Coyotes are scavengers and opportunistic predators, so they will eat whatever is available to them. Coyotes are technically omnivores, which means that they eat both plants and animals. However, they are mostly carnivorous as meat makes up at least 90% of their diet.
So what do coyotes eat exactly?
Well, they typically eat small prey such as voles, squirrels, birds, snakes, javelinas, lizards, mice, rabbits, and insects. However, they will also eat larger prey such as deer if they can catch them.
Part of the coyotes success as a species is its dietary adaptability. As such, coyotes have been known to eat human rubbish and domestic pets. Fruits and vegetables are a significant part of the coyotes diet in the autumn and winter months. Coyotes will also consume large amounts of carrion (animal carcasses), however, they do prefer fresh meat.
How Do Coyotes Eat?
They usually eat their prey whole, but they will also scavenge on carrion (dead animals). They are intelligent animals and will adjust their hunting style to match the type of prey they are stalking.
They only hunt to eat, they don’t do it for sport, and the biggest tell tale sign of a Coyote attack is an open abdominal cavity with internal organs missing. A Coyote may well carry smaller prey a few hundred meters to a mile before eating it.
Are There Any Foods A Coyote Can’t Eat?
There are some foods that coyotes cannot eat. Citrus fruits, for example, are not good for them because they contain acids that can make them sick. Coyotes also typically do not eat plants, although they will occasionally eat berries, as well as other fruits, vegetables and grasses. Sometimes they will eat foods that are toxic to them despite the risk. Particularly grapes in wine growing regions where crops are a potential food source.
As a member of the canidae family, foods that are toxic to dogs are also toxic to coyotes. Foods that are safe for us humans can potentially be fatal to coyotes. It may be that with some foods they are less sensitive than domestic dogs, but as a species of Canidae, they are still vulnerable. Here are some of the most toxic food for coyotes:
- Chocolate – It’s the Theobromine in chocolate that can cause problems for canid species including coyotes. This vasodilator acts as a stimulant of the heart as well as a blood vessel widener. The higher the cocoa content the more dangerous the chocolate.
- Most Pitted Fruit – Fruit with a pit or stone such as prunes, apricots, peaches, plums or cherries are all dangerous for coyotes. While the flesh of these fruit is generally ok, every part of the plant, stem and stone are toxic. They contain Cyanide which disrupts cellular oxygen transport. This in turn means that blood cells can’t get enough oxygen and symptoms can be nasty. Coyote’s do often eat these some of these fruit despite the health risk, as is evident in samples of scat containing stones and seeds.
- Figs – The compounds in Figs that are harmful to coyotes are the Proteolytic enzyme (ficin), and psoralen (ficusin). In small amounts this can be ok, but it can cause gastrointestinal and dermal irritation.
- Grapefruit – The fruit is ok, but skins and plant material, as with most citrus fruit can cause problems including vomiting, depression and dermatitis.
- Raisins/ Grapes – Although we are not 100% sure why Grapes are dangerous to coyotes it is believed to be the tannins in the grapes that cause kidney problems. Symptoms of poisoning may result in sickness and diarrhoea as the body tries to process the toxins. Coyotes are known to often eat grapes, so may be less sensitive than domestic dogs.
- Star fruit – Star fruit contains soluble calcium oxalates, which bind with calcium in the body. If enough is eaten, it can result in acute renal failure and death.
- Acai – Acai contains theobromine, the same compound that makes chocolate toxic to coyotes.
- Onions – Any plant belonging to the onion family is not healthy for coyotes to eat. These include: Leeks, Shallots, Onions, Chives and Garlic. They commonly cause blood disorders and anemia, leading to more severe health issues.
Hunting Tactics Of Coyotes
Coyotes are one of the most successful predators in North America. They are able to survive in a wide range of habitats and can be found in many different parts of the country. Coyotes are opportunistic hunters and will eat anything they can catch. They primarily hunt small animals such as rabbits, rodents, and birds, but they will also eat insects, carrion, and fruit.
Coyotes use a variety of hunting tactics depending on the situation. They may stalk their prey until they are close enough to run it down, chase it down in open territory, or ambush it from behind cover. Coyotes are also known to circle their prey before attacking. They use their sharp teeth and powerful jaws to kill their prey quickly.
For small prey they will often hunt alone, stalk their prey and then pounce on it. For larger prey like deer or livestock they will often hunt in a small pack. Working as a unit to surround and harass the target. They aim for the throat or jugular area on larger and smaller prey, but may also aim for the head on smaller prey. When they have attacked, they will shake and release their prey.
The Importance Of Coyotes In The Ecosystem
Coyotes are an important part of the ecosystem because they help to keep the population of other animals in check. They are the top predatorial carnivore in some ecosystems, providing a number of benefits. They eat small animals like rodents, rabbits, and mesocarnivores (such as foxes, raccoons, and skunks) which keeps their populations from getting too high. This also helps to maintain biodiversity.
Red foxes are notorious for raiding bird nests, and by helping to keep the fox population under control, they are helping to protect particular bird populations.
Coyotes are considered to be a keystone species. This means that their presence (or lack of) in an ecosystem has a direct effect on the biological community. Coyotes also help to spread seeds through their scat, which helps plants to spread and grow.
Threats To Coyotes
Coyotes are not threatened by most predators, but they can be preyed upon by mountain lions and wolves. Additionally, they may be killed by humans who view them as a nuisance or a threat to livestock. In some areas, coyotes are considered game animals and are hunted for sport, or managed under lethal predator control programs. Despite these threats, coyotes are not endangered and their populations are stable.