What Do Wild Coyotes Eat?


Coyote pouncing on a mouse

Amazing as it seems, even though we know a great deal about coyotes, there is a huge amount of misinformation floating around about them. A lot of these exaggerated ideas that people have about coyotes revolve around what they eat. Of course, a large part of this is that they belong to the canine family.

Canines include the familiar domesticated dogs, as well as wolves, foxes, wild dogs and coyotes. When people think of wolves, they often think of a carnivorous predatory pack animal, killing and eating whatever they need to, in order to survive. This isn’t very far off the mark. Coyotes look a great deal like a little wolf, except that their snouts tend to be longer and more narrow, while their legs are more slender. Thus, the common conception is that coyotes eat the same things wolves eat and they hunt in the same way.

Indeed, coyotes are carnivorous predators. Most of their food is prey that they’ve hunted and killed. Mostly, the prey animals that they eat are mice, voles, squirrels, lemmings, mice, rabbits, hares, birds, bird eggs, usually of ground nesting birds, reptiles and even insects. However, this is far from all they will eat.

These animals have very little problem with eating carrion, including road kill and even meat that is already turning rancid and is spoiled. It has a strong enough constitution that this food doesn’t seem to bother them. They will even eat a dead porcupine and know that they need to roll it over to get to the belly, which has no quills. In fact, they will hunt porcupines on occasion.

These animals will also eat fish and amphibians, if they are available.

The diet of the coyote doesn’t stop there, either. There aren’t many animals that are more opportunistic feeders. They will eat flowers, grasses, vegetables and fruits as well as meat. Several have been observed eating everything from grapes to cantaloupe to hot peppers to other vegetable and fruit crops, sometimes even raiding farms to do it. This is perhaps one reason this species is so widely spread. They are intelligent and they aren’t afraid to eat whatever is available when they are hungry.

This can be a problem with farmers. Coyotes don’t eat a great deal of vegetation, however they can make a noticeable impact on commercial farms. They are also widespread enough, living from mountains to deserts, open land to forests, that few areas are without a population of coyotes. This is one reason the efforts to eradicate them in some places haven’t been largely successful. Still, it means that they are even seen in towns and cities on occasion.

They are unlike wolves, though, in that a coyote will rarely attack an animal much larger than itself, unless the larger creature is ill and weak. They have been found eating the carcass of a full grown deer or elk, but it is doubtful that the coyotes were responsible killing the deer or elk.

This doesn’t mean that one of these animals won’t kill cats or small dogs. But even this is far rarer than many people have been lead to believe. Attacks on humans by healthy coyotes, including children, are almost never heard of because they tend to be afraid of mankind. They will naturally raid a chicken house or aviary, but even then, they normally don’t cause nearly as much damage as many other predators do. They are much more apt to attempt to grab a chicken and run away with it. That is in contrast to a fox, which will get into a killing frenzy and continue attacking until there is no movement in the chicken house.

Primarily carnivorous, the diet of coyotes consists of many animals and plants. They seldom pass up the opportunity to eat either. However, their main diet still consists of much smaller animals, particularly rodents.

Incidentally, coyotes are also not pack animals like wolves are. They are solitary. Coyote packs that have been reported have all been family groups, with the mother and father teaching the pups how to hunt.




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