What do coyotes eat?

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key point:

  • The coyote is a canid related to the wolf and the domestic dog.
  • Coyotes tend to inhabit places where they do not directly compete with wolves and mountain lions, including grasslands, grasslands, deserts and areas populated by humans.
  • In populated areas, coyotes will eat raccoons, rabbits, house pets, roadkill, trash and garden products.
  • Coyotes and badgers work as a team to hunt their common rodent prey.
what coyotes eat
Coyotes are highly carnivorous but will eat vegetables. Their diet consists mostly of animals ranging from insects to rodents to deer

© AZ-Animals.com

Coyotes are ferocious predators adapted to a variety of climates. The coyote ( Canis latrans) evolved 380,000 years ago, descended from a long line of predatory canids. They prey on many different animals and are influential members of any ecosystem they inhabit. So, which unfortunate creatures would fall prey to the wolf? Here we investigate what coyotes eat and how they capture this food.

What is a coyote?

coyote walking in field
Coyotes are a beautiful species closely related to wolves.

© iStock.com/Fabiomichelecapelli

The coyote is a canid closely related to the wolf. However, they are much smaller than their bulky wolf relatives. Male coyotes average between 3.3 and 4.5 feet in length and typically weigh 18 to 44 pounds. The large differences in weight are related to geography, with northern populations being heavier than southern populations. Coyote coat color also varies by geographic region, but includes varying shades of white, gray, and light brown.

Coyotes have also held cultural significance to humans for centuries. In Mesoamerican artwork from the Teotihuacan and Aztec cultures, coyotes are depicted as warriors. These animals also appear widely in Native American artwork and folklore. Among different tribes, coyotes have multiple roles, including unreliable tricksters in the Southwest and Plains, and companions of the Creator among the Chinook, Pawnee, Ute, and Maidu tribes. The coyote is also the state animal of South Dakota.

where do they live

coyote standing under tree
The coyote's range covers most of North and Central America.

©Sam Carrera/Shutterstock.com

Coyotes are widespread and cover most of North and Central America. From coast to coast, their range ranges as far north as Alaska and as far south as Costa Rica. With such a wide distribution, coyotes are flexible in many different climates and habitats. The versatility of coyotes allows them to inhabit diverse environments, including those urbanized by humans.

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Coyotes tend to inhabit places where they do not compete directly with wolves and mountain lions. This mainly includes grasslands, grasslands and deserts. However, as wolf populations dwindled, the coyote's range became wider. The red wolf is a species inhabiting the southeastern United States that is currently endangered. Coyotes now inhabit grasslands, tundra, deserts, boreal forests, and major cities like Los Angeles and Denver. If there are coyotes in your city, should you be worried? Click here for more information!

Who competes with coyotes for food?

coyotes vs wolves
Coyotes and wolves could be fierce competitors

© AZ-Animals.com

Coyotes have many different predators with which they must compete for food. Gray wolves and coyotes have a long history of rivalry. Coyotes tend to avoid areas populated by wolves because wolves dominate the hunt, killing either the coyotes or their food supply. During the 19th and 20th centuries, as wolf populations began to decline, coyote populations began to increase. Later, in Yellowstone National Park, there were large numbers of coyotes. When gray wolves, once locally extinct, were reintroduced to the area, coyote populations declined by 39 percent. Coyotes also compete with and are preyed upon by mountain lions. Mountain lions and coyotes compete for deer in the Sierra Nevada, with mountain lions usually dominating. Cougars do kill coyotes, but not to the same extent as wolves.

What do coyotes eat?

A coyote puppy eating some prey, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Coyotes eat mostly meat, but occasionally berries, peaches, or other fruits and vegetables.

