I see coyotes around my house all the time and was recently asked by a friend who came to visit what they eat. I told them that coyotes are scavengers and will eat whatever food is around.
Coyotes are omnivores, but favor meat. Three-quarters of a coyote’s diet comprises small mammals, including mice, rabbits, rats, and squirrels. The remainder is made up of fruit, birds, eggs, vegetables, insects, and fish.
Coyotes have a varied diet, and this is needed in order for them to receive all the nutrients they need.
What Do Coyotes Eat in the Wild?
Coyotes are commonly found in North America and the plains, forests, mountains, and deserts provide them with a varied diet. Their environment and habitat dictate what they eat.
Although much of their diets are made up of small mammals, coyotes also eat fruit, birds, eggs, vegetables, insects, and fish.
- Rabbits: Rabbits are a staple in the diet of many coyote populations. Eastern cottontail rabbits and other rabbit species are commonly hunted by coyotes.
- Rodents: Coyotes often target various rodent species, including:
- Mice (e.g., white-footed mice, deer mice)
- Rats (e.g., Norway rats, roof rats)
- Ground squirrels
- Pocket gophers
- Squirrels: Coyotes may capture and eat tree-dwelling squirrels like gray squirrels and fox squirrels when the opportunity arises.
- Hares: Larger than rabbits, hares such as the jackrabbit can also be part of a coyote’s diet, especially in certain regions.
- Small Carnivores: Coyotes are known to prey on other small carnivorous mammals like skunks, raccoons, and opossums.
- Bats: Occasionally, coyotes may consume bats when they are accessible.
- Shrews and Moles: While not a significant part of their diet, shrews and moles may be consumed by coyotes if encountered.
- Young or Juvenile Ungulates: In some cases, coyotes may prey on the young of larger mammals like deer and pronghorns.
It’s important to emphasize that while coyotes may consume some fruits opportunistically, these items typically make up a very small portion of their diet.
Insects are not a significant or common part of their diet. However, in certain situations or when insects are readily available, coyotes might consume them opportunistically. Some of the insects that coyotes might eat, although infrequently, include:
- Grasshoppers: Coyotes may catch and eat grasshoppers, especially when they are abundant during the warmer months.
- Beetles: Beetles, including various species, might be consumed if encountered.
- Ants and Termites: Coyotes may consume ants and termites if they come across ant or termite colonies.
- Worms and Larvae: In some cases, coyotes might consume earthworms, insect larvae, and other small invertebrates if they find them while foraging.
What Foods Do Coyotes Prefer?
Coyotes are omnivores but favor meat. Small mammals make up a large part of their diet. Coyotes occasionally prey on larger young mammals like calves and lambs.
Carrion is also part of a coyote’s diet. This can be as large as a bison, moose, or elk. Even though they can survive on carcasses, coyotes will prefer to opt for fresh meat rather than dead animals.
Coyotes who roam the plains have a varied diet. Coyotes will feast on birds, lizards, snakes, rabbits, grass, fish, and bugs.
Do Coyotes Eat Fruit?
Despite coyotes having an appetite for meat, they are just as happy to feed on other food to get nutrients. While fruit is not a large part of a coyote’s dietary staple, they do eat it.
Apples, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, peaches, pears, and watermelon are among a coyote’s favorite fruits.
In autumn and winter, when fruit falls from the trees, coyotes will eat it, especially berries. Coyote dietary patterns change throughout the different seasons.
Coyote Diet In Urban Areas
Coyotes can often be found roaming populated urban areas, and this affects their food source and diet. Coyotes will eat more rodents such as rats, and food from people’s trash bins in urban areas.
Coyotes are opportunistic and may attack pets such as cats and small dogs. However, coyotes that live in urban areas will generally stick to their natural diet of fruits, nuts, and small mammals.
A study analyzed over one thousand droppings. The report found that “the most consistent substances eaten were small rodents about half, fruit around a third, and deer and rabbit about a third.”
The research shows that coyotes stick to their natural diet as much as possible, even in urban areas. While coyotes are often thought to be a pest, rat populations have increased in urban areas where they are not present.
Will Coyotes Attack Pets?
Coyotes are opportunistic predators and scavengers, and in some cases, they may prey upon small domestic pets, such as small dogs and cats, if given the opportunity.
- Location: The frequency of coyote interactions with pets can be higher in urban and suburban areas where human and coyote populations overlap. In rural areas, interactions may be less common.
- Coyote Behavior: Some coyotes may become more comfortable in urban environments, which can lead to increased interactions with pets.
- Pet Size: Smaller pets are at a higher risk, as they can be perceived as potential prey by coyotes. Larger dogs are less likely to be targeted.
- Time of Day: Coyotes are crepuscular and nocturnal, meaning they are most active during dawn, dusk, and nighttime. Most pet-related interactions occur during these hours.
To reduce the risk of coyote encounters with pets:
- Keep Pets Indoors: Keep smaller pets, especially cats, indoors or supervised when outside, particularly during dawn and dusk when coyotes are most active.
- Secure Fencing: Ensure that your yard has secure fencing to keep coyotes out and pets in.
- Remove Attractants: Avoid leaving pet food or garbage outdoors, as this can attract coyotes and other wildlife.
