Coyotes eating plants? Aren’t they carnivores? Believe it or not, coyotes eat a wide variety of foods, including plants, other animals, and even roadkill.
Coyotes are omnivores, eating both plants and other animals to sustain themselves. When meat sources are scarce, they will supplement their diets with plants such as plums, crabapples, fir and cedar leaves, blackberries, twigs, persimmon, corn, and other commonly available fruits and vegetables.
This adaptability to switch from meat-eater to vegetarian has helped coyote populations expand to reach every state in the continental U.S. as well as regions of Canada and Mexico. Moles and voles we can understand, but it’s hard to imagine a coyote eating an apple! In this article, we’ll discuss the various plants that coyotes eat and give you a complete meal guide.
Do Coyotes Eat Fruits and Vegetables?
When you think of animals that might snack on your garden crops, you may picture deer, raccoons, birds, and squirrels. But a coyote?
A coyote’s diet differs in every region. However, for the most part, coyotes eat plants, fruits, and vegetables in the late summer and fall.
According to a study done in east-central Alabama, coyotes consume a higher volume of fruits and vegetables in urban settings as opposed to rural areas. This could be because of the presence of people, which tend to scare away a lot of the animals that coyotes prey on.
Besides deer and rodents, plants are the largest part of a coyote’s diet. It varies from region to region, but plant materials make up anywhere between 10-60 percent of a coyote’s diet, depending on the time of year.
So, why exactly would coyotes opt for a salad instead of a meat-filled dinner? The main reason is due to food scarcity. The secondary reason is to fulfill nutritional needs and balance their diets.
9 Plants That Coyotes Eat
Here is a list of the most common plants eaten by coyotes. To list them all may be impossible due to the highly variable diet of these adaptable creatures.
Local fruits and vegetables differ from state to state and even from county to county, so accounting for them all is difficult.
We gathered information from North Carolina, Colorado, Calgary, South Carolina, West Virginia, Montana, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Alabama to get the best picture we could of a coyote’s plant foraging.
1. Mesquite Pods
In Texas, mesquite pods, are the highest volume of plant matter eaten by coyotes in the rolling plains. These little beans come from the mesquite tree, which blooms in the fall.
Nutritionally speaking, mesquite pods are a decent meal for a coyote. The kernels alone contain 35% protein, 3% fat, and 9% crude fiber. Sugars are also present in the beans, accounting for the other percentages.
Grasses account for a significant portion of a coyote’s diet in Alabama. Just like your dog, there is a reason coyotes eat grass.
Many pet owners believe their dog is eating grass to combat an upset stomach. The truth is, most dogs are eating grass to improve digestion or fulfill a nutritional void. Mainly fiber.
Grass has a ton of fiber, so it’s not that unusual for a coyote to want to balance their diet with this fiber-filled salad.
Persimmon is a type of berry fruit that grows on the persimmon tree (diospyros). You may have heard this fruit by a different name: possum apple, winter plum, or date plum. These are all names for a persimmon fruit.
Lucky for coyotes, persimmons are filled with nutrients. Thiamin, phosphorous, magnesium, and fiber are all packed into this honey-flavored fruit.
Just like mesquite pods, persimmons are a fall fruit, which explains why it is so important to the diet of a coyote. Fall is one of the peak plant foraging seasons for our rascally friend.
4. Blackberries and Plums
In the coastal plains of South Carolina, blackberries and plums are eaten by coyotes during early summer in May and June. This is somewhat different than the normal plant-foraging time of late summer and fall.
This may be due to the warm climate in South Carolina, which results in milder winters. Plums bloom in late winter to early spring, and blackberries bloom in June all the way through august.
Plums are high in vitamin C and potassium, which is great for coyotes. Plums are also rich in antioxidants and packed with fiber.
Similarly, blackberries contain vitamins A, C, E, and B, as well as calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
5. Crab apples
Despite their prickly name, crab apples are edible and enjoyed by many animals, including coyotes, raccoons, and deer.
Crab apples aren’t a specific fruit but rather refers to wild apple trees, which typically have smaller fruit than those grown in an orchard. They’re edible, even to people, and have nutrition to sustain coyotes.
Crab apples contain about 5 grams of carbs, 1 gram of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and copper. They’re also rich in antioxidants.
