Coyotes, they’re everywhere! Did you know that, until about 1700, the range for coyotes was restricted to the prairies and deserts of Mexico and central North America? These relatives of wolves now venture through the wilds, rural areas, suburbs, and even cities of Mexico, the United States, and even into Canada. How did they accomplish this wild expansion? With their diet, of course!
Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores, meaning they eat any plants or animals that become available to them. In general, coyotes eat big game such as deer and elk, small animals such as squirrels, rats, and birds, livestock like sheep and cattle, domestic animals such as cats and dogs, and even fish.
Before we dive into a typical coyote meal plan, let’s do a little background on what makes these voracious eaters stand apart.
The Lowdown on Coyotes
Are you dealing with a coyote, a small wolf, or a wild dog? When you come across one of these in the wild, it can be tough to tell the difference.
With coyotes’ territory expanding larger than ever, it is now more important than ever to be able to identify what kind of animal you are dealing with. So here are a few facts that will hopefully help you when identifying what kind of canine you have hanging around.
Appearance of Coyotes
Coyotes can look very similar to wolves. They have similar coat colors, but there are a few distinguishing features.
In general, coyotes are almost impossible to distinguish from wolf pups, especially if you spot them during the mid-summer or fall.
Most coyotes are very similar to wolves in color. They are usually brownish gray with a light gray or beige-y belly. However, this color can vary widely, with individual animals coming in colors from almost black to nearly completely white. Just like wolves. Both animals also have bushy tails.
Coyotes are similar in size to a small collie dog. They rarely grow larger than 50 pounds, with females weighing as little as 22 pounds when fully grown.
They have more slender faces when compared with wolves. Their snouts are thinner with smaller nose pads, and they have larger ears relative to their head size.
Oh, and coyotes even hate certain sounds.
Where do Coyotes Live?
Historically, coyotes were found only in deserts and prairie lands in Mexico and the central United States. However, their range has expanded significantly.
Coyotes are highly adaptable animals and can now be found in Mexico, throughout much of the United States, and into southern Canada.
If restricted to the wilds, these animals can be spotted in deserts, grasslands, and forests.
If you’re interested, you can learn more about where coyotes actually go during the day here.
Coyotes have been forced into areas populated by humans, primarily due to human population expansion and urbanization. When they find themselves sharing land with humans, coyotes prefer wooded areas, shrubbery, or any place where they can hide from people.
They generally avoid residential, commercial, and industrial areas. However, they will use any remaining habitat for survival, even if this means venturing into parks or onto golf courses.
Coyotes Eat Over 500 Pounds of Food Annually
Coyotes are big eaters, there is no doubt about that.
Coyotes need about 1.3 pounds of food each day, or about 550 pounds of meat annually. How much they need to eat depends on the individual animal’s size, the time of year, and what habitat they live in.
Coyotes are relatively small for a wild canine, ranging anywhere from 20 pounds up to about 50 (this would be an unusually large individual). But that does not do anything to stop them from taking down whatever game they can, large or small, dead or alive, wild or domesticated.
If you need to keep coyotes away, you can read our guide on steps for keeping coyotes away here.
A Coyote Meal Guide
Narrowing down the animals that coyotes eat has been no easy task. For coyotes to get all the food they need to survive in a wide range of environments, they can’t really afford to be picky.
Coyotes are omnivorous, meaning they eat meat and plants. Like most animals in the wild, they will eat whatever food they can find to help them get through the year.
That being said, coyotes are primarily carnivorous. Under ideal conditions, their diet is about 90% meat, while 10% is made up of the plants and berries that they eat when prey is scarce.
In this article, we are going to focus on the meat of their diet. Coyotes prefer meat, after all. And we have narrowed that down to what kind of animals coyotes are likely to eat when they are near human populations.
But first, a quick look at what they eat out in the wild.
Coyotes Hunt Both Large and Small Animals in The Wild
To coyotes, our livestock and even pet dogs look more like a free meal, and easy prey compared to what they get out in the wild.
So let’s take a closer look at what a coyote eats when there are no humans around offering a free meal.
Coyotes in the wilderness have been observed to eat just about anything they can catch. They will hunt large mammals such as white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and even a dead bison if they can find one.