- Leash Dogs: When walking your dog, especially in areas known for coyote presence, keep them on a leash and under control.
- Hazing: If you encounter a coyote in your vicinity, make loud noises, wave your arms, and use other methods to deter the coyote and discourage it from approaching.
Are Coyotes Scavengers?
Being opportunistic animals, coyotes are scavengers. In areas with dense coyote populations, residents may notice them going through their trash cans and even snacking on pet food left outdoors.
This behavior means coyotes are often a severe threat to pets. If a coyote views a pet as competition for food, it may attack, which can be fatal.
In an area with many coyotes, people should take care when it comes to their pets and not leave any food outside.
While they are primarily carnivorous predators, they are known to scavenge for food when the opportunity arises. Their scavenging behavior is part of their survival strategy, as it allows them to make use of available food resources, especially in times when hunting is less successful. However, scavenging typically complements their diet rather than being the primary source of sustenance.
Does Their Diet Affect Their Anatomy?
Coyotes chew on bones as youngsters. The research found at the 47th Annual Meeting of the Animal Behavior Society shows this reasoning. It was shown that when they chew on hard objects when they’re young, the bones in their skulls become shortened and enlarged. This then allows them to eat a wider variety of food as adults.
Researchers say this is the first time food has been shown to impact any animal’s anatomy dramatically.
Do Coyotes Adapt To Different Diets?
In recent years, coyotes have expanded their species from the rural American West to urban areas including Los Angeles and New York.
This success shows their ability to adapt their diet to local surroundings. A pack of coyotes can take down larger prey, but can also survive on human trash in urban areas.
Coyotes will generally hunt at night, particularly in urban areas. The perfect time for a coyote to hunt is when it is dark and during the early morning time in urban places.
They prefer hunting at night and relaxing in the daylight but will also hunt in the day if hungry. Hunting for food at night in urban locations allows them to keep away from humans as much as possible. A hungry coyote will take higher risks to get food, even in urban areas.
What Effect Does a Coyote’s Diet Have on The Ecosystem?
Coyotes often prey on young deer and can eat up to 70 percent of the population of fawns in different environments. However, this has not been known to reduce the population of deer but assists in stabilizing and slowing the overall population in urban and suburban areas.
Coyotes are vital in controlling the number of deer and play a crucial role in balancing biodiversity in urban environments. Deer can be a nuisance to homeowners’ yards and carry ticks and other parasites.
Coyotes also benefit the ecosystem by slowing the growth of the Canada geese population. This helps to keep parks, golf courses, and grassy areas protected against damage.
How do Coyotes Hunt?
Coyotes hunt alone but will also join up with others to hunt. Coyotes hunt alone and in packs, depending on the size of their prey. If there is a much larger animal, a single coyote will not hunt it alone. Coyotes are intelligent and will not risk injury or death to eat their next meal.
When hunting, they try to stay as quiet as possible during the hunt while taking down their prey, so they do not alert other predators such as bears to their kill.
- Stalking: Coyotes are stealthy predators and often employ stalking as a hunting technique. They approach their prey quietly, taking advantage of cover and terrain to remain hidden until they are within striking distance.
- Ambushing: Coyotes may lie in wait for their prey, concealed in vegetation or behind obstacles. They wait for the right moment to pounce on unsuspecting prey that comes within range.
- Chasing: Coyotes are known for their speed and agility. They can chase down prey over short to moderate distances. This hunting technique is often used for pursuing smaller mammals, such as rabbits or rodents.
- Pack Hunting: In some cases, especially when targeting larger prey like deer, coyotes may hunt in pairs or small groups. They use coordinated efforts to surround and tire out their quarry.
- Pouncing: Coyotes sometimes employ a quick and decisive pounce to capture prey. This technique is often used when hunting small mammals, birds, or insects.
- Digging: Coyotes are skilled diggers and can unearth burrowing animals like ground squirrels and rodents from their dens.
- Scavenging: While not a hunting technique per se, coyotes are opportunistic scavengers and may feed on carrion or the remains of animals killed by other predators.
- Nocturnal Hunting: Coyotes are crepuscular and nocturnal animals, which means they are most active during dawn, dusk, and nighttime. Their excellent night vision and keen sense of smell make them effective hunters during low-light conditions.
- Hunting by Scent: Coyotes have a highly developed sense of smell and can detect the scent trails of potential prey. They use this ability to track and locate animals, especially when hunting in less-visible conditions.
References And Further Reading
Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History by Dan Flores: This book explores the history and cultural significance of coyotes in North America while providing a comprehensive look at their natural history.
Coyotes: Biology, Behavior, and Management by Marc Bekoff and Michael C. Wells: This book offers a scientific perspective on coyote biology and behavior, along with insights into their interactions with humans and management strategies.
The Way of the Coyote: Shared Journeys in the Urban Wilds by Gavin Van Horn: This book explores the interactions between coyotes and humans in urban environments, shedding light on the adaptability of these animals to city life.
Coyote: Seeking the Hunter in Our Midst by Catherine Reid: A combination of natural history, personal anecdotes, and insights into human-coyote relationships, this book provides a thought-provoking perspective on coyotes.
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.