If you have a crab apple tree in your yard and happen to notice coyotes lurking about, it may be because they are eating the fallen fruit! If you want to keep coyotes out of your yard, picking up fallen crab apples is a great start.
Coyotes have also been known to eat apples and pears from orchards, but this type of feeding is highly dependant on if the coyote lives near an orchard. Crab apples tend to grow sporadically in the wild, making them more readily available than orchard-grown apples and pears.
6. Woody Plants, Twigs, and Leaves
When a blanket of snow covers the ground and the daylight hours have dwindled down, coyotes tend to get desperate for food.
Prey animals are settled down into dens, some even hibernating, as temperatures continue to drop and snow continues to fall. During these times, coyotes may resort to eating bark, twigs, leaves, and other woody plants to survive.
This isn’t the most nutritious meal, but after a few days of not eating, anything might taste good, even a twig.
Woody plants are those that have hard stems. The most common types are trees and shrubs, such as deciduous and evergreen. These types of plants have buds that can survive the winter and provide food for coyotes and many other foraging animals.
In Alberta, Canada, woody plants are eaten mainly during the pup-rearing season, which happens in late winter and spring.
The leaves of certain plants are also part of a coyote’s diet. The most common leaves eaten are those of the fir, oak, pine, and cedar trees. Again, not as nutritious, but it still provides some fiber and calories for a desperate coyote.
There are almost two different types of coyotes nowadays: urban and wild coyotes. Urban coyotes tend to stick with rodents, food scraps, pet food, and garden fruits.
By contrast, wild coyotes – those that live in rural or woodland areas – have a more natural diet. Rural coyotes snack on corn and other crops in large farming fields because it’s an easy meal and requires little energy to get to.
They don’t have to chase down a deer or go on a mouse hunt. They just eat the vegetable off the ground if it’s fallen or knock over a corn stalk to get at the cob. Easy peasy!
Corn contains tons of nutritional benefits for a coyote, including B vitamins, fiber, zinc, iron, magnesium, and manganese.
Who doesn’t love a delicious berry to satisfy your sweet tooth?
Berries are a big part of a coyote’s diet. They eat a wide variety of berries that mostly depend on what is native to the area they live.
In Texas, for example, coyotes thrive on juniper berries, lotebush berries, ironwood berries, elbow bush berries, and nightshade berries.
In terms of nutrition, berries tend to contain vitamins in multiple letters of the alphabet, as well as calcium and antioxidants.
There’s plenty of information out there about how grapes are toxic to dogs. Aren’t coyotes part of the dog family?
Yes, coyotes and dogs are from the same genus’ canis’ and are closely related species. Although grapes and raisins are both toxic to dogs in large quantities, small doses don’t have much ill effect on dogs or coyotes.
For this reason, coyotes can be somewhat of a pest around grape orchards. They’ll scour the vines, lazily eating grapes at night when people aren’t around.
The same can be said for raisins, which are just dried-out grapes. Orchards and crop fields that grow grapes and raisins can be vulnerable to predation by coyotes, despite their toxicity.
What Do Coyotes Eat The Most?
Now that we’ve discussed all the plants that coyotes eat, what exactly do they eat the MOST?
These elusive creatures aren’t picky eaters. They’ve adapted to living in urban environments, surviving on food scraps, pet food, and garden vegetables. On the other hand, coyotes on wilderness preserves have been known to take down bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and even bison.
Many studies have been performed to determine just what coyotes actually eat the most.
The studies were mostly done by investigating coyote scat to discern what they had eaten, but some even studied the stomach contents of coyotes for a more accurate picture. In all the states where research was available, white-tailed deer were the number one food source for coyotes.
We were too! Coyotes are pretty solitary creatures, hunting alone or in pairs. So, how the heck does the equivalent of a medium-sized dog take down a deer?
For a coyote to take down a deer, it definitely needs a few friends. They either take turns chasing the deer to tire it out or chase it into a coyote that’s waiting in ambush. A solitary coyote would be hard-pressed to take down a deer on its own.
Alternatively, coyotes are known to eat carrion. It could be that the high deer content in studied coyotes is actually from an already-dead deer that either died of natural causes, ailments or was hit on the road.
