What wolves eat

As car­ni­vores, wolves will eat any­thing from a mouse to a moose in­clud­ing grasshop­pers, birds and frogs.  Although wild wolves will oc­ca­sion­ally eat ber­ries, their bod­ies re­quire meat to survive.

As Jack London wrote in White Fang, a story about a wolf-dog hy­brid, “The aim of life was meat. Life it­self was meat.”

Most wolves ob­tain their meat from un­gu­lates such as deer, elk, moose, bison and muskox­en. While it’s dan­ger­ous hunt­ing large an­im­als with horns and hooves, the huge food re­ward is worth the ef­fort and risk of in­jury or even death. On the oth­er hand, it takes a lot of mice to fill a wolf’s belly and the en­ergy ex­pen­ded is of­ten great­er than the cal­or­ies gained.

While most wolves de­pend on un­gu­lates for their susten­ance, some eat a lot of fish. This has been re­cor­ded through­out the world and of­ten in­volves fish trav­el­ling up­stream to spawn.

This wolf caught 15 sock­eye sal­mon in one hour in Brooks River, Alaska. Photo cour­tesy Paul Stinsa

But some wolves rely heav­ily on fish and mar­ine-re­lated an­im­als year-round. In fact, wolves on some British Columbia coastal is­lands primar­ily eat sal­mon, seals and shell­fish, as well as mink and Canada goose eggs. They will even move rocks at low tide to eat tiny mol­luscs called chitons. Wolves on out­er is­lands may sel­dom – if ever – see a deer.


Wolves aren’t picky about their food. They may cache some meat and dig it up for din­ner later, as well as scav­enge prey that has died of nat­ur­al causes or been killed by oth­er animals.

They can eas­ily be­come used to the easy pick­ings found at un­se­cured hu­man garbage dumps and will raid camp­sites or break into tents and kayak holds to check out hu­man food. Although they prob­ably won’t eat much of the food they find this way, they will bite into whatever they can ac­cess to check it out.

At times, wolves also kill and eat live­stock and pets, which is the ma­jor source of their con­flict with humans.

Top photo was taken on Ellesmere Island in the high arc­tic where wolves prey on hares and muskox­en. Photo cour­tesy Dave Mech


Will wolves howl at the super blood wolf moon?

From an­cient times, Indigenous peoples in North America called the first full moon after the winter sol­stice the Wolf Moon. This was of­ten the cold­est, darkest month of the year, when hungry wolves could be heard howl­ing out­side villages.

The sky will provide a back­drop for some ex­tra drama when 2019’s Wolf Moon takes place the even­ing of January 20 – 21. On that night the full moon will pass  its closest to earth mak­ing it ap­pear lar­ger and bright­er than nor­mal. That adds the su­per to Wolf Moon.

And, de­pend­ing where you are, at some point that night the earth will move  between the sun and the su­per Wolf Moon cre­at­ing a total ec­lipse. The earth’s shad­ow makes the moon ap­pear red, hence the term blood.

A su­per blood wolf moon is re­l­at­ively rare, oc­cur­ring ap­prox­im­ately every three years. But how do wolves re­spond to this lun­ar event?

Photo by John Cavers

Wolves howl, hunt and travel at any time but are most act­ive around dawn and dusk, as well as through­out the night. And wheth­er they’re sit­ting, stand­ing or ly­ing down, they lift their snouts to howl. But, rather than fo­cus­ing on the moon, some be­lieve they’re simply tak­ing ad­vant­age of the ex­tra light it provides.

I know from sleep­ing near the Sawtooth Pack for el­ev­en years that wolves do howl more dur­ing a full moon,” Jeremy Heft writes in the sum­mer 2009 Sawtooth Legacy Quarterly. A wild­life bio­lo­gist, Heft’s worked at the Wolf Education and Research Center in Winchester, Idaho, since 1998. “They tend to be more act­ive then be­cause it’s easi­er to see prey and hunt.”

In the 1970s, wolf re­search­er Paul Paquet ob­served un­usu­al be­ha­viour in a pack dur­ing a sol­ar ec­lipse. The wolves were act­ively wan­der­ing around an es­tu­ary on the BC coast when the moon passed between the earth and the sun. As the light faded, the wolves gathered to­geth­er along the shoreline and gazed in the dir­ec­tion the bright sun had been. They only re­sumed their nor­mal routine when the sun began to reappear.

So it’s hard to say how wolves will re­act to a su­per blood wolf moon. My guess is they may howl earli­er in the night when the moon is bright­est but stop to gaze up­wards dur­ing the dim­ming of light and change of col­our dur­ing the blood phase.

Super blood wolf moon photo by Yu Kato (Unsplash)