Chipmunks naturally feed on flower bulbs, fruit, seeds, and seedlings. In your yard and garden this can translate into perennial roots, prized flowering bulbs and your strawberry patch! Chipmunks generally gather food on the ground in areas with underbrush, rocks, and logs, where they can hide from predators, but they regularly climb trees to get to the fruits and nuts that you may have been waiting patiently to harvest at the peak of freshness!
Chipmunks, according to scientists, are omnivorous. This means that they will eat both vegetation and animal matter. They are partial to many of the nuts provided by native North American deciduous trees including acorns and beechnuts. They will eat seeds and berries of native woody plants including ragweed, clover and buckwheat. Chipmunks have been known to get into the watermelon and squash patch, snatch apples that have fallen to the ground as well as sunflower seeds not scooped up by the birds. In fact, chipmunks can become a regular patron at birdfeeders eating seed placed on the ground or that has fallen to the ground by over zealous birds. Mushrooms are also popular fare among all chipmunk species. Yellow-Pine chipmunks, common in the northwest US and Southwest Canada, have been found to have over 68,000 food items in their burrows!
As far as animal matter, these little mammals may eat baby songbirds and eggs, small mice, worms, and star-nosed moles. Chipmunks may partake in amphibians such as frogs and salamanders and some insects, too.
With regard to your yard and landscaping the chipmunk's dietary preferences may mean trouble for your spring flowering bulbs and melon patch. Not to mention any perennials that have been uprooted by the shallow tunnels made by the chipmunks for nesting and food storage.
Chipmunk Diet-Physical Attribute
The most universally recognizable feature of the chipmunk is, no doubt, their large, round cheeks. These cheeks play a major role in assisting this little stripped animal in gathering and storing food. The specialized cheek pouches can be the size of the chipmunk's head when full! Storing food for the chipmunk diet is especially important for this little stripped mammal because unlike many hibernating mammals, chipmunks do not physically store fat. That means that they need to awaken periodically during the winter months to eat the food that they stored in their dens during fall foraging.
Specialized incisors of the chipmunk also play an important role in the chipmunk diet. They have a pair of continuously growing large incisors on the upper jaw and one incisor on the lower jaw. These teeth are very sharp and angled forward to remove seeds from pods. Once removed the seeds are repositioned by the chipmunk's tongue into the cheek pouch for storage.
Chipmunk Diet-Seasonal Variances
Because chipmunks only partially hibernate, they spend a lot of time and energy in the fall foraging. The food that they gather in the fall is stored for use during the winter when they wake every few days to few weeks depending on the species to eat.
In the spring time, when the animals first awaken from winter hibernation, chipmunks will eat young leaves and plant shoots while they wait for the fruits and berries to become available.
Chipmunk Diet-Benefits and Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem
Chipmunks can be very beneficial to humans and the environment. They can be very enjoyable and humorous to watch which can relieve stress in humans, provided they aren't in your garden! As far as the ecosystem, because these small stripped mammals carry and store many seeds underground they actually help these plants reproduce and grow!
Serious damage to agricultural crops is rare, however, in maple sugaring areas of the Northeast US and South Eastern Canada chipmunks chew on the tubes causing considerable damage to maple sugar tubing systems.
While there are some excellent physical features of the chipmunk to assist in their food habits there is nothing too complex about the chipmunk diet.