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Mississippi State University

Coyote (Canis latrans)

Diet


Results

We used 592 coyote scat collected from 1991-1997 to estimate dietary patterns. White-tailed deer, rabbits, and fruits (blackberry and persimmon) comprised the highest percentage of scat and largest percentage fresh weight of prey consumed. Occurrence of deer and mice did not differ between seasons. However, occurrence of rabbits and cottonrats varied between seasons. Occurrence of deer did not differ with year. However, occurrence of rabbits, cottonrats, and mice differed with year.

Summary

Our data concurs with previous studies indicating that deer, rabbits, and fruit are important in coyote diets. Coyotes depredate white-tailed deer fawns and will readily scavenge carcasses when available. Further, previous researchers have suggested that increasing occurrences of deer during fall-winter periods were likely coyotes scavenging deer carcasses, rather than directly taking deer. Given the temporal distribution of deer occurrence in coyote scat (peaked during summer and winter), our data supports contentions that much deer consumption during fall-winter is indeed carrion or fawns during summer. In fact, fawns may be specifically sought by coyotes raising weaned, rapidly growing young. As the deer population was relatively stable on TWMA, consistent use of deer by coyotes likely resulted from relatively consistent availability of fawns and carrion across years.

Coyotes often feed on blackberries and persimmons and other researchers have suggested that selection of persimmons may buffer deer fawns from predation. On TWMA, coyotes consumed large proportions of persimmons relative to other prey items during October and November. As populations of cottonrats and other rodents are near peak levels during this period and deer carrion increases with the onset of sport hunting seasons in October, our data suggest that coyotes indeed select persimmons when available. Locating and consuming fruits may require less relative energy costs relative to searching for alternate prey; hence, coyotes likely improve foraging efficiency by shifting prey selection when fruits are abundant.

The occurrence of mice in coyote scat varied across years, likely the result of a paucity of mouse remains in scat during 1993 and 1995, indicating that coyotes may not prey on mice in proportion to availability. Similarly, variable occurrence of cottonrat in coyote scat and consistently lower occurrence during fall-winter indicate that coyotes may not be able to efficiently exploit cottonrats.

Management Implications

Coyotes on TWMA and GP were best classified as seasonally omnivorous. Our data suggest that coyotes consistently consumed white-tailed deer throughout the study, indicating the importance of deer as a prey item. However, based on harvest information, white-tailed deer populations did not decline during the study. If increasing occurrence of deer in fall-winter diets is a function of increased availability of carrion, coyote consumption of deer may be a direct function of hunter harvest. Given the strong selection of persimmons by coyotes, we suggest managers consider landscape availability of fruits when assessing coyote depredation of deer. Based on previous research and our data, increasing fruit availability during fawning periods may indeed serve to buffer fawn depredation.