9 Natural Predators That Eat Chipmunks
When mother nature made chipmunks, she added an extra dash of cuteness! These adorable animals are part of the squirrel family, called ground squirrels, and serve as an essential food source for many animals.
Some of the most common natural predators that eat chipmunks include:
- Certain species of snakes
However, chipmunks can often escape these hungry predators using sound, speed, agility, and burrows.
Below we’ll take a closer look at each predator and how the tiny chipmunk defends itself. So, without further ado, let’s get starter!
Chipmunks can become dinner at any stage, but they’re more susceptible to predators when they’re very young, old, or injured.
Most interactions with predators will occur during the day because chipmunks are diurnal—meaning they’re most active during the day. Exactly where chipmunks and predators interact depends on where the chipmunk lives.
Just a quick note, if you’re looking to repel chipmunks, take a peak at our guide on the best chipmunk repellents here!
Hawks Enjoy A Good Chipmunk Meal
It’s no surprise that these aerial predators are on our list, as they specialize in catching rodents and other small critters. Hawks are also most active during the day, which coincides with when chipmunks are most active.
Many types of hawks will eat chipmunks, but Cooper’s Hawks tend to go after chipmunks more than the others.
According to an article in the Journal of Field Ornithology, eastern chipmunks make up about 2.3% of a Cooper’s Hawk’s diet. This number might seem small, but compared to other prey mammals, chipmunks rank at #3 for the most eaten mammal.
Cooper’s hawks are found throughout much of the United States, so there’s no specific place where chipmunks and Cooper’s hawks mingle the most. That said, most interactions are likely to happen in forests because Cooper’s hawks prefer to look for food from dense coverage.
Owls Can Help Reduce Chipmunks On Your Property
Owls are another aerial predator on our list. Just like hawks, several owl species prey on chipmunks, but a few are more likely than others:
- Great Horned Owls: These large birds go after food mostly at night but will occasionally scout around during the day and catch a chipmunk.
- Barred Owls: Just below the great horned owl in terms of size, the barred owl is another predator of chipmunks.
Other owls that occasionally eat chipmunks include barn owls, great grey owls, and the eastern screech owl. Most other owls in North America are too small to land a chipmunk!
Pro tip: owl decoys can keep pest rodents away. Check out this article to learn how to use fake owls to keep animals away from your lawn or garden!
Great Horned And Barred Owls Commonly Chow On Chipmunks
Because barred owls live primarily east of the Rocky Mountains, they often go after eastern chipmunks. They prefer old-growth forests, where they’re likely to find a good meal.
Great horned owls are found almost everywhere in the U.S. and search for food mostly at night. These owls rely on sound more than sight to locate and capture prey. When finding food during the day, great horned owls keep a watchful eye from high up on a perch. Once they spot a chipmunk, they put on speed and swoop down to grab the rodent in their talons.
According to an article in the Wilson Bulletin, great horned owls eat an average of 62.6 grams of food per day. Considering that one chipmunk weighs between 45-142 grams, it’s safe to say that a great horned owl could consume at least one chipmunk per day.
Chipmunks Often Find Themselves On A Snakes Menu
Snakes can polarize people almost as well as politics—you either love them or hate them! These slithery reptiles have a long list of potential prey, and chipmunks are certainly on that list.
There are two species of snakes in particular that go after chipmunks:
- Black Rat Snake: a snake often feared by people because it can grow to enormous sizes (up to six feet)! Despite this, they’re the BEST rodent control you could ask for. They’re non-venomous, docile, and hungry for all those pesky rodents you have in your yard.
- Western Diamondback Rattlesnake: Okay, not as friendly to have around the yard, but these snakes also have an appetite for chipmunks and other small rodents.
Despite being fantastic sources of rodent control, not everyone wants snakes in their yard.
Some Snakes Like Chipmunks More Than Others
Black rat snakes take care of chipmunks east of the Rocky Mountains, while the Western diamondback rattlesnake covers Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California.
Chipmunks are most likely to fall prey to black rat snakes in forest environments. These snakes are also talented climbers and may pursue a chipmunk into a tree. Once it catches its prey, black rat snakes use constriction to subdue the chipmunk.
Western diamondback rattlesnakes are more likely to encounter desert-dwelling chipmunks like the Hopi, Uinta, and Least chipmunks. Diamondbacks are ambush predators that mostly sit and wait for prey to come near before striking out with their venom.
Foxes Will Go After Chipmunks
One of the most elusive animals out there is the fox. They’re common throughout the United States but rarely seen. There are four species of foxes, but only three will prey on chipmunks.
- Red Fox: an animal found throughout most of the United States except the extreme Southwest, Southeast, and parts of the Great Plains.
- Gray Fox: a canine found throughout the United States, grey foxes eat several small mammals, including chipmunks, in addition to plants and insects.
- Kit Fox: an animal prone to desert areas, kit foxes are primarily found in the Southwestern U.S. but have ventured as far as Oregon in the north.
