. Maybe if I keep feeding him he’ll leave my birds nests alone. Oh sweet Jesus, what have I done?? I’m going to be overrun!

    • Do you think you could find a falconer in the yellow pages who would rid your yard of rodents? Or perhaps rent a fox or coyote.

  21. Yes, sadly, I do have chipmunk atrocities to report. Likely to be one of my July posts. A very sad, yet beautiful story. Yours is sad, but very humorous!

  22. Chipmunk atrocities for sure. I have not seen them terrorize bird nests — how very sad your experience was. But one terrorized me by lifting the bluestones around our basement door, tunneling for something. It created a water problem and chippie had to be trapped to control his singularly obsessed digging. The atrocity was on him.

  23. I am not plagued by Chipmunks, but I have enough squirrels I would like to send to Russia if they still need them, and I have visits by possums and racoons, not to mention Cooper’s Hawks and the feral cats. And Crows and Blue Jays have been known to prey on creatures smaller than they are (I am convinced that pre-West Nile, they were keeping the Robin and rabbit populations “in check”). I hope your intervention will work and keep the Chipmunks away.

  24. Hello Jason, we’re hoping that we end up with lots of nests in the wisteria but it has to become much thicker and bushier before that happens. When it does, that sheltered, sun-baked, south-facing wall in view of the bird bath and feeders should become highly sought after avian real estate.

  25. I checked the nest with 3 cardinal chicks today and all seemed fine. An hour later, I found a chipmunk skulking through the flowerbed heading towards the tree with the nest. I had never seen it go into the garden before. An hour later, I checked the nest and all the chicks are gone; Mama and Dad churping wildly. I’m not saying it was the friggin chipmunk but it is suspect # 1. They are not so cute anymore.

  26. I love my little chipmunk friends. I put out a bowl of sunflower seeds and another bowl of fresh water everyday for them. They don’t bother anything else. They even come running when they hear my footsteps (or my voice) on the deck. We have a lot of bird feeders too, and they do eat some of the fallen seeds from those.We have tons of birds, also. Woodpeckers, hummingbirds, orioles, finches, sparrows (rodent birds), grosbeaks, nuthatches, chickadees, cardinals, wrens, etc. Just haven’t been able to attract bluebirds. We live in south central Minnesota, and I would really miss my little “munk” friends if they left. One was picked up by a hawk a couple of years ago, and it nearly broke my heart!

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