U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Gifford, S.J., E.M. Gese, and R.R. Parmenter. 2019. Food habits of coyotes (Canis latrans) in the Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist 64(2):122-130. doi: 10.1894/0038-4909-64-2-122


Wildlife managers needed to understand coyote (Canis latrans) ecology in order to develop management plans on the nascent Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico. Managers concerned about low elk (Cervus elaphus) recruitment had observed an increase in sightings of coyotes and observations of coyote predation on elk calves. Our objective was to identify and quantify coyote diet, and assess the temporal variation in coyote diet on the Valles Caldera National Preserve, particularly as related to elk calf consumption. We examined coyote food habits using 1,385 scats analyzed monthly from May 2005 to November 2008. The most frequent taxa were rodents (predominantly voles from the genus Microtus, and northern pocket gophers, Thomomys talpoides), elk, insects from the orders Orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets) and Coleoptera (beetles), mountain cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus nuttallii), and plant material (mainly grass). We detected rodent and elk in scats during all months of the study and were each present in 54% of scats overall. We identified elk remains in 43% of spring scats, 72% of winter scats, and 56% of fall scats. During summers, we could distinguish calf from adult elk hair: 8% of summer the scats contained adult elk hair and 39% contained calf elk hair. The frequency of prey items varied significantly over most seasons and years, with notable exceptions being that elk did not vary among summers and winters, and rabbits were a consistent diet item through all seasons. The high frequency of elk in the coyote diet bears further study on the density of elk calves, the vulnerability of elk to predation, the nutritional impacts from the quality of forage available to elk, and the role of hunting and other mammalian predators in providing carcasses.