Chipmunks are some of the cutest animals around as long as you are not trying to keep them out of your garden! I have fun feeding the little guys and seeing how far they can stretch out those adorable cheeks.
Chipmunks will eat a wide variety of foods but they have their favorites and one of them is pretty strange! There are also a few foods that they tend to avoid as well as some foods that you should never feed them.
So you want to know, “What do chipmunks eat?”
Chipmunks primarily eat vegetative food sources including grains, nuts, seeds and fungus. However, chipmunks are omnivores and are know to occasionally supplement their diets with earthworms, small insects and bird eggs.
There are over 25 types of chipmunks that live in different geographies and terrain so they will not all share the exact same diet. Some species, such as the Hopi chipmunks that you find in the western Colorado and Monument Valley area are primarily herbivores that really love Juniper berries. Other species, such as the Eastern chipmunk are better described as omnivores that will readily climb trees in search of bird eggs.
Strange But Important Food Sources
Chipmunks, like all members of the squirrel family, are rodents. A defining characteristic of rodents is that their front incisors never stop growing. As a result chipmunks need hard substrates like animal bones or antlers to gnaw on. The gnawing keeps their teeth sharp and short while also providing a source of calcium.
Another weird fact about rodents is that there digestive tract is inefficient in converting foods into digestible essential nutrients. Much of the conversion occurs in the lower digestive tract but that section of the digestive system does not absorb nutrients very well. This results in rodents pooping out a nutrient rich stool which they then turn around and eat. This process is called coprophagy.
So, basically, chipmunks need to eat bones and poop as part of a well balanced diet.
Nibbling In Your Garden
If you are trying to keep chipmunks out of your garden then you are fighting a losing battle. Rather than try to keep them out of your garden you will need to adapt to their presence.
The website Davy & Tracy has an excellent guide on plants that chipmunks will not eat and plants that chipmunks love based on years of experience gardening along side a small herd of chipmunks. Some highlights from the guide include:
- Chipmunks avoid plants with fragrant foliage, have hairy leaves, or are toxic.
- Chipmunks love tulips and will either dig out and eat the bulb or will eat the emerging shoots.
- Chipmunks will eat any tender seedling so do not bother trying to sprout/start plants in the garden.
Many people report that chipmunks are very fond of tomatoes and they will wait until just before the tomatoes are perfectly ripe before they start nibbling.
Winter Food Sources
In the winter chipmunks eat various nuts and grains that they stashed inside their burrow in the fall. According to Kent McFarland, a biologist with the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, the winter food stash for chipmunks is about eight pounds worth of food.
Chipmunks survive winter by performing a modified hibernation called a torpor. When the weather gets cold a chipmunk will retreat to its burrow, drastically slow its metabolism and heartbeat and go into a hibernation like state. Every few days the chipmunk will awaken and take the time to eat a little food and eliminate waste before returning to the state of torpor.
With a little patience you can train wild chipmunks to eat from your hand. Every wildlife expert will tell you that hand feeding a wild animal is a bad idea but I understand if you want to get a chipmunk to grab a peanut from your pocket.
If you do want to hand feed a chipmunk then there are two things you need to be aware of; your safety and their health.
From a safety perspective you have to keep reminding yourself that chipmunks are prey animals that are naturally skittish. If they feel trapped and threatened while you are feeding them then they will bite you. While you do not need to worry about catching rabies from a chipmunk the bite is still going to hurt and runs the real risk of turning into a nasty infection.
From the health of the chipmunk you should be mindful of what and how much you are feeding. If you want to feed them peanuts then make sure they are unsalted. Peanuts are also very calorie dense so please do not feed too many. Small pieces of fruit or even a handful of oats would be better feeding options.
What About Newborns?
If you have rescued an orphaned baby chipmunk and are trying to figure out what to feed it then you need to skip this article and jump over to this Complete Care Guide for Baby Chipmunks.
The care guide details how to make sure the baby is warm, stress free and hydrates along with what to feed, how often to feed and what need to be done after each feeding.
According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals a healthy diet for a pet chipmunk should consist of approximately 50% cereal grains such as oats, corn, wheat and barley. Their food can be supplemented with fresh vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes, bananas, carrots, apples, pears, and sweet potatoes.
There is a company called “Sugar Gliders USA” that sells a premium blend designed for chipmunks and squirrels. Please make sure your pet also has access to some type of bone or antlers so they have a source of calcium as well as a hard substrate to gnaw on.
What Not to Feed Chipmunks
Just because you and I eat junk food does not mean that we should trick small animals into eating these items. I understand that it would be hilarious to watch a chipmunk munching down on a Cheeto and getting his paws covered in orange cheese dust but you would not be doing him any favors. Please do not feed any processed foods to wild animals. Processed foods are bad for people and worse for animals.
If you want to feed peanuts then make sure that they are UNSALTED.
Lastly, if you put out fruits like peaches and plums then remove the pits first as there are reports that these are toxic to chipmunks.