©Muriel Lasure/Shutterstock.com

Coyotes are omnivores but are highly carnivorous, eating a variety of different prey depending on where they live. Coyotes eat insects, amphibians, fish, small reptiles, birds, rodents and larger mammals including white-tailed deer, elk, bighorn sheep, bison and moose. Birds that coyotes eat include thrushes, sparrows, and wild turkeys. Coyotes can reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour and hunt in packs or alone. Coyotes will only attack large ungulates in groups, not alone. Coyotes rarely eat toads, shrews, moles or mice, even though they are abundant. Coyotes will also eat the carcasses of other coyotes.

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While 90 percent of a coyote's diet is meat, the remaining 10 percent is also important! Coyotes eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, including peaches, blackberries, pears, blueberries, apples, carrots, cantaloupe, watermelon, and peanuts. Coyotes also eat grass and grains, especially in winter.

In areas populated by humans, coyotes have adapted to eat whatever is available. In rural areas, this includes livestock and crops such as cattle, sheep, corn, wheat and other produce. In populated areas, coyotes will eat raccoons, rabbits, house pets, roadkill, trash and garden products. Coyotes are incredibly versatile and adaptable no matter where they live.

pack of coyotes
Coyotes will only attach to larger prey in packs.

© Joseph Pittner/Shutterstock.com

Checklist of what coyotes eat

  • insect
  • amphibians
  • fish
  • reptile
  • birds
  • Rodents
  • deer
  • Elk
  • bighorn sheep
  • bison
  • moose
  • catfish
  • sparrow
  • wild turkey
  • toad
  • shrew
  • mole
  • mouse
  • fruit
  • vegetable
  • peach
  • blackberries
  • pear
  • blueberry
  • apple
  • radish
  • cantaloupe
  • watermelon
  • peanut
  • Grass
  • whole grains
  • raccoon
  • rabbit
  • domestic pets
  • gardening products

How does their diet affect other species?

Badgers and coyotes form teams to hunt common prey.

© Baldhur – Public Domain, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Coyotes have a mutually beneficial relationship with American badgers. This means that their interaction is beneficial to both parties. While coyotes hunt various rodents, badgers assist in digging them up. Many prey species will crawl underground to avoid coyotes, but will run to the ground if they see badgers. When coyotes and badgers work together, prey become vulnerable both above and below ground. Coyotes and badgers teamed up to increase their capture rate by 33 percent.

Coyote diets can also affect other species due to the potential spread of disease and parasites. Coyotes carry more diseases and parasites than any other carnivore in North America, likely due to their diverse diets. Viral diseases carried by coyotes include rabies, distemper, canine hepatitis, various strains of equine encephalitis, and oral papillomatosis. Coyotes may suffer from mange caused by parasitic mites, may be infested with ticks, and occasionally fleas and lice. Coyotes also host and transmit parasites such as tapeworms, hookworms and roundworms. 60-95% of coyotes have at least one tapeworm. This has to do with diet, as many parasites and diseases are transmitted during feeding. For example, if coyotes feed on cattle carrying the parasite, they are at risk of becoming infected with the parasite.

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How are the coyotes doing today?

mother and baby coyote on rock
The IUCN ranks coyotes as being of "least concern" status.

©iStock.com/roclwyr

Currently, the IUCN classifies coyotes as having a conservation status of "least concern." The population is increasing, and coyotes are hardly threatened with extinction at this time. Coyotes are at risk from widespread hunting and habitat loss due to human activity.

next…

  • Coyote Predators: What Do Coyotes Eat? : We know what they eat — but what do coyotes eat? find out!
  • Coyote Dens: Where Do Coyotes Live? : We see them by day and hear them by night – but where do they sleep and raise their young?
  • Howling Coyotes: Why Do Coyotes Make Sounds At Night? : As coyotes move into the suburbs – more and more people are exposed to their solitary howls. Are they lonely? Discover why coyotes howl at night.

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about the author

jesse elop


Jesse Elop is passionate about wildlife and enjoys learning about animal biology and conservation. His favorite animals – besides his puppy Rosie – are zebras, mandrills and bonobos. Jesse's background in biology and anthropology has provided him with many interesting facts that may appear in some of his articles!

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