What Do Wolves Eat?


Wolves have been described as eating anything in the wild, but I wanted to find out if this was true.

Wolves are carnivores and will feed on small prey such as earthworms to animals as large as moose. Elk, deer, sheep, and goats make up a large part of their diet, but smaller mammals, including rabbits, hares, and beavers, are all prey. They will also feed on insects, nuts, fruits, and berries.

Moose, elk, deer, caribou, buffalo, sheep, goat, wild horse, wild boar, rabbit, hare, marmot, gopher, beaver, porcupine, raccoon, rat, mole, shrew, muskrat, woodchuck, mouse, nuts, insects, fruits, berries, earthworms, human garbage, carrion, birds and grass.

I wanted to find out a bit more about what they eat and what their preferred food is. I have put together this article, along with a table showing the information I have found.

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What Does a Wolf Eat?

The complete list of the diet of a North American wolf consists of the following.

Wolf

Moose, elk, deer, caribou, buffalo, sheep, goat, wild horse, wild boar, rabbit, hare, marmot, gopher, beaver, porcupine, raccoon, rat, mole, shrew, muskrat, woodchuck, mouse, nuts, insects, fruits, berries, earthworms, human garbage, carrion, birds and grass.

Diet and Location

Studies from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Yukon Fish and Wildlife Branch have provided us with data on the primary prey and secondary prey of wolves.

LocationPrimary PreySecondary Prey
United States of America
AlaskaCaribou Moose
MichiganDeerDeer
MinnesotaDeerHare
MontanaDeerElk
OregonElkDeer
WisconsinDeerHare
Yukon TerritoriersMooseDall Sheep
Canada
AlbertaMooseHare
ManitobaElkMoose
Northwest TerritoriesCaribouBirds
OntarioBeaverDeer
QuebecMooseBeaver

There are four main ways that animals eat.  Find out what they are here.

When the calves of caribou are born in Alaska, the wolves change their focus from sheep to these young deer. It has been noted that the deaths of sheep from predation by wolves are almost non-existent in this period.

Jasper National Park, in Alberta, Canada, the diet of wolves in the area will change once mule deer have their calves. The wolves change their lifestyle of feeding on the adult mule deer to focus on the young completely.

Caribou migrate North for the summer, these new grounds providing nutritious foods to help new calves and other caribou grow healthy before winter.

Wolves that would normally have fed on these caribou have to change their diet. Their diets change from caribou to ground squirrels and mice.

In Alaska, when the caribou migrate North, a study showed that mice and other rodents made up 26 percent of the wolf’s diet during these summer months.

Beavers are another source of food that is important to the wolf at these times. In northern and central Canada, beavers make up a large portion of the total diet of wolves hunting alone while trying to find a mate. A beaver is the ideal size of rodent for the wolf.

Wolves also enjoy eating fish. In Alaska, wolves catch and eat salmon. They do not just scavenge carcasses left behind by other animals but fish them from rivers and streams.

The wolves target fish that are in tidal pools and shallow water. It has been noted that when they are full of salmon, they will bite the heads off and eat these. The fat from salmon can help fatten up the pups, and this can increase their chances of survival over the winter.

Wolves are great at fishing and hunting, but they also get food by scavenging other animals kills. In Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada, studies showed that twenty-six had died of natural causes out of thirty moose carcasses.

Only four of the thirty carcasses were killed by wolves, although many wolf researchers said it was difficult to determine and did not agree.

Want to know how wolves communicate with each other. I have written an article which you can find here.

How Much Does a Wolf Eat Per Day?

A wolf can eat between five and twelve pounds of food per day, but some studies show wolves eating up to almost fourteen pounds of moose per day during winter. Another wolf was seen to devour nineteen pounds of meat from one meal.

However, they do not eat every day. A wolf can last for a few days without feeding. Some studies showed wolves spending up to twelve days in between feedings.

Wolf

When they come across a large carcass or bring down a large animal themselves, they can stay with the carcass for many days, filling themselves up before laying around bloated.

In a study in Alaska, only a small percentage of their time was shown to be feeding.

Feeding9.8%
Sleeping or resting48.8%
Walking or running34.6%
Social behavior6.8%

I have written an article on the evolution of the wolf which you can find here

Do Wolves Cache Their Kills?

Wolves, as well as some other mammals, do cache their kills away from the kill site. These caches can be as far as half a mile away.

The animals are stored underground, dug up by the wolves using their front feet. Once the meat is inside, the wolf uses its nose to replace the dirt. Caching is more popular in the colder northern and Arctic territories.

Caching is quite common for mammals, and scientists believe that this is to keep the food for later times. Scientists believe that this behavior is used to distract them from the killing memories, which can be stressful for them.

Ever wondered which species of wolf live in North America. I have written an article here.

How Much Do Wolves Drink?

Wolves depend on their prey for a lot of their water intake. Wolves generally need between a quarter to three-quarters of a gallon a water per day.

The amount of extra water they need per day depends on the climate they are in, the size of animals they have recently eaten, and the animal’s moisture content.

Moisture is also extracted from other food sources. Fruits such as apples and pears, insects, earthworms, and berries, including blueberries and raspberries, all contain moisture that the wolf can extract.

What Do Wolves Need To Survive?

As with many other animals and mammals, wolves need fat, protein, and carbohydrates to thrive and survive. The food that a wolf eats is generally high in fat and protein. However, they are deficient in carbohydrates, with a ratio of 54:45:1.

Wolves will meet their nutritional requirements not from one meal but over time. Wolves will seek out certain nutrients if their body is telling them they need them.

Wolves, along with eating carrion, also eat feces. This contains billions of living and dead bacteria. The bacteria give them essential fatty acids, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, enzymes, vitamins, and an excellent protein source.

For more information on wolves, I have compiled 101 facts, which you can find here.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Nature.

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