War of the Rodents

7

May 15, 2021 by Jean

chipmunk clipartOne of the pleasures of rural living is the opportunity to observe and interact with wildlife, but interactions with wildlife can also be a curse of rural living. While I occasionally find plants in my garden browsed by deer, the deer are less a problem for me than they are for more suburban gardeners. It is the members of the extended rodent clan who are the bane of my existence.

The largest rodents I deal with are woodchucks (aka groundhogs), who like to live in a den under my garden with multiple exits out to various part of the garden for easy dining on delectable plants. Several years ago, one of these creatures moved into my new front garden, building a den so large that I refer to it as “the woodchuck palace.” I eventually hired a wildlife specialist to set traps and remove the woodchuck. But the woodchuck palace has turned out to be such highly desirable real estate that as soon as we trap and remove one animal, another one moves in. I imagine the word going out on the woodchuck grapevine: “Hey, did you hear? That big place up at the end of the dirt road is vacant!” The expense for setting traps and relocating woodchucks is now just a routine part of my gardening budget. So far this spring, we have trapped and removed three, and I’m still waiting for the current resident to be lured into a trap. This morning, I noticed that it had been dining happily on new growth of echinacea (a woodchuck favorite).

But my tussles with the woodchucks pale in comparison to my war with the small rodents. Since 2016, we have been experiencing what is called “masting” of oak trees – the production of unusually large crops of acorns. The conventional wisdom used to be that you would never have two mast years in a row, but we have had masting in four of the past five years. This is most likely a consequence of increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Since CO2 is one of the two basic ingredients for plants to photosynthesize (the other is water taken up from the soil), all that carbon dioxide means rich times for oak trees, and they respond by growing faster and producing more acorns. This has, in turn, led to population explosions of the various animals that feed on acorns, including white-tailed deer and small rodents like squirrels, chipmunks, and mice.

The first population explosion was mice. In Fall 2017, I had so many mice in my house (mostly running around on the sill plate under my floors) that I resorted to the services of an exterminator. The following year, the squirrel population exploded, which was not a big problem for me (a good thing, since I was still using the services of the exterminator to deal with the mice). The year after that, there weren’t as many acorns and the squirrel populations crashed, with an exceptional number of squirrels being run over by cars as they ran across roads looking for food. Last year, it was the chipmunks whose numbers exploded, and this year there are so many chipmunks that they are starting to feel like a Biblical plague.

I wasn’t paying that much attention to the chipmunks until I went down to feed my woodstove one February afternoon and found two chipmunks running around in the basement. I wondered how these two had accidentally found their way in and got trapped in the house. I opened the door to my walk-in basement and managed to chase one out, but the other disappeared into a dark corner. So I went out and bought a small animal trap to catch it. When I caught a chipmunk in the trap a few days later, however, I heard another one squeaking at it from outside the trap. That was when it occurred to me that I might actually have chipmunks living and nesting (and reproducing?) somewhere in my house.

Before I had a chance to deal with the possibility of chipmunks nesting in the recesses of my house, however, I took my car in for routine servicing. I asked them to check for rodent damage because I had been seeing and smelling evidence of rodents nesting in the car. When the service rep came to find me in the waiting room, he said, “You do have critters – lots of them. Actually, they’re pretty much throughout the vehicle; they’ve basically colonized your car.” He then told me that I should contact my insurance company to see if my comprehensive coverage would cover this and to see if I had coverage for a rental car, since repairing this type of heavy rodent damage would take 2-3 weeks. He also warned me that, once the full extent of the damage was known, the insurance company might decide to declare the car a total loss rather than pay to repair it. Yikes! It was very disconcerting to realize that I had been driving around for months in a rolling rodent zoo, and that I had to continue doing so for a couple more weeks while I waited for my appointment to bring the car back in for repair.

My insurance company (Traveler’s) was helpful and supportive, authorizing a rental car for the period that my car would be in the shop. Within ten days after I dropped it off, after the car had been torn apart to find all the places the mice and chipmunks had been living and scavenging nesting materials and after they had sent an appraiser to inspect the damage, the insurance company declared the car a total loss and prepared to write me a check. Earlier this week, I went to the Toyota dealership to clean out my car so that it could be signed over to the insurance company and towed away. While I was there, I shopped for a new car, which I brought home yesterday.

