We never really thought about what wolves eat until we saw a pack of 18 gray wolves at Nanuk Lodge outside Churchill, Canada. We were there to walk with polar bears which is a whole other story (read our blog Walking With Polar Bears! to learn about that adventure).
So here we are watching these wolves run, play and chase prey. And then, an unbelievable encounter occurs with a black bear. A second encounter occurs with a rabbit. And then a bog! Wait, a bog?
So back to the question. What do wolves eat? Well, it turns out a lot of different things and it depends on whether we are talking about a gray wolf or a red wolf. And to learn about the differences between gray & red wolves, check out our Gray Wolves and Red Wolves in our Underdog section
Gray Wolves Eat…
All wolves, especially gray wolves, get a bad rap for killing livestock. And yes, they will kill sheep, cattle and goats if they are hungry and their normal wild prey is unavailable. Most governmental agencies estimate less than 1% of cattle are killed by wolves.
The majority of their diet consists of wild deer, elk, moose and bison. They also eat beaver (to learn more, read our blog “Beavers”), mice, snakes (read our blog “Snakes”) and occasionally fish. Plus blueberries and even grass. Watch this collared gray wolf munch on blueberries thanks to footage from the Voyageurs Wolf Project.
Blueberries supplement their diet in the summer. The grass helps purge their digestive systems of parasites. Hmmm.
So What Do Red Wolves Eat?
Since red wolves are smaller than gray wolves, their diet consists of mostly smaller mammals such as opossums, skunks, raccoons, rabbits and the occasional sick or weak deer.
And guess what? They will eat berries, maybe even blueberries, and insects.
They also eat nutria which are found along the North Carolina coast where our only wild red wolves live. Nutria, also known as swamp rats, are an invasive species from South America. Because of their voracious appetite, they are rapidly destroying wetlands and native vegetation so the red wolves help keep the nutria in check.
So Back To The Bear, Rabbit & Bog
So here we are sitting in the Nanuk Lodge, watching a pack of 18 wolves. Suddenly a rabbit races across the road and 2 adult wolves give chase. Luckily for the rabbit, it gets away.
Soon after, a wolf walks out of the bog by with grass and water dripping from its mouth. Our host informs us the wolves eat grass quite often. Interesting.
Moments later a black bear crosses the road right in front of the wolf pack. The bear and one adult wolf stare each other down.
Then pandemonium. The bear runs into the brush with 18 wolves on her heels. We learn the bear is not only a female, but pregnant. Oh my! We worry about her all night and happily learn the next morning she is ok.
Little did we know we would become avid wolf conservationists as a result of this encounter with 18 wolves in Canada. But this experience turned out to be the beginning of our love affair with wolves.
And to learn wolves like blueberries almost as much as we do! Now that is just perfect.