Red foxes are the most likely to go after chipmunks. According to a study published in The American Midland Naturalist, red foxes ate far more mammals than gray foxes, who were more likely to eat plants and insects than mammals.
Chipmunks commonly live in the same places that foxes live, such as mature forests and wooded areas—where foxes typically go after chipmunks. While on the prowl, foxes either sneak up on chipmunks and pounce or course over a site using their incredible hearing to locate a rustling chipmunk.
Raccoons Will Eat Chipmunks If The Opportunity Arises
Unlike the other animals on our list, raccoons aren’t particular about what they eat. In fact, they’ll chow down on fruits, veggies, or insects as readily as chipmunks.
Despite their rotund appearance, raccoons are quick, topping out at around 15 mph. However, it’s not their speed that helps them catch chipmunks; it’s their dextrous little fingers. Raccoons have paws very similar to humans, which they use to grab potential prey.
Raccoons love the water and usually do not live very far from it. On the other hand, chipmunks aren’t very aquatic and tend to avoid wet or swampy areas. Instead, the most likely place where raccoons prey on chipmunks will be in an open, mature forest or rocky outcropping.
Bird feeders are one thing that will attract both raccoons and chipmunks. If you’re seeing a lot of furry critters in your yard, try using a squirrel-proof bird feeder like this Perky-Pet Squirrel-Be-Gone Home Style Bird Feeder, which closes if too much weight is put on it.
Coyotes Eat Chipmunks When Large Prey Is Scarce
When it comes to adaptability, coyotes are king. For this reason, they’ve become widespread throughout the U.S., and they’ll go after any species of chipmunk unfortunate enough to reside in their territory.
According to the College of Natural Resources, white-tailed deer are the number one animal targeted by coyotes. Still, the canines supplement their diet with small mammals, such as mice, rats, and chipmunks, in between large meals.
That said, according to the same study above, rodents (including chipmunks) are far more likely to be targeted in the spring, summer, and fall than in winter. That makes sense, as chipmunks tend to stay inside their burrows in the winter.
Chipmunks and coyotes often run into each other at the edge of forest environments or grassy fields. Although they may form packs to hunt larger prey, coyotes prefer hunting alone when prowling for smaller animals. They probably don’t want to share!
Martens Use Speed To Catch Chipmunks
Martens are less well-known than coyotes and raccoons but are predators of chipmunks all the same. These elusive animals can be found in a handful of states in the Northern U.S., including Alaska, Idaho, Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Since chipmunks don’t live in Alaska, we’ll scratch that area off the list. However, the other states have at least one chipmunk species that martens can eat.
Martens and chipmunks occupy much of the same territory, including mature forests, rock crevices, hollowed logs, and forest groundcover. In areas where these two animals exist, martens are likely a significant predator of chipmunks.
Despite being well-equipped to climb trees, martens do most of their prowling on the ground. They use their powerful jaws and quick speed to catch chipmunks. In the winter, if chipmunks come out, martens use their webbed toes to creep on the snow while searching for a meal.
Bobcats Stalk Chipmunks Before Pouncing
Although bobcats are common, they’re rarely seen by humans. That’s okay by me! Bobcat populations are highest in the Southeastern United States, where they frequently interact with the Eastern chipmunk. In the west, bobcats are more likely to go after Hopi, Least, and Yellow-pine chipmunks.
According to the Adirondack Ecological Center, around 50-75% of a bobcat’s diet consists of birds and small or medium-sized mammals. Despite this, rabbits are more likely to be preyed on by bobcats than chipmunks.
While prowling for chipmunks, bobcats are incredibly patient. They’ll follow their prey quietly on padded paws until they’re close enough to pounce. Bobcats will pursue game for miles if they have to, but this is unlikely to be the case with chipmunks, who have a minimal foraging range.
Fishers Eat Chipmunks On Occasion
Fishers—very similar to martens—are part of the weasel family. They’re larger than martens and have more rounded noses and ears. Additionally, you won’t see the distinctive orange fur that martens possess on the throat of a fisher.
Like martens, fishers are primarily found in the northern U.S. However, they have a more extensive range than martens, with some populations as far south as California in the west and Virginia in the east.
According to the University of Minnesota, snowshoe hares and porcupines are the main prey of fishers. While they may not be a substantial predator to chipmunks, fishers occasionally eat them.
These predators use their agility and speed to catch chipmunks in forested areas near fallen trees and inside rock crevices and hollow logs. Additionally, because they can elongate their bodies, fishers can climb into burrows to find the tiny rodents.
How Do Chipmunks Defend Themselves?
Because chipmunks are so tiny, it’s hard to believe the little animal could defend itself against a coyote or owl. It turns out, though, they can!
A chipmunk’s small size means it has to use other means of defending itself against predators—besides fighting back. Luckily, chipmunks have developed clever ways of detecting predators early and giving themselves escape routes to evade predators rather than confront them.
