Coyotes are clever survivors. In fact, coyote populations are thriving more than ever. No matter how many management programs are put in place to curve the growth of these cunning animals, the coyote population all over North America doesn’t seem to be on the brink of becoming endangered any time soon. Why are these canines so adept at surviving in almost any terrain? It is because the coyote has such a wide range of diet that they can survive almost anywhere.
Unlike their relatives the wolf and other members of the canine family, coyotes are omnivores and their diet can sometimes be better compared to a raccoon’s diet than a canine carnivore diet. While coyotes prefer a more carnivorous diet when possible, they can make do with plant matter if that is the only food available.
A coyote’s favorite prey includes small animals found in the plains and forests. Coyotes typically hunt alone so most of their prey are animals they can take down solo. This includes small easier to catch prey like mice, rabbits, birds, fish, lizards, bugs, and anything else they can get their paws on. In some cases, coyotes will hunt in pairs or with their pack and have the ability to take down larger prey like white tail deer or caribou. In the Northeastern part of the continent where deer is more abundant and coyotes are typically larger in size, deer are a more important part of the coyote diet than the smaller coyotes that live in the southern and western areas.
To the detriment to farmers and ranchers, coyotes are one of the top killers of livestock. These coyotes can become a very destructive nuisance to the farmers and ranchers since they can easily take down a lamb or calf by themselves or do a number to full grown livestock if the coyote pack hunts together. Once they find the livestock animals and if the coyote territory is near, the coyotes will keep coming back to hunt until they are killed.
Coyotes can find sources of meat in other ways. They can scavenge the remains and kills from other animals, especially wolves. Although not preferable, in areas with high wolf populations where competition is higher, coyotes will rely on smaller animals and wait for the wolves to finish with larger elk or deer carcasses for their diet. A single coyote or coyote pack will learn to shadow their wolf neighbors and since they cannot compete with the larger and more aggressive hunting practices of the wolf, they will wait until the wolves are done with their meal and pick off the remains.
In the fall and winter, coyotes can be a nuisance to deer hunters trying to track down their harvest only to find that their deer has already been discovered by coyotes. This is a common problem, especially if a deer runs off and the hunter decides to try to scout the next day during daylight hours. Usually by the time the hunter is successful in locating his deer, the coyotes have long discovered an easy target and will get the best of the deer.
Besides meat, coyotes will scavenge for fruits and vegetables. During the colder months when prey may be harder to locate and kill, plant matter becomes a larger part of the coyote diet. Berries are the coyotes favorite fruit meal which is available to them in late Summer and early Fall. In captivity, coyotes will be given diets that contain both meat protein and fruits and vegetables.
With the urbanization by humans throughout North America, people and coyotes are finding themselves closer than ever. The coyote is an extremely adaptable animal and will learn to find food in any situation. That includes venturing into cities and neighborhoods to find food sources. Coyotes can be found rummaging through trash cans looking to make a meal out of old food found in garbage.
They have unfortunately even been known to come straight into back yards to steal a small pet for dinner. Outdoor cats and small dogs kept in pens or on leashes and runs are especially easy targets for a coyote. Keeping pet food outdoors can also attract a coyote looking for a quick snack. There are basically no limits to where you can find a coyote that is looking for food. They have been spotted in New York City as well as Los Angeles in search of an easy meal.
- Small animals – mice, lizards, rabbits, birds, frogs, etc.
- Plants – fruits and vegetables, especially berries
- Garbage – old food
- Pet food left outdoors
- Scavenged remains from larger predator kills