Chipmunks are “cheeky” rodents who feast on practically everything. Did you know a chipmunk has to trust you first before you can feed it from your hands? With small bodies and an enormous appetite, their love affair with food is secretive as they hide while feeding, so what do chipmunks eat?
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Chipmunks Habits and Biology
Chipmunks belong to the squirrel family. They have plump cheeks that they love to store food in and take back to their “house.” Chipmunks are omnivorous as they eat both plants and animals. There are only 25 known species of chipmunks.
They have a simple way of living involving finding food, eating, finding more food, and storing food away. Chipmunks nibble on this food whenever they feel like it. It’s like Christmas every day for chipmunks who can come to your yard uninvited foraging for food.
Unlike groundhogs, chipmunks are not true hibernators though they sleep a lot during winter. Chipmunks stay in a state of torpor in winter, where they lower their heartbeat and slow their metabolism. However, they still awaken, eat little food, defecate (poop) and return to sleep.
Chipmunks’ winter burrows (tunnels) are deep compared to the shallow burrows used in summer and fall. They take their food stash to these shallow burrows to eat on a typical day.
During winter, chipmunks eat food that they collect and stash in their nests as they are not active and their movement is restricted. These foods are nuts and seeds.
Chipmunks’ digestive tract doesn’t properly convert food into nutrients, leaving this job to the lower digestive tract.
However, the lower tract doesn’t absorb nutrients well, so when chipmunks poop, they turn around and eat their waste as it’s full of nutrients. Yikes!
Like fellow rodents, chipmunks have front teeth called incisors that keep growing. They have to keep eating, chewing, and gnawing on wooden objects or tree barks to file their teeth down.
Your home can become a “haven” for these creatures as they can find plants or flowers and even vegetables to feed on in your yard or garden. They can easily overturn your garden in search of food.
Chipmunks can create shelter in bushes, logs, and nests to enjoy their food. These places are hidden away, secret, and make chipmunks feel safe while eating. They also hide in tall grasses and shade.
Chipmunks are pretty selfish in that they love to eat alone and not share. They also hide their food to keep it away from predators like foxes and coyotes. They eat and store food daily and can eat up to six times a day but in small amounts.
What Do Chipmunks Like To Eat Most?
Chipmunks eat nuts and seeds above all other foods. Also, what they eat depends on the species and its location though their diet is the same. Let’s explore foods that chipmunks eat:
- Fruits- blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries, are a favorite for chipmunks. These fruits contain antioxidant polyphenols, vitamin C, and fiber.
- Also, blueberries contain anthocyanins that can help prevent cancer.
- Feed them cherries that contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They also contain calcium.
- Apples, apricots, melons, oranges, and papaya are also fruits that contain essential vitamins and minerals.
- Avocados- You can feed avocado to your chipmunk but do so in moderation as avocados are high in fats.
- Pears, plums, and peaches have vitamin C and fiber.
- Bananas provide a good source of potassium for chipmunks.
- Pumpkins- this vegetable is high in fat, so you should feed this to your chipmunk in moderation.
- Cranberries can keep the urinary tract of your chipmunk clean and healthy and especially contain vitamin C, among other minerals.
- Vegetables- carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, bean sprouts, broccoli, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, celery, potatoes, squash, and lettuce contain nutrients vital to a chipmunks diet. Such nutrients are vitamin A, C, and fiber.
- Legumes like peas and green beans contain nutrients that are good for chipmunks.
- Lettuce is high in nutrients, a good source of beta carotene, and an excellent addition to your chipmunk’s diet.
- Nuts- peanuts, almonds, acorns, pecans, cashews, pine nuts, and walnuts are good sources of fats and proteins. In winter, chipmunks eat nuts as they previously stockpiled these in autumn.
- Chipmunks can go as far as to climb trees to feed on nuts and acorns!
- Dried mealworms found in pet stores are rich in proteins and are beneficial to chipmunks.
- Seeds- chipmunks love to eat seeds they get from flowers and trees like maples, beech, sweetgum, and dogwood. Seeds are rich in nutrients.
- Sunflower seeds are a favorite for chipmunks and contain proteins, fats, and oils.
- Whole grains- oats (without sugar), barley, millet, and wheat, are healthy grains for chipmunks as they are a good source of B vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fiber.
- Corn from the can or cob is also healthy to feed your chipmunk as it is rich in fiber which aids in digestion.
- Mushrooms- mushrooms are fungi that are high in phosphorus and protein, making them healthy for chipmunks.
