What Do Coyotes EAT Here In San Francisco?

People keep asking me, WHAT do coyotes eat here in San Francisco? Is there enough food for them?

My reply is always that there’s plenty of food for coyotes in cities. They are known as “opportunistic” eaters — meaning they can eat almost anything.

My observations tell me that their preferred foods are small rodents, such as gophers which run from one to two pounds and voles. Rats and mice are part of their diet.There are plenty of these and coyotes catch them often.

Squirrels are harder to catch for them, as are the more scarce brush bunnies and jackrabbits here in San Francisco, but they do catch these as well. I’ve seen coyotes climb the lower branches of trees in pursuit of squirrels. Rabbits, however, often are just not worth the effort for the coyote, so they often just ignore them.

Even less frequently, I’ve seen them catch and eat insects such as crickets, and snails. I’ve seen them catch snakes and lizards, but only seldom have I seen them actually consume these — or maybe they were just chewing on them and not consuming them.

I’ve seen coyotes gorge on fruit when that becomes ripe in the summer and fall, including apples, pears, loquats, blackberries. You can see when this becomes a larger portion of their diet because their scat becomes very different: goopy and full of seeds and peels.

Mature raccoons are ferocious and can fight off a coyote, but not so juveniles. I’ve seen coyotes feeding on raccoon and on opossums here in San Francisco, but I’ve also seen a coyote almost interacting with a raccoon family socially!

And yes, they catch birds as in the video above: I’ve seen coyotes catch ravens, bluejays (see photo below), and pigeons: they are impressively fast at plucking their prey clean by grabbing a huge mouthful of the feathers and yanking them out quickly and forcefully, and immediately going in for a second mouthful. The lactating mother in the video above is skilled at catching ravens and catches them regularly. But not all coyotes have the same skills and therefore not the same diets: often food preferences seem to run in families, making some of their preferences a “cultural” or “learned” thing which are specific to specific families: these predilections are often “taught”. And I’ve seen coyotes pick up owls who have been sickened by rat-poison which slows down the owl’s reaction times. This is very sad because that rat-poison is hurting many animals. I once found a dead coyote and had it analyzed to determine how it died: its body was riddled with rat-poison.

Coyote catches a bluejay, an opossum, a mouse, a lizard

And coyotes eat roadkill, or carrion — these are already dead animals killed by cars — which helps clean up the environment.

Garbage is usually just a small part of their diet, as seen in scat analysis. They prefer natural foods. However, human food which is left out is picked up by coyotes. Sadly, coyotes get used to this human food and start hanging around for it: the salts and fats are as addictive to them as they are to us — and it’s much easier to sit and wait for food than search and hunt for it: we all tend towards the easiest route. Please don’t leave out your leftovers. Worse, of course, is when people toss food to coyotes on purpose, and even from their cars: I’ve known a couple of coyotes who actually chase cars down the street regularly in pursuit of the food that might be tossed to them. Feeding them directly will cause them to start approaching people as they beg.

There are parking lots at park entryways where coyotes actually hang out waiting for food from humans. Food is used as a reward to train many animals: we are simply training these animals to hang around people and our roadways which is endangering them on roadways, and we are altering their natural and usually wary habits. Please spread the word that feeding coyotes is damaging them, not helping them: there’s plenty of natural foods for them in the city as I’ve shown above.

And . . . hey, don’t allow your cat to roam free! Coyotes DO nab roaming cats, though I know a number of coyotes who actually run in fear from cats! Unless a dog is extremely small, coyotes interest in them tends to be more of a territorial issue: coyotes want to exclude dogs from their areas to keep them from hunting there, the same as they do to other coyotes. You can avoid trouble with your dog by simply keeping away and walking away with your dog leashed the minute you see a coyote.

Coyote skillfully hunting by leaping high over his prey and then stunning it with his nose or his paws.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lina
    May 18, 2021 @ 13:01:36

    Can you please elaborate about how coyotes consume the rat poison that kills them? For example, here in Portland, Oregon we have coyotes, and we also have a lot of rats. Some folks, including a public grade school I saw, place “bait stations” outside their buildings. The bait station has rat poison inside of a hard plastic box only accessible through a rat-size hole. My understanding of how this works is that the mouse or rat enters, eats the poison, then walks away to die somewhere.
    After reading in your article that coyotes eat carrion, I’m wondering if coyotes then eat the poisoned rat carcasses, and get poisoned themselves. Or are coyotes directly eating rat poison by destroying and entering a bait station? Or are coyotes finding rat poison in some other way?


    • yipps:janetkessler
      May 18, 2021 @ 15:31:49

      Hi Lina —

      Both cases are correct. Coyotes catch poisoned rats very easily because the poison compromises the rat’s reaction times and reflexes. But coyotes can also get ahold of the rat poison. Coyotes have been known to extract a dead rat from those contraptions, and if there’s poison in there, they’ll get that, too. Also human carelessness in putting the poison out could be a factor. The dead coyote I found that was found to have been killed by rat poison had FOUR different brands of rat poison running through its system. It’s body was absolutely riddled with the stuff. Hope this helps. Janet

    • Lina
      May 18, 2021 @ 17:07:39

      Thank you, Janet. Your reply is very informative. I wonder what alternatives are available to keep rats out of buildings (where dust from their feces and urine can kill people), and also protect coyotes.

    • yipps:janetkessler
      May 18, 2021 @ 17:17:59

      I believe there are some traps that can electrocute. It’s got to be an intense shock because the worst are those devices that only half kill the animals. :(( It might be more expensive, but I think it’s worth it. Janet

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