Ground Squirrel Vs. Chipmunk: What Are The Differences?

A very common scene that we all are used to seeing every fall or winter is chipmunks or squirrels roaming around in the backyard. They are usually busy stocking up on nuts and food for the winter at this time.

But we’re sure you won’t be able to tell the difference between the two when it comes to Chipmunk vs squirrel. Don’t worry; it is quite common because they are both rodents that share similar features that make them harder to differentiate.

Although it is hard, it’s not impossible to contrast between the two. So, if you too would know whether it’s a squirrel or a chipmunk running around in your backyard, just keep on reading!


What Is a Chipmunk?


Chipmunks belong to the family of rodents. They are usually found in the Northern part of America.

An easy way to recognize a chipmunk is by its prominent eyes and ears. They also have very furry tails. You would usually spot them in the daylight, but never in the night. An average chipmunk is about 3.6 to 6.3 inches in length.

Often referred to as “pygmy squirrels,” chipmunks are more commonly sighted in forest understories and rocky terrains. They are comfortable in bumpy terrains. Rocks, cliffs, and boulders are where they feel most at ease.

You will sometimes see them on the ground and sometimes climbing tall trees. They are exceptionally quick at climbing!

An easy way to tell if the rodent in front of you is a squirrel or a chipmunk is by looking at its ears. Chipmunks have erected rounded ears, while squirrels have short ears that are barely visible.

Chipmunks usually have a lighter diet compared to ground squirrels. They usually tend to go for seeds, berries, and small nuts. A small insect or two are also a part of their diet at times.


What Is a Ground Squirrel?

ground squirrel

A ground squirrel is a part of the squirrel family. They, too, are rodents.

Unlike chipmunks, a ground squirrel does not enjoy climbing. While they are very fast on the ground, they do not enjoy heights. That is why you never spot ground squirrels in hilly or rocky areas. They like living in green gardens and parks.

These have a streamlined tail, unlike that of a chipmunk.

Both chipmunks and ground squirrels are omnivores. They mostly feed on seeds and plants, but they also enjoy the occasional insects and even small animals.

Ground squirrels have a much larger appetite than chipmunks. They eat plant materials, seeds, wheat, and even corn.


Ground Squirrel VS Chipmunk

Yes, both chipmunks and squirrels have a lot in common. They have similar hunting skills and food habits. But when looked at closely, they have quite a few distinctive features.

Here are 6 ways you can differentiate between a chipmunk and a ground squirrel.

1. Size

Chipmunks are no longer than 10 inches. It is quite tough to spot a chipmunk that is over 7 inches in length.

On the other hand, ground squirrels can range from 6 inches to 12 inches in length.


2. Stripes

ground squirrel vs chipmunk

Both squirrels and chipmunks have stripes. But the question is, where? While both of them might have stripes on their bodies, only a chipmunk will have this marking on their heads. You will rarely land your eyes on a ground squirrel with stripes on their heads because they do not exist.

Also, squirrels have more stripes on their bodies than chipmunks. The stripes on the body of a squirrel will be closer together. It might also have dots that give them a spotty appearance.

Chipmunks usually have just five stripes that are spaced out. These alternate between dark brown and light brown or white.


3. Where You Would Spot Them

Usually, you get to see squirrels in grassy, green areas. A forest, park, cemetery, golf garden, or pastures are places where these creatures roam around.

But chipmunks are found in dryer regions. A mountain, rocky terrain, woody, or an area with shrubs are where you can see chipmunks.


4. Hibernation

Both the rodents hibernate, but not in the same manner. You will see both of the creatures collecting food for their winter hibernation, but only one truly hibernates.

Squirrels collect their food and hibernate for three to four months straight. They rarely wake up in the middle of their hibernation.

On the contrary, chipmunks will gather food and hibernate but wake up every three to four days to eat and check on their surroundings.

They both choose to hibernate underground during this period.


5. Storing Food

As we’ve said before, only ground squirrels truly hibernate. So, although you will see them collecting food before winter, it is not for storage.

They usually eat up all this food to double their body weight. That is how squirrels increase their body fat to survive through the winter. Because they sleep for three to four months straight without waking up, they do not need to store the food they are collecting.

Chipmunks wake up while hibernating. They will get up every three to four days to eat. So, the food that they collect is usually stored with them underground.


6. Vocals

A chipmunk can make a variety of sounds. Most commonly, they are heard making a high-pitched chip or cluck call. Sometimes they even sound like aggressive bird chirps. They are more vocal than ground squirrels.

Squirrels do not call that often. They make a very common and distinctive clicking sound which goes “kuk kuk kuk”. The calls are usually accompanied by flicks of their tails. They will mostly call out if they sense danger nearby.


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Difference Between Ground Squirrel and Chipmunk: A Table

Here is a comparison table that will help you see the differences more clearly. A side-by-side comparison as such can help summarize the differences for you as well.

Parameter Chipmunk Ground Squirrel
Calls/Vocals It has More of a bird-like call. High pitched and of various types. They call often even when they are not in danger. Calls once in a blue moon, when danger is sensed. Their calls sound like clicking noises and are usually done while the rodent flicks its tail.
Food Habit Small and light diet. Loves seeds, small plants, berries, and nuts. Also goes for small insects at times. Has a larger, more fatty diet. They are more into agricultural plants such as wheat and corn. Small animals and insects are also a part of their food habit.
Visual Appearance Rounded and erect ears with spaced-out stripes all over the back and head. Thin and closely spaced stripes on the back but not on the head, with small unnoticeable ears.
Habitat Usually spotted in rocky or hilly dry areas as they love to climb. Found in gardens and parks with no need of medium to climb.
Hibernation Sleeps for three to four days and then wakes up to eat. Goes on full hibernation for three to four months after eating and doubling body mass and fat.


Key Takeaways

  • Both chipmunks and ground squirrels have similar food habits. The only difference is that a chipmunk consumes smaller plants.
  • Chipmunks have distinct rounded and erect ears, while squirrels have shorter and more unnoticeable ones.
  • Usually, chipmunks are smaller than ground squirrels, which range from 6 to 12 inches in length.
  • Chipmunks have stripes on their heads and bodies, but squirrels only have stripes on their bodies.


Final Words

Now that you know the difference between Chipmunk vs squirrel, you will finally be able to tell your children which one is which at the park! Yes, they look quite similar, but once you learn and look a bit closer, it is pretty easy to tell the difference between them.