They will also stalk rabbits, hares, rodents, waterbirds, pigeons, doves, amphibians, lizards, snakes, turtles and tortoises, fish, crustaceans, and insects. Whew!
Just about the only animal they will not eat are toads. But toads can be poisonous, so we can’t blame them.
Even with this huge menu, coyotes do still show some preferences. For example, coyotes do not eat as many shrews, moles, and brown rats, and other burrowing rodents as compared to other prey items.
Some of the more unusual animals they hunt include fishers, black bear cubs, harp seals, and rattlesnakes.
Coyotes will even cannibalize if they need to, but this generally means they eat the carcasses of other coyotes. In the wintertime, coyotes generally scavenge more but will eat just about any carcass they can find.
Human Impact On Coyote Meat Diet
Coyotes are intelligent predators. They know that humans often provide an easy meal, whether that means stealing a livestock animal or cleaning up messes we leave behind.
Types of Animals That Coyotes Eat
We’ve mentioned already that coyotes will clean up carcasses that occur naturally in the wilderness. But coyotes show the same behavior when bumping up near humans.
Coyotes have been known to eat roadkill fairly frequently. The majority of adult deer they feed on are carcasses, especially those left behind after being hit.
We aren’t going to count carrion as an animal, so let’s just dive right into the actual list, shall we?
Coyotes Eat Big Game Animals
Coyotes sometimes hunt in packs, and when they do, they will go after much larger prey than they normally would. In these cases, they can take down elk, deer, pronghorns, and big horned sheep.
When bumped up against human populations, coyote packs have taken down domestic sheep and cattle. However, they still prefer to take smaller calves and fawns, even when hunting in packs.
Coyotes, whether hunting in packs or alone, will generally target vulnerable animals such as pregnant animals, sick animals, or those stuck in snow or ice.
Coyotes Eat Poultry and Birds
Coyotes are fast and agile hunters. They can even catch small birds, like sparrows.
They will also stalk backyard chickens, turkey farms, and any other domestic birds they can grab.
Coyotes Hunt and Eat Fish
Encroaching human populations have impacted most wildlife, and coyotes of course are no exception.
Coyotes studied in coastal California have been observed to eat more marine animals such as shellfish, fish, and seals.
Researchers generally believe this is because grizzly bears have pretty much moved out of the region due to loss of habitat. But that does not faze the wily coyote.
Coyotes Eat Livestock!
We’ve mentioned that coyotes eat livestock already. But let’s get into that a little more in-depth.
Coyotes do not have a natural preference for feeding on livestock. It is actually only the older adult animals who do this.
While the traditional reaction to seeing coyotes near livestock is to remove them from the area, research is now showing that when there are fewer predators in the area, there is actually an increase in livestock deaths due to predation.
Let’s consider it this way. Coyotes, while they hunt in packs occasionally, are actually fairly solitary and very territorial. And healthy coyotes prefer to take down smaller prey such as rodents that are living on their territory.
When a healthy coyote is removed from the area, it opens up that territory to older, bolder coyotes that need to take down easy prey: sheep.
So keep young, healthy coyotes in their territory, especially if it overlaps with farmland and ranching acreage. You might actually be protecting their livestock from desperate, older coyotes.
If you’re interested, you can learn more about why coyotes are actually attracted to your yard here.
Coyotes Feast on Small Animals
What’s another way that coyotes can help you out on the farm? Coyotes have been known to go after any food source, no matter how small. And that’s good news for your grain stores and fields.
Coyotes are generally solitary hunters – they aren’t crazy about taking down big prey. Instead, they prefer mice and voles, squirrels, grasshoppers, rattlesnakes, and other common barnyard problematic critters.
They also love to catch burrowing mammals such as ground squirrels, marmots, prairie dogs, and moles. They are great for keeping a garden clear of these little animals.
Coyotes Eat Dogs and Cats
We’ve seen already how coyotes prefer to take down small game. They generally only hunt alone or in pairs, and rarely form packs to take down larger game.
That being said, coyotes do prefer small game. And many domestic cats and dogs sadly fall into that category.
Coyotes only venture into town if they are desperate to eat or if their territory has been taken over by people.
Nevertheless, if you are living in coyote territory, chances are good you will one day encounter a coyote. So let’s cover a few steps you can take to make sure your pets are as safe as possible.