- Insects- grasshoppers, crickets, and maggots (fly larva) are eaten by chipmunks as they provide protein, an essential nutrient in a chipmunk’s diet.
- Carrion/dead animals, small birds, snails, slugs, and bird eggs are foods that chipmunks eat when food is scarce.
- Chipmunks also eat salamanders, earthworms, and tiny frogs, though mostly wild chipmunks eat these. They also eat bird seeds if they find them.
- Pet food- cat or dog food contains high levels of protein.
- Eggs- eggs are rich in protein, fat, and vitamins.
- Plants- thistle flowers, grass, plant leaves, shoots, and seedlings are among what chipmunks love to consume.
- Chipmunks also love tulips and dig out the bulbs which they eat.
Ensure you provide chipmunks a balanced diet as there are many options on what to feed them.
Foods to Avoid Feeding Chipmunks
Like humans, certain foods are harmful to chipmunks, and others can be fatal to them.
- Try and avoid giving chipmunks garlic as they can’t stand the pungent (intense) smell. Chipmunks have a strong sense of smell.
- They also can’t bear the smell of citrus, cinnamon, and peppermint, which you should refrain from giving them.
- Processed foods are not healthy foods for chipmunks. Junk foods like cakes, biscuits, bread, and crisps are unhealthy for chipmunks and lead to obesity.
- Sweets and candies- avoid feeding chipmunks these as they are high in calories and can cause obesity.
- Cayenne and chili pepper- Chipmunks are not particularly fond of hot spices.
- Did you know the smell of onions (allium cepa) keeps chipmunks at a distance? You won’t find chipmunks nibbling onions in your garden.
- Chipmunks also dislike plants with fragrances, are toxic, and have hairy leaves. It’s safe to say they will refrain from eating these foods. Plants like daffodils and French marigolds fit this bill.
- Chipmunks hate the smell and taste of daffodils because it contains lycorine which is toxic and repels them.
- Spring snowflake, a plant also contains lycorine in its bulb, which is toxic for chipmunks.
- French marigold- This plant’s pungent leaves contain an oil called terpenes that is a chipmunk repellant.
- Lastly, chipmunks avoid glory-of-the-snow, a bulb plant that grows in spring as it repels them.
It may be hilarious to feed chipmunks junk food to see if they will eat it but resist this temptation. Overall, plants are healthy alternatives but avoid feeding them the toxic kind.
Tips to Feeding Chipmunks
Feeding time for chipmunks can be exciting as they love to eat and eat more. However, you need to adopt various feeding methods to keep chipmunks safe, content, and healthy.
- Put their food in a clean dish and place it in their cage for them to eat.
- Remember to feed chipmunks peanuts in moderation as they are high in fats and can cause obesity. Also, provide them the unsalted kind.
- Before you feed chipmunks pears, plums, and peaches, make sure first to remove the pits as they contain cyanide which can be fatal to chipmunks.
- Given a chance, chipmunks can eat sunflower seeds all day but make sure you give them the unsalted kind. Also, limit this food as it’s high in calories.
- Please thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables as they could contain pesticides and chemicals that can harm chipmunks.
- Cut up fruits like apples and pears into small pieces before feeding to chipmunks. You wouldn’t want them to choke.
- Provide chipmunks with romaine lettuce instead of iceberg lettuce as it’s high in nutrients compared to iceberg lettuce.
- Offer peanut butter in moderation because of the high sugar content. Chipmunks’ cheeks are already plump; let us draw the line there.
- A chipmunk’s diet needs to consist of 50% grains like oats, barley, and wheat. Please keep this in mind. Supplement the diet with fruit and veggies.
- With wild chipmunks, first, establish trust by feeding them from a distance food like peanuts. Gradually over time, move closer to the chipmunks, eventually feeding them from the palm of your hands.
- Provide chipmunks with something to gnaw at, like hardwood pieces, to control their teeth as they are evergrowing.
- An orphaned baby chipmunk should be kept hydrated by giving it Pedialyte. Feed it Esbilac, a puppy milk formula, as it contains the nutrients they need.
- Carefully observe a baby chipmunk while you feed it to prevent overfeeding.
- If the baby chipmunk overfeeds and starts to sneeze, pat it on the back till it stops.
Chipmunks’ ability to gather and store food is impressive. These self-reliant creatures will always eat first and think later. They can remain a thorn in our side while counting losses in our yards and gardens, but you have to admit that they are rather adorable.