Keeping pet chipmunks in the UK

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Building a homemade indoor chipmunk aviary

I can only cover how I built indoor chipmunk aviaries, as I have no outside garden, yet. In an ideal world, I think the best set up you could give a chipmunk is connected aviaries, one indoors and one outside.

I prefer to build my own chipmunk aviaries for my chipmunks. When I first looked around for a suitable off the shelf chipmunk home, I was disappointed with the lack of choice. The ones I did find were either a compromise of a home designed for a different pet, too small, or difficult to clean.

Samll off the shelf ready made aviary intended for a chipmunkHaving kept chipmunks I'm glad I did build my own aviary, as chipmunks really do use up a lot of space. It's only my opinion, but the recommended minimum size for a one chipmunk aviary is borderline cruel.

Because of their small entrances, and fixed shelves it would also be a difficult home to clean. The photo to the right was taken in a large pet supermarket type store. I would think being so small would make it very difficult to make the aviary interesting, with enough hide away's.

I can imagine if a chipmunk were kept in this size of aviary for any great length of time, it may well start to show signs of madness. I can only think you could use it as an emergency aviary, if one of your pets was ill, and needed isolation for a while.

I think if you can put up a shelf, and have a few basic tools you should be able a construct a reasonable comfy aviary. I'm no cabinet maker, and my aviary is still standing. But I did make some mistakes, and the first aviary has undergone a few changes.

I sketched out a rough plan, designing the aviary to fit in to an alcove in the living room. It has a four inch connecting pipe going through the wall, leading to a smaller aviary in the next room.

The main aviary is positioned away from the windows and has cupboards underneath, originally intended to store dry food and bedding for the chipmunks. It has one large door at the front, and a much smaller door. The small door was thought to be a neat way of sliding in fresh food bowls, minimizing the chance of a chipmunk escape.

The base of the aviary had a partitioned area filled with potting compost. The rest of the floor is covered in wood cat litter pellets. The main frame is untreated timber, with sheets of mesh stapled on the outside. The back of the aviary is also covered with mesh, slightly spaced away from the wall. I thought that it would be difficult to keep the walls clean, so the mesh at the back kept the chipmunks away from the walls, and gave them another surface to climb. The base of the aviary is made from laminated partial board.

my first aviary

The photo just above was taken when the aviary was almost complete. I have already filled the digging area with compost. I made and fixed two nest boxes. I had no idea if chipmunks liked to live high up the wall or near the floor of the aviary. Although there is plenty of room, it is rather lacking in things to keep a chipmunk interested.

I read that chipmunks like to put their own bedding materials in their nests, so try to resist the temptation of stuffing the nest full of bedding stuff. I did put a little bedding in the top nest box, incase I introduced my first chipmunk too late in the day for him to build a decent bed on his first night.

Things I got right.

The general size of this first aviary seemed to satisfy Coby (my first chipmunk), once I had put in more branches, and hammocks, cardboard tubes and furry tunnels, his aviary became a place he liked to be in. Well at least a place he could return to sleep, and store more nuts, and practice his new tunneling hobby

His first choice was to move in to the highest nest box. He only used the second nest box as a nut store.

The wood cat pellets worked well, they did not spread through out my home, unlike sawdust did.

The floor of the aviary was easy wipe clean.

The compost digging box was a huge hit with Coby. He was two years old when I got him, and I don't think he ever had the chance to dig before. He spent many happy hours digging in that box.

The pipe leading to the second part of the aviary, turned out to be a great success. He would use it to go to the second aviary in the afternoons and spread out on a shelf to soak up the sun.

Things I got wrong.

Main door at the front of the aviary could have been a little taller. This would have made adding large branches and cleaning a little easier.

The size of the mesh I bought was a little too big. When some babies arrived they were small enough to squeeze though. This has now been changed.

The two nest boxes should not have been screwed to the wall. Although not often, about once a year you will want to give the nest boxes a proper clean. There has also been occasion when I've needed to check in nest boxes during the day looking for a missing chipmunk.

I should have put in more removable wipe clean shelves at various levels in the aviary. Chipmunks like to make use of shelves.

The aviary could have been built right up to the ceiling. The bit above the aviary is unused space. Except for when a chipmunk is on top on the outside of the aviary, taunting a chipmunk hanging upside down on the inside.

The digging box was eventually removed. It was difficult to replace the compost. It was also not really deep enough. Large clay pots are used instead. They have the depth chipmunks like, and can be moved around.

I should not have put mesh over the walls at the back of the aviary I have other aviary's with plain white walls on two sides. The chipmunks hardly mark the walls at all. It's also easier to give the wall a coat of paint once a year.

What size mesh?

Sample mesh sizeThe photo to the right is an example of the type of mesh used on the 'off the shelf' aviary I talked about earlier on this page. It's a good strong mesh, and an easy size (16mm X 16mm) to hang food bowls and other things on. But, it's just slightly too big if you plan to breed baby chipmunks. I have seen babies squeeze through this size mesh when they were very young. I'm talking about babies of only a few weeks old, not the age they will be if you get them from a breeder or reputable pet shop. It's also too big for use on its own for an outside aviary because it will easily allow outside creatures such as mice through.

For my indoor aviaries I use 13mm X 13mm mesh from Wickes, which comes on rolls 6 meters long and 90 cm wide. That mesh might be considered a little too light gauge for outside use though. The chipmunks cannot bite through it, but there is a large outside rat population which probably could. If I were to build an outside aviary I think I would consider double lining my aviary, using the Wickes mesh on the inside, and a heavier larger mesh as a second skin. With a couple centimeters gap between the mesh on the inside of the aviary and the heavier gauge on the outside. Chipmunks will climb up the mesh flat to the mesh, so with an outside aviary can be prone to cat attack. This web page describes a cat attack on one chipmunk living in an outside aviary.

Whatever mesh you get, ensure it's galvanized, even if it's for an indoor aviary As otherwise it will soon look tatty and begin to rust. I've found with the rolls of mesh, I needed to check it carefully, as sometimes there can be razor sharp edges to it, I guess where the production has gone a bit wrong.

If you are building two aviaries side by side as I have done, make the partition between to two aviaries either of double mesh with again about a 2cm gap, or of solid material. This is because I have found that chipmunks are quite territorial, and if they can see their neighbors in the next door aviary they can sometimes try to get at each other. I've found it's OK for them to see each other, but the gap is so they can't bite each others legs or noses.

Suppliers

Most of the materials came from Wickes, a sort of DIY builders merchants. All of the hardware, such as brackets, screws and door furniture was ordered off the Internet. You will use up a lot of woodscrews, and these are often cheaper ordered from the Internet in bulk packs from such places as ScrewFix. The wire mesh I use now comes from Wickes, but for outside mesh try FMM Welded Mesh.

For all of the latest aviary's I've built, all of the timber came from Selco, which is another builders merchants. The timber was significantly cheaper and better quality than Wickes. But Selco have a strict trade only policy.