Cougars are excellent at hunting and spend much of their life searching for food. They have varied diet, and in this article, we look at what they eat and how they catch it.
Cougars use their muscular legs to pounce on the back or side of their prey, severing the spinal cord.
There are many different animals that cougars will prey upon. The stealth, grace, and speed at which they catch it are startling. Please read more details on how this beautiful animal eats to survive.
Cougars are one of the most elegant, fastest cats in North America, and their hunting abilities are based on a blend of strength, intelligence, and power.
Cougars spend their lives in a food search and, in one night, may cover up to twenty-five miles. Cougars walk at a pace of half a mile an hour and can still cover ten miles in just a few hours on rough, uneven terrain. Cougars are opportunistic and will eat whatever they can in their area.
What Do Cougars Eat?
The main prey of cougars in North America is deer, moose, and elk. Bighorn sheep are also another easy prey to the stealthy cougar.
They will also feed on smaller animals than the larger ungulates. The smaller prey includes goats, sheep, hares, rabbits, squirrels, skunks, beavers, porcupines, and various rodents, including mice and rats.
Cougars have also been seen to eat birds, either those already on the ground or, in some cases flying low to the ground.
Cougars change their diet according to the season. In some states, such as Idaho, cougars will eat deer in winter, but in summer, they will eat the much smaller but more accessible to catch ground squirrels.
Cougars will also change their feeding habits based on the population cycles of other animals. In British Columbia, the snowshoe hare has a ten-year population cycle. When the snowshoe hare is more abundant in the province, the cougar will switch their focus to the snowshoe hares.
In Alberta, British Columbia, Oregon, and Utah, the main prey for the cougar is deer, but their main diet is wild hogs in Florida. Cougars in these states make up the rest of their diet from elk, moose, rabbits, hares, and rodents.
Cougars will eat according to what is in their location, and surprisingly, this also affects the gender of their prey. Male mule deer are likelier to fall prey to cougars due to their liking of higher elevations. This means that they share much closer to the natural habitat of cougars.
Unfortunately, pets such as dogs and cats also fall foul to cougars, so if in cougar country, keep them on a short leash.
Cougars and many other species of cats will graze on grass. The grass helps to keep out parasites from their stomachs. Grass also contains folic acid, a vitamin that is hard to find in their usual meaty diet.
How Often Do Cougars Eat?
Cougars do not need to eat every day. A deer will sustain an adult cougar for up to sixteen days in the winter and up to three weeks in the summer.
A cougar with young to feed may need to kill a deer once a week to keep the kittens growing, but the number of kills by cougars on deer is low compared to human hunting.
Cougars can eat up to thirty pounds of meat at a time. A mother and their kittens can consume a whole deer. Cougars will cache their food in winter, leaving deer under mounds of snow for later meals.
Females stay closer to their cache than males, who go off for days to find more food. Cougars will not leave much of a deer except a few bones, skulls, and hoofs.
How Do Cougars Kill Their Prey?
Cougars are powerful creatures and can quickly snap the neck of most large animals, including moose and elk. Cougars usually kill by using enormous leg muscles to leap onto their prey’s back or side, bite through the neck, twist their head, and snack.
Cougars have large canine teeth, and these are used to tear vertebrae apart, severing the spinal cord. The leap of a cougar can be up to thirty-two feet horizontally. However, if the prey is not caught after a few jumps, they will typically give up, and the game will get away.
Depending on their habitat, cougars will try to hunt in the early morning and evening or during the day or night. Most will stay out of sight during the day, preferring to strike at night.
When trying to take down a large animal, the cougar will stalk their prey, staying out of sight until it is time to pounce.
However, with small animals such as rabbits, hares, beavers, and rodents, cougars can kill them with one swipe of their large paws. Small animals are much easier to catch for cougars, which is why they make up a large portion of their diet.
Larger prey, such as deer, is usually moved to a safer, sheltered spot to be eaten. Even though the animals they are dragging may weigh more than themselves, cougars have been seen to drag these up to a thousand feet away from the kill site.
The tongue of a cougar is rough and can be used to remove the fur off their meal. Cougars will strip the skin away using their language along with their teeth.
Cougars are different from most animals as they will eat the innards first. The healthy organs, such as the heart, intestines, liver, and kidneys, are eaten first.
Only once they eat these will they eat the rest of the flesh. Prey that a cougar has taken down can be identified by the small hole they use to take the internal organs out.
Cougars eat the most nutritious parts of the animal first because this is where they get Vitamin A from. Without Vitamin A, they would develop skeletal problems.
Do Cougars Affect Other Animals Populations?
Cougars do not eat a massive amount of deer, with an average kill by a cougar of one deer every two to three weeks. Cougars prey upon the easiest to catch, which removes the weak, the old, and the sick from their habitat.
Due to this, deer populations are generally not affected by the predation of cougars. Deer that are more likely to mate and give birth are generally the healthiest of the species, and these are not preyed upon by cougars as much as the weak.
Cougars help keep other animal populations in check; however, the damage caused by deer and other animals can be unhealthy to the ecosystem without predators. In areas with few predators, deer can severely damage the site by overgrazing. In areas with no meat eaters, the damage done to the habitat by herbivores can be devastating.
Cougars also help to keep other animals and birds fed. Ravens can be seen flying around a kill by cougars, and weasels are often found in the area, waiting for the cougar to distance itself from their kill before trying to get a part of the food.
However, cougars are fierce and can quickly kill an animal trying to steal their kill. Other cats, such as the lynx and the bobcat, will come off worse in a fight with a cougar, as can much larger animals.
Black bears are more significant than cougars, but neither animal will escape unharmed in a fight over the kill. Wolves are also dangerous animals to the cougar, with a pack of wolves able to take down a cougar.
The cougar is a beautiful animal. They can leap and pounce far to reach their prey, which they can kill in one snap. They can take down animals much more significant than them, but they keep the natural order of their habitat in doing so.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.