Most of us can name the predators in our respective regions and take a wild stab at what they hunt and eat. In sub-Saharan Africa, the big predators are lions, leopards, and hyenas, and they mostly eat gazelles and antelopes. In the Amur region, it is tigers, and they tend to eat deer.
In America, we also have a few unique predators that, while not as well known outside the states, are equally charismatic, tenacious, and fearsome. One of these predators is the coyote, one of the symbols of the long, stretching plains of the Midwest and South.
These curious creatures are ever wandering and ever searching for food through the dusty plains and biting winds. Though these creatures are widespread and well known in their region, the food they are searching for isn’t that obvious.
So, what exactly do coyotes eat? In this article, we are going to seek to answer that question and give you information surrounding a coyote’s diet.
What Is A Coyote?
Coyotes belong to the Canidae family along with dogs, wolves, jackals, foxes, and others. They are found across North America from Alaska to Mexico, and they are considered similar in role and size to their cousin the Jackal, which is found in many other parts of the world.
Coyotes are solitary animals but can live in groups called packs. These packs usually consist of at least one reproductive female, with a number of males and females as well. A pack has its own territory and will defend itself against intruders.
Unlike wolves though, the pack is semi-independent and not reliant on each other, instead being more of a group formed for a common cause and to satisfy a coyote’s gregarious nature, than as a permanent feature. The average lifespan of a coyote is about eight years.
The coyote is a medium-sized dog type creature with short legs, long tail, pointed ears, and brown or gray fur. It has large eyes set in a triangular face. Its body is lean and muscular, making it quick and agile. Coyotes are good swimmers and can climb trees when necessary.
How Does A Coyote Hunt?
Like most predators, the coyote uses stealth and patience to catch prey. When hunting, it hides behind bushes and rocks until it can spot something moving.
Then, it pounces out and grabs whatever it wants. It hunts alone or in pairs. It may be sitting still, lying down, or walking slowly. There is no need for speed when stealth hunting.
When hunting larger or hidden prey, the coyote does so in silence. It doesn’t make any noise while tracking a target.
Instead, it will cautiously follow prey until it is in the perfect position. Once the animal is close enough, it will pounce and if the target is a bit further away, then it will get closer or wait.
If it is smaller prey in the open, then the coyote will chase it, before it can disappear. This is particularly true of ground squirrels, who are numerous and bold ones normally move further away from their burrows than they should.
Coyotes are also accomplished scavengers and will act differently around carrion. For starters, they will move quickly towards the area they can smell it in and, once there, they will try to establish dominance over the food.
Since their competitors at these carrion sites are normally vultures, corvids, and other smaller animals, they have a significant size and weight advantage, which they use to push others away until they’ve had their fill.
The coyote has been observed digging under fences, tree trunks, sheds, and other places to hide food. It will dig into the earth and pull out roots, leaves, stems, and grasses to get at meat buried deep within. It can drag things back to its den to eat later.
What Do Coyotes Eat?
A coyote needs to eat every day, just like we humans do. However, what it eats depends on where it lives. In areas that are abundant with small rodents such as mice, rats, and voles, it will mainly feed off them.
If rodents aren’t available, then it will turn to rabbits, frogs, fish, snakes, birds, insects, and even roadkill. Coyotes will eat almost anything they can catch and that can be considered prey. Even rattlesnakes and porcupines have been at the mercy of these veracious hunters.
In northern regions where both animals and vegetation are scarce, coyotes will eat mostly carrion or scavenge from larger carnivores. They will also eat plants and vegetation, if they need to, and not be picky with their food.
These include berries, seeds, fruits, bulbs, tubers, nuts, and mushrooms. Although more usual in northern populations, this behavior is pretty common for coyotes and they regularly feed on vegetation, though most of their diet does remain meat based.
Sometimes coyotes can form groups or packs and during this time is when coyotes can become dangerous, even to other predators.
We think of coyotes as the smaller cousins of wolves and dogs, but they are far more like wolves and when they form groups, they aim to take down big prey. Pronghorns, deer, elk, harp seals and, even, bison, moose, and sometimes black bear cubs.
If there’s one thing to take away from this, it is that coyotes are highly adaptable generalists that, if given even a slight advantage, will eat and hunt anything.
Are Coyotes Dangerous?
Coyotes tend to avoid people unless they are too injured or sick to run away, although some may still attack and kill livestock. They rarely attack pets, excepting those that are very young or weak.
There have been documented cases of coyotes attacking domestic cats, dogs, horses, sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, deer, turkeys, chickens, ducks, geese, raccoons, opossums, beavers, muskrats, otters, and even turtles that are on or live on people’s property.
However, the majority of attacks occur because of an overlap of territory and habituation, which presents feeding problems for the coyotes.
They are opportunistic predators, meaning they don’t care about your dog, your cat or you — they are only interested in getting fed. So, if you see something suspicious, stay calm and leave it alone. Do NOT confront. This could lead to death for all involved.
Coyotes are extremely territorial and will defend their home range against intruders. It is important to remember that they are wild animals and should never be approached, handled, cornered, trapped, baited, hunted, captured, shot, harmed, or killed by anyone.
Coyotes are probably one of the most adaptable animals in the Americas, if not on the entire planet. Part of the reason for this is that they will eat almost anything to survive, including things that would turn other animals off. Therefore, what do coyotes eat? Pretty much anything.