There are over 20 different species of chipmunk in North America alone, and their evasion and defense techniques differ slightly between each species. The main reason for this is that not all chipmunks face the same predators. It depends on where they live geographically.
Additionally, not all chipmunks have the same behaviors. Some live in burrows, while others live in trees or old logs. These factors play into their defense mechanisms.
Chipmunks Have Multiple Burrow Entrances And Exits
One of the ways that chipmunks avoid becoming a meal is by creating multiple entrances and exits within their burrow system. Not all chipmunks live in burrows, but most will construct tunnels during the winter months. The rodents leave one main entrance open, plugging the others with leaves or loose soil.
The idea is to hide the other entrances from animals (like snakes, weasels, and coyotes) that might decide to come inside and snack on them.
According to the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, chipmunk burrows are typically 12-30 feet long and 18-36 inches deep. Many of these tunnels are connected, creating an underground maze that the rodents use to get from one place to another.
Chipmunks rarely go far to forage for food, preferring to stay inside a one-acre plot of territory. Their short foraging trips allow them to quickly backtrack to their burrows at the first sign of danger.
Chipmunks Look Out For One Another
Chipmunks are solitary creatures. They don’t form packs, herds, or groups like other animals. This solitary life can make it challenging to keep an eye on predators. But that doesn’t mean they don’t watch out for one another!
According to Penn State University, there are usually two to four chipmunks per acre, with the number getting as high as 10 chipmunks per acre in some instances. Although they travel alone, the rodents do speak to one another—sort of.
Chipmunks Use Alarm Calls To Warn Each Other
While foraging, chipmunks are constantly on the watch for hungry predators. As soon as an enemy is spotted, chipmunks sound the alarm! They typically deploy one of three sounds:
- Chips: These high-pitched noises alert other chipmunks that a terrestrial (land-bound) predator is on the prowl.
- Chucks: Chucks are low-pitched squeaks that tell other chipmunks to look to the skies for potential predators.
- Trills: A single call given by chipmunks while actively evading a predator.
Chucks cause the most intense reaction from other chipmunks. Once a chuck is sounded, chipmunks will immediately flee and remain alert longer than if a chip or trill was declared.
Chipmunks Are Swift Runners And Deft Climbers
As you can tell, chipmunks aren’t about to put up a fight against a bobcat or fisher. Instead, they’ll opt for evading, early detection, and running to escape predators.
Chipmunks are super fast. They can reach speeds of around 21 mph. To put that into perspective, mice and rats run at about 8 mph, snakes top out at approximately 18 mph, and the fastest human on earth clocks in at about 27 mph.
Their fast speed helps chipmunks reach their burrows quicker when pursued by a predator. Chipmunks will also utilize heavily covered areas such as thick brush, fallen logs, or rock piles to escape from predators, especially those that are too big to follow them.
Not only are chipmunks swift runners, but they are also talented climbers. They can quickly scurry up trees and pitter-patter along branches to escape predators, often leaving the attacker at the bottom of the tree wondering what just happened!
Chipmunks Will Eavesdrop To Detect Predators
It may sound silly, but eavesdropping is a real thing in the animal kingdom! And it can be a lifesaver for small prey animals like chipmunks.
A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Ecology found that alarm calls signaled by an eastern tufted titmouse significantly increased a chipmunk’s vigilance and perceived risk of becoming a predator’s next meal, even though other chipmunks signaled no alarm calls.
Eavesdropping in the human world may be considered rude, but in the life of a chipmunk, it may be the only way to stay one step ahead of a hungry predator!
That’s A Wrap!
Chipmunks are quick, agile, and adorable little rodents that scurry around forest floors, darting between places of cover. Even though they’re fast, chipmunks still fall prey to several predators.
All in all, chipmunks may be harder to catch than other rodents because they’re faster and prefer well-covered areas. Still, these rodents occasionally fall prey to predators, especially the young, old, or injured.
Hopefully you learned something new while reading this article. To learn more about these tiny rodents, check out these 15 scents that chipmunks hate!
Thanks for reading!
Schmidt, K. A., Lee, E., Ostfeld, R. S., & Sieving, K. (2008). Eastern chipmunks increase their perception of predation risk in response to titmouse alarm calls. Behavioral Ecology, 19(4), 759-763.
Smith, J. L., & Mengak, M. T. (2022). Managing Wildlife Damage: Secondary Toxicity of Anticoagulant Rodenticides-Effect on Predators.
Toland, B. (1985). Food habits and hunting success of Cooper’s Hawks in Missouri. Journal of Field Ornithology, 56(4), 419-422.
Otter, K. (1994). The impact of potential predation upon the foraging behaviour of eastern chipmunks. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 72(10), 1858-1861.
Yahner, R. H. (1978). The adaptive nature of the social system and behavior in the eastern chipmunk, Tamias striatus. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 3(4), 397-427.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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