Red-tailed Chipmunk (Tamias ruficaudus)

Description
red-tailed chipmunk

Size

  • A small rodent, with a total body length ranging from 21 to 25 centimetres (about eight to ten inches).
  • Tail makes up roughly half of the total body length, and can measure from 9 to 12 centimetres (about four to five inches).
  • Body weight ranges from 52 to 74 grams (about two to three ounces).

Appearance

  • Overall fur colour ranges from light to dark grey on the back, belly, and rump.
  • Shoulders and sides are reddish in colour.
  • Underside of the tail is bright orange or rust.
  • They have alternating dark (black to brown or grey) and light (tawny to greyish or creamy white) longitudinal stripes on the head and sides.
Distribution
  • Southwestern Alberta forms the northern range limit for this species.
  • In Alberta, these chipmunks can be found in the montane and subalpine regions of Waterton Lakes National Park and the West Castle Valley.
Natural History

Habitat

  • Red-tailed chipmunks occupy relatively moist mixed wood and conifer stands at elevations of 1,200 to 1,800 metres (3,900 to 5,900 feet)
  • Can be found in mature conifer forests that have well-developed shrub understories, and appear to prefer forest openings and edges.
  • The total area of this specific habitat type is relatively small and is likely the most important constraint determining the size and persistence of the species' population in Alberta.

Food

  • Large conifers are important seed sources.
  • When conifer seed production is low, red-tailed chipmunks also use seeds from shrubs such as Saskatoon, wild rose and snowbrush. During the plant-growing season, chipmunks will eat the leaves, flowers, and fruits of these plants.
  • The leaves, flowers and fruits of various shrubs, forbs and grasses are eaten in the summer whereas autumn foraging may be restricted almost exclusively to conifers.

When Active

  • In Alberta, this species is fully active from spring until autumn.
  • In winter, red-tailed chipmunks spend the majority of their time in solitary burrows where they alternate between bouts of activity and torpor.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behaviour

  • The breeding season for red-tailed chipmunks usually occurs in early spring
  • Litters ranging from two to four young are produced.
  • Females use burrows as nurseries for the majority of lactation, but frequently move their litters to tree nests before weaning.
  • For their tree nests, females use tall conifers and build nests near the trunk in areas with dense growth of small branches and large amounts of dead twigs.
  • In areas with few large trees, such as the transition zone along alpine meadows or in burned areas, chipmunks have been observed using crevices in large boulders and piles of old logs as nest sites.
Conservation and Management

Status

The red-tailed chipmunk is classified as Sensitive in the current General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Also see the Status of the red-tailed chipmunk in Alberta report at:

In a subsequent detailed status assessment, Alberta's Endangered Species Conservation Committee identified the red-tailed chipmunk as Not at Risk. See information on the Endangered Species Conservation Committee and Species of Special Concern at:

Issues

  • Population size and trend unknown.
  • Population extremely localized in Waterton-West Castle area and is vulnerable to habitat loss.
  • Fire suppression may degrade habitat in the long-term.

Current management

  • Current plans for Waterton Lakes National Park include monitoring red-tailed chipmunks every five years, although there are no plans for intensive study of this species.
  • No other management or research activities focusing on red-tailed chipmunks have occurred, or are planned, in Alberta.

 

Page Information

Updated: May 13, 2010