A recent study conducted by West Virginia scientists has put forth evidence that as much as 60 percent of coyotes feed on deer. The conclusions come after a 20-month study that took samples of 969 coyotes’ stomach contents and manure samples across different regions of West Virginia.
Specifically, deer remains showed up in 59.9 percent of the samples examined. Grass and twigs were present in 39.7 percent of samples, small mammals (like mice and other rodents) were in 19.3 percent, fruits and seeds were in 18.4 percent, squirrels and chipmunks in 11.4 percent, birds in 4 percent and rabbits also in 4 percent. These percentages add up to more than 100 percent because samples frequently contained more than one grouping of items.
West Virginia University graduate student Geriann Albers coordinated the research along with Professor of Wildlife and Fisheries Resources John Edwards. Albers presented her findings at the 68th Annual Northeast Fish and Wildlife Conference on April 16.
The state’s Division of Natural Resources commissioned the study to determine whether coyotes might be having an impact on whitetail herds and to what degree. Research showed that coyotes were having an impact on whitetail herds, but it was impossible to conclude how the deer was taken. While Albers estimates that a good percentage of deer remains found in samples were the results of predation, it’s also likely that coyotes scavenged from the carcasses of deer that perished by other means.
The percentage of deer remains in coyotes’ stomach contents and stool samples dropped to just 38 percent between September and December, even though that period includes deer hunting season. Albers and her team speculate that drop is attributed to easier food source opportunities during that time when coyotes can scavenge for fruit, nuts, or squirrels which are easier to find than a gut pile left by a hunter.
The study’s results further implied that coyotes feed most heavily on deer between January to April. Deer showed up in more than 70 percent of coyotes’ stomach and stool contents then, possibly because snow is deep so coyotes have an easier time preying on deer and many deer die of winterkill during that time. The time between May and August contains the fawn birthing period during which 55 percent of samples contained deer remains.
The findings support the theory that coyotes are opportunistic feeders that will eat just about anything. Remains of skunk, oppossum, even remnants of trash like napkins and sandwich wrappers were found in a small percentage of samples. Additionally, deer remains were only half as abundant in coyotes in West Virginia’s southern coalfields because deer populations are sparse there.
It was also found that coyotes do not sustain themselves much with turkeys or turkey eggs as those remains did not often show up in samples. Only 4 percent of samples contained bird remains, half of which were from ground-nesting birds such as turkey and grouse.
Further research may involve how much predation of specific species by coyotes is actually occurring.