Tree-Climbing Secrets of Our Eastern Chipmunks


“Chipmunks are small ground-dwelling rodents.” 

If chipmunks knew how to read, they would cringe at that frequently used sentence to describe their habits and habitat.  Chipmunks do not read, so perhaps that is why these “ground dwellers” are so adapt at tree-climbing and posses arboreal skills that would make a red squirrel proud.  


Tamis straitus, the eastern chipmunk, is an opportunist omnivore and very much at home throughout Oakland County; not just as an occupant of its ‘wilder side’. Chipmunks are found in almost every park and woodland, as well as in city and suburban neighborhoods.  Their abundance is all about food, and their wariness and speed of movement is all about evasion and escape from predators.  Their preferred habitat is a hardwood forest with downed logs, rocks and a healthy under story of shrubs; in more open areas, they stay near stone walls and hollow logs—perfect escape shelters.

Many creatures  feast on or kill chipmunks, with domestic cats near the top of the list.  Hawks, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, mink, weasels and even their chatty cousin the red squirrel look at chipmunks as fleet-footed entrées.  


Acorns, nuts and seeds of all kinds are favored foods for chipmunks, but other animals such as bugs, beetles, salamanders, worms, cicadas and even small frogs and the occasional mouse are a part of the chipmunk diet. Chipmunks scrounge under bird feeders and sometimes raid rural corn bins. But in the heat of July when the service berries (juneberry and shadbush are two other common names of the Amelanchier species) are ripe, some chipmunks forget foraging on the ground and take to the trees. The ripening of the sweet berries signals a time of feasting. How do I know they are sweet? I eat them and they remain my favorite wild fruit of nature’s woodland trees.  

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The behavior of chipmunks, whether they are scurrying across the ground or skillfully navigating tree-limbs is a reminder that wild creatures are always adapting to opportunity, for that is nature’s way.


Text and photos by Jonathan Schechter,  Oakland County Parks Nature Education Writer. |


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