An interesting coda to this experience was provided when I attended a garden visit with my garden club earlier this week, something I haven’t done since 2019. In talking with friends I haven’t seen in over a year, I discovered that they had been going through the same rodent saga, the difference being that their car is considerably newer than mine and thus was being repaired rather than declared a total loss. Then we discovered another couple, new members of the garden club, who were also dealing with rodent damage to their car. It was comforting to discover that I wasn’t the only casualty of the rodent wars. Now we all just need to devise better strategies for keeping those miserable pests out of our cars.

7 thoughts on “War of the Rodents

  1. GARY says:

    You are not alone Jean. It got so bad in my basement that my regular rodent service took a back seat to the nuclear option. It was worth it. Around $800 brought out the big boys and they sealed, put up shielding, foam sealant, roof, drains, basement, kitchen, they attacked everywhere. Then by contract, they’ve come back twice since and are very thorough. My wife thinks chipmunks are so cute and I warn her how destructive they can be. I also trap them and take them for long rides. If they get established, they’ll be tens of them ruining your foundation or worse. There is no way I can keep around my house sterile to keep rodents away. I’m surrounded by trees. Country living. Argh!

  2. Your chipmunks in the car story reminded me of the time we had mice so bad in one of the snowplows we stored in the summer. WhenI followed that truck back to town in the fall, they were just off like rats on a sinking ship. We were lucky none ran up my husband’s pant leg and causes an accident. Rodents can really do a lot of damage as you found out. Lots of people here in MI swear by using laundry drier sheets in their boats, motor homes and other stuff stored over the winter to keep the rodents out but it was a certain brand that worked better than the others. And I can’t remember which one!

    My neighbor has a woodchuck palace in his yard and one came down on my deck one day and stood on his back fee looking in my door windows. Scared the heck out of me because I was in the habit of leaving those doors open. The wreck he and my dog would have made inside my house? Having a dog is supposed to be the best deterrent for keeping woodchuck at bay but my neighbor as three dogs that co-exist with them living less than 100 yards away.

    Glad to see you posting again. Always makes me smile,

  3. I just lost a very long comment to you and I’m too tired to reconstruct it. Anyway, it made me smile to see you posting again.

  4. Brenda says:

    Oh, do I sympathize with you! You may remember from my blog that we had a terrible time in 2017 and 2018 with rodents chewing filters and wiring in our cars, which resulted in very expensive repairs. We have since found that an undercoating (Canadian nodrip) applied every year seems to act as a deterrent and haven’t had problems since (knock on wood). This past year we were overrun with chipmunks, voles, and mice in the gardens and greenhouse. I declared all out war–and we had help from a hawk and owl–and we seem to taken the population down to a reasonable level. I’m curious what type of trap you used for the chipmunk. We haven’t found any that work.

    Enjoy your new car and good luck!

    • GARY says:

      Brenda, I have a tiny Have a Heart style cage trap and chipmunks are the easiest to catch. They are the bravest little rodents so their curiosity works against them. I use sunflower seeds on the trap lever and behind and sometimes within five minutes they are caught. Sometimes it may take 30 minutes.
      Here is the YouTube view of it. I hope it helps.

      • Jean says:

        Brenda, I have a slightly different small animal have-a-hart trap, but I agree that this is the easiest way to trap chipmunks. I don’t even bait mine; I just set it and leave it on top of a concrete retaining wall, and before long a chipmunk tries to run through it and gets trapped. The problem I have with this method is that I don’t have any interest in relocating these animals and making them someone else’s problem, so I need to find a way to kill them after they have been trapped. I’ve gotten fairly adept at dumping them into my second effective trapping method, a bucket trap. This involves taking a five-gallon paint bucket, filling it one-third full of water, floating a layer of black oil sunflower seeds on the surface of the water, and using a board to make a ramp from the ground to the lip of the bucket. The chipmunks (and also mice) run up the board, jump down to get to the sunflower seeds, and drown.
        I’d be very interested in knowing more about your undercoating. Is Canadian No Drip a brand name? Where can I get it?

        • Brenda says:

          We haven’t had any luck with have-a-harts for the chipmunks–our little fellows turn up their noses in disdain. Unfortunately, we do get birds wandering in the traps instead. I will get the name of the undercoating for you. That’s what our local garage calls it, but I don’t think it’s the brand name. I have to warn you, it smells pretty intense the first few days!

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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