Many of the misconceptions or exaggerated perceptions people have about coyotes revolve around their diet. This is understandable in several ways. Not the least of which is that they belong to the canine family.
Canines encompass the familiar domesticated dogs, as well as wolves and coyotes. When people think of wolves, they often think of a carnivorous predator, killing and eating what they need to, in order to survive. Coyotes look a great deal like a small wolf, except that their snouts tend to be longer and narrow, and their legs, more slender.
To a point, it is true. Coyotes are carnivorous predators. The majority of their food is prey that they've hunted and killed. Mostly, the prey animals are mice, voles, squirrels, rabbits, hares, birds, bird eggs, usually of ground nesting birds, reptiles, and even insects. However, this is far from all they will eat.
This is a predator that has little problem with eating carrion, including road kill and meat that is already turning rancid. It has a strong enough constitution that this food choice doesn't seem to bother them. They will even eat a dead porcupine, deftly rolling it over to get to the belly, which has no quills.
These animals will also eat fish and amphibians, if they are available.
The diet of the coyote doesn't stop there, though. There are few animals that are more opportunistic feeders. They will eat grasses, vegetables, and fruits as well. Several have been observed eating everything from grapes to hot peppers, sometimes even invading farms to do it. This is perhaps one reason this species is so wide spread. They have intelligence, and they aren't afraid to eat whatever is available at the time.
This can be a problem with farmers. Coyotes don't eat a great deal of vegetation, however they can make a noticeable impact on production. They are also widespread enough, from mountains to deserts, that few areas are without a population of coyotes. In fact, this is one reason the efforts to eradicate them in some places haven't been largely successful.
Unlike wolves, though, a coyote will rarely attack an animal much larger than itself, unless the larger creature is ill and weak. They have been found eating the carcass of a full grown deer, but it is doubtful that these animals were responsible for the kill.
This doesn't mean that one of these animals won't kill cats or small dogs. Even this is far rarer than many people have been lead to believe.
Primarily carnivorous, the diet of coyotes consists of many animals and plants. They seldom pass up the opportunity to eat either. However, their main diet still consists of much smaller animals, particularly rodents.
Coyotes by Lauray Yule, Rio Nuevo Publishers, Tucson, Arizona
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife