What Do Coyotes Eat?
Getty Images: John Morrison

What Do Coyotes Eat? Facts and Info About Nature's Trickster


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Humans have a contentious relationship with Canis latrans, or the common coyote. They are shifty, cunning, and ruthless opportunistic feeders that will eat just about anything they can catch or scavenge. These canids are native to North America, but smaller than their close relatives, the gray wolf, and slightly smaller than the closely related eastern wolf and even the red wolf. While their home range covers much of North America, these canids are found just about anywhere. Coyote populations are found around the United States and Canada, dwelling in the deep wilderness, well-populated urban areas, and just about everywhere in between. Their subspecies have stretched all the way from Alaska to Central America. They can thrive in arid desert areas, vast grasslands, mountain ranges, and hardwood forests. They have more recently become a problem in urban areas like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, where wild animals are coming into conflict with humans and domestic dogs and cats.

As sightings of the bushy tail creatures in places like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles continue to rise, it has many people concerned about small dogs and children who may be targeted by them. While most people may think of these members of the dog family as being strictly carnivores, they are in fact, omnivores. This is everything you ever wanted to know about the diet of these busy tail creatures, and what you should do if adult coyotes are becoming a problem animal in the place you live or hunt.

What Do Coyotes Eat?

What Do Coyotes Eat

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The bulk of the coyote's diet is made up of small mammals. Things like mice, moles, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, prairie dogs, and other small rodents. Although they love rabbits, birds, snakes, and fish when they can catch them. Coyotes are also well documented scavengers. They will not turn their noses up at carrion when they can find it or steal it from another predator. When they hunt in packs, coyotes have been known to achieve bigger goals, like taking down wild turkeys, adult deer, cow elk, pronghorn, and wild sheep. This is often where they begin to catch the ire of dedicated hunters.

Though a coyote pack is capable of such feats, it's more common that they aim for more realistic meals. They're particularly effective in killing and eating young, more helpless animals. When they do kill deer, it's usually fawns that end up as victims. As with any wild predatory animal, coyote populations hinge on their food sources, and when their target animals are plentiful, there will be a lot of coyotes in the area. In years that see more fawns born in the spring, female coyotes will often have correspondingly large litter sizes.

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Alternatively, coyotes also eat a share of fruits, vegetables, leaves, and roots. They won't think twice about eating easily accessible human garbage, pet food, and other discarded items. Coyotes have also been documented as being able to digest grains, greens, and domestic animal droppings. These are obviously less common food items in their diet, but a hungry coyote is rarely picky about that it will eat.

How Big Are Coyotes?

What Do Coyotes Eat

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Coyotes can vary greatly in size. Most are somewhere in the 15 to 45 pounds range. Every so often there will be a rare specimen that weighs over 50. They can be anywhere from 30 to 40 inches in length, quite a bit smaller than their cousins the gray wolf. Their noses are black and usually less than one inch in diameter. They have large ears in relation to the head, slightly long legs, and relatively small feet. The coloration of coyotes can vary, even within the same region, from grayish brown to a yellowish gray around the shoulders and upper back. The throat and belly are usually a whitish color. The legs and feet, sides of the head and muzzle can be brown to reddish brown.

Why Do Coyotes Howl?

What Do Coyotes Eat

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Coyotes are the most vocal of all the North American wild mammals. While they use three distinct vocalizations--the squeak, distress call, and the howl--it is this last of the group that humans have heard before. Howling serves several purposes, most often to simply announce their presence to other members of the pack. It's also used as a territorial warning to other packs, and sometimes as an assembly call.

Coyotes are generally nocturnal, although it's not all that unusual to see them during the daylight hours. It's usually after dark when their chorus of howls begins, and sometimes it can be quite unnerving for those that aren't used to it.  While coyotes don't form packs to the same level as the wolves, when you start to hear them howling and moving in high numbers, it's likely a pack or family group of some kind, likely hunting together.

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Coyotes and Humans

What Do Coyotes Eat

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While coyote attacks are rare, they do happen. Although it seems like most cases involve small children in urban settings where the coyote is an unexpected intruder. You are highly unlikely to be attacked or killed by one. Coyotes can be beneficial, since they keep down the numbers of rabbits and rodents that can overrun an area without check. But they also host many diseases like rabies, and they are often seen with mange.

If you ever encounter a coyote, keep your distance. Stand tall, maintain eye contact, and do not turn your back. Even more importantly, do not run away, as that can trigger a chase and attack response and you're instantly at a disadvantage. A better option for the animal and the safety of others is to haze the coyote. As the Urban Coyote Initiative suggests permanently scaring them away is the main objective.

For additional safety, always keep pets on a leash, keep control of them, and avoid known coyote areas in general, especially after dark.

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READ MORE: 6 WAYS TO MAKE A DEER STOP IN THEIR TRACKS

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