Wolves hunt many different kinds of animals, and some of their prey is small. Beavers are an important source of food when larger prey is not available. Some wolves hunt rabbits and squirrels. Others chase ducks, geese, and other birds. When prey is really hard to find, wolves may eat mice, some insects, nuts, and berries. The smaller prey may be important when raising pups. This is because younger and less experienced wolves in the pack can hunt smaller prey and help feed themselves and the pups when food demand is especially high.
When a wolf pack hunts, the members of the pack work together as a team. The pack combines the strength of many wolves, and this makes it possible for them to hunt some very large animals, when they can get it, wolves prefer larger prey. They may hunt deer, elk, or mountain goats. Most of these animals are a good deal larger than wolves, and they can be hard to catch. They can often run fast, and some of them are excellent mountain climbers. Some animals that wolves hunt may be well defended against attack. Deer and elk have hard hooves that can crack a wolf’s bones. Big-horn sheep and musk oxen are very strong and aggressive. Perhaps the favorite prey of wolves is the moose. And these animals can be very big. An average male moose weighs over 1,000 pounds. It may stand over 6 1/2 feet tall at the shoulder. The hooves of a moose can kill a wolf. For this reason, wolves try to find a moose that has been weakened by sickness – or one that is bogged down in deep snow.
There should be plenty of prey left for hunters after wolves eat their share. In fact, one study showed that deer were killed mainly by hunters, starvation and disease, and cars, in that order. A wolf can survive on only five deer for an entire season, or twenty for the entire year. Wolves, like other predators, are meat-eaters and have very short digestive tracts. Animal protein doesn’t take very long to digest, but breaking down plant protein can be very difficult. Other animals such as cows and deer have multi-chambered stomachs and are built for digesting plants much better. In order to capture their prey, wolves often surround the prey, often hiding behind bushes, and then go in for the kill. In another common hunting technique, the wolves chase the prey in single file with the front wolf occasionally moving to the back, to let the “next in line” lead the way. This single file technique is particularly helpful in the snow when the first wolf acts as a “snowplow” leaving footprints that each wolf will follow in.
Wolves don’t always catch the prey they go after. In fact, many more animals escape than are caught. Wolves can achieve speeds above 30 miles per hour, but if they can’t capture running prey within about 1,000 yards, they usually abandon the chase. Also if the prey shows that it can put up a good fight, the wolves will often let it go. Their success rate is about 10%, so for every ten hunts only one ends in a kill for the wolves. Wolves may not eat for a week or more but are capable of eating 20 pounds of meat in a single meal. If any meat is left, the wolves may come back later to eat it.
- Some of the wolves food sources include:
- * White-tailed deer – Odocoileus virginianus
* Moose – Alces alces gigas
* Beaver – Castor canadensis
* Snowshoe hare – Lepus americanus
* Elk – Cervus elaphus
* Mule deer – Odocoileus hemionus crooki
* North American Bison – Bison bison
* Caribou – Rangifer tarandus
* mountain goat – Oreamnos americanus
* Antelope – Antilocapridae Family
* Bighorn sheep – Ovis canadensis
* rodents – Rodentia