Protecting Your Pets From Coyotes
Coyotes are fearless predators. The only thing they really fear is you!
Coyotes are naturally afraid of people and will go out of their way to avoid people.
Do Not Feed Coyotes
One great way to invite a coyote to no longer be afraid of you is to feed them.
So if your goal is to keep coyotes away from you and your pets, then never actively feed a coyote.
Do Not Leave Your Animals Unattended
It bears repeating: coyotes are afraid of you.
One of the best ways to prevent a coyote attack on your best friend is to be there with them. If you know there is a coyote around, do not trust your dog to defend itself.
Stick around and keep an eye out, because coyotes are not likely to come around if they know you are nearby and on guard.
Still, do not invite an encounter with a coyote. Instead, stick near home if you need to, and if you see a coyote, contact the proper animal control services.
That’s what they are there for, and they are ready to help safely relocate the coyote to a more natural environment than your backyard.
Build A Coyote-Proof Fence
Fencing is a good shield for your pooch if you worry about safety, but know you can’t be watching all the time.
A coyote-proof fence should be solid, and at least 6-feet tall above the ground, and 18-inches buried into the ground.
Coyotes are very athletic and they will still try to jump or climb up over the top of a tall fence. An added layer of protection can go on top of the fence.
Either barbed wire or PVC tubing will work. Barbed wire, obviously, is a powerful deterrent. But PVC pipe gets the job done by being too smooth for even the most athletic coyote to get a decent climbing grip on.
For added security, there are Coyote Roller Brackets. These are specialized, manufactured products designed to keep coyotes off of your fence tops. And they have the benefit of not looking quite as unsightly as barbed wire or repurposed PVC tubing.
Mark Your Territory
Coyotes have a keen sense of smell and will actively avoid areas that smell like their enemies.
One way to discourage coyotes from coming around is to use predator pee. That’s right. Pee.
Fortunately, this is fairly easy to get your hands on. Coyotes will generally avoid big predators like cougars, bobcats, bears, and wolves, so using an all-natural product like PredatorPee Original Wolf Pee Spray can be a great deterrent.
That’s All, Folks!
That should just about cover it. Hopefully, you learned a bit more about coyotes, what they eat, and how we can live with them without inviting them to dinner.
Coyotes have a huge meal plan, especially when it comes to prey items. But the things that they eat out in the wilderness are a bit different from what they eat when they are around human populations.
Just some of the animals they will eat around your neighborhood (or farm, or acreage) include:
- Big Game, such as elk, white-tailed deer, and bighorn sheep
- Birds, both wild and domestic
- Fish, especially in areas where there are no bears to compete with
- Livestock Animals, though not as many as you might think
- Small Animals, including common barnyard pests like mice and rats
- Domestic Pets
Generally, coyotes do not want anything to do with you. Humans are a coyote’s greatest fear, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t sometimes just as afraid of them.
Hopefully, this article taught you a little bit about coyotes, how to keep your livestock a little bit safer, and how to keep your furry best friends safe in your own backyard.
So stay safe out there if you see a coyote, and remember that they are just out there trying to do their thing.
If you are worried about your safety or the safety of your pet, do not hesitate to contact the proper animal control outlet. They’re around to help, and they can get your wild neighbor relocated to a more coyote-friendly habitat.
aeger, M. M., K. M. Blejwas, B. N. Sacks, J. C. C. Neale, M. M. Conner, and D. R. McCullough. 2001. Targeting alphas can make coyote control more effective and socially acceptable. California Agriculture 55:32-36.
Jaeger M. M. 2004. Selective targeting of alpha coyotes to stop sheep depredation. Sheep & Goat Research Journal 19:80-84.
Conner, M. M., M. M. Jaeger, T. J. Weller, and D. R. Mc- Cullough. 1998. Effect of coyote removal on sheep depredation in northern California. Journal of Wildlife Management 62:690-99.
Blejwas, K. M., B. N. Sacks, M. M. Jaeger, and D. R. Mc- Cullough. 2002. The effectiveness of selective removal of breeding coyotes in reducing sheep predation. Journal of Wildlife Management 66:451-62.
Fox, M. W. (Ed.). (1974). The Wild Canids: Their Systematics, Behavioral Ecology, and Evolution. Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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