Winter and spring are the two most popular seasons for coyotes to eat deer. In springtime, coyotes will prey on fawns as well, who are vulnerable while they are small.
In some areas, fruits, plants, and vegetables are the second-highest eaten food source for coyotes.
However, in most regions, the second most commonly eaten food group is rodents and birds. Coyotes eat mice, rats, shrews, voles, rabbits, quail, dove, and squirrels. This is one reason why having coyotes around can have a positive impact: they keep the rodent population under control.
Next in line would be insects such as crickets, grasshoppers, butterflies, moths, flies, and even bees and wasps.
You can also read our popular piece and in-depth guide on the animals that coyotes eat here.
What Do Coyotes Eat The Least?
We’ve learned that coyotes have a pretty wide pallet. They’ll eat carrion, take down deer, munch on garden fruits and vegetables. Heck, they’ll even eat a twig!
In many study areas, coyotes tend to stay away from reptiles and amphibians like toads, turtles, snakes, and salamanders.
It’s not unheard of for a coyote to eat a snake, but they’re much more likely to hunt a mouse than a salamander.
If you’re interested, you can learn more about how to repel coyotes here.
Do Coyotes Eat Herbs?
If coyotes are willing to traipse into your garden and eat your fresh-grown vegetables, what’s stopping them from nabbing some herbs and spices too?
There’s no scientific evidence to support coyotes eating specific herbs such as basil, catnip, or cilantro.
However, many animals are deterred by mint, so it’s good bet coyotes don’t like mint either. Catnip is another common herb that’s used to repel animals such as deer and raccoons. And no wonder it’s part of the mint family!
If you’re interested, you can read more about the scents that coyotes hate here, which includes mint!
What Else Do Coyotes Eat?
You’d think we covered it all, but wait, there’s more! Coyotes really are one of the most adaptable creatures. They’ll eat just about anything edible. In this fashion, they are very similar to raccoons.
In addition to fruits and vegetables, coyotes will also eat:
- Bird eggs
- Reptile eggs
- Domestic dogs
- Anthropogenic (trash)
Yep, coyotes really do eat all of that!
The majority of these food items are highly dependent on where the coyote lives. For example, coyotes in the rolling plains of Texas aren’t going to be eating crustaceans.
In the same vein, coyotes that live in rural or wild areas aren’t as likely to eat domestic dogs and cats as coyotes living in urban environments.
You may be surprised to see foxes and bobcats on the list. This is, in fact, a rare thing and will typically only happen when an opportunity arises or out of necessity to defend themselves or their pups.
Similarly, domestic cats and dogs are a rare find in coyote scat and stomaches. Cats and dogs are typically too close to people for a coyote’s comfort. They’ll only go after your beloved pet under very specific circumstances.
Earlier, we mentioned that coyotes generally wouldn’t eat snakes. However, they’re opportunistic and may eat snakes in a pinch. You can learn more about coyotes eating snakes here.
That’s a Wrap!
Now you have a complete coyote meal guide!
Here are some of the most common plants eaten by coyotes:
- Mesquite Beans
- Persimmon Fruit
- Crab Apples
- Woody Plants
It may come as a bit of a surprise to hear that coyotes eat plants. However, these rascals will adapt to any environment and do whatever it takes to survive and thrive!
If you need to keep coyotes away, you can read our piece on scaring coyotes away for good here.
Joshua D. Schrecengost, John C. Kilgo, David Mallard, H. Scott Ray, and Karl V. Miller “Seasonal Food Habits of the Coyote in the South Carolina Coastal Plain,” Southeastern Naturalist 7(1), 135-144, (1 March 2008).
Lukasik, Victoria M. and Alexander, Shelley M. (2012) “Spatial and Temporal Variation of Coyote (Canis latrans) Diet in Calgary, Alberta,” Cities and the Environment (CATE): Vol. 4: Iss. 1, Article 8.
Meinzer, W. P., Ueckert, D. N., & Flinders, J. T. (1975, January). Foodniche of Coyotes in the Rolling Plains of Texas. Journal of Range Management, 28(1), 22-26.
Santana, E. M., & Armstrong, J. B. (2017, Fall). Food habits and anthropogenic supplementation in coyote diets along an urban-rural gradient. Human-Wildlife Interactions, 11(2), 156-166.
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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