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Coyote, Canis latrans, Use of Commercial Sunflower, Helianthus spp., Seeds as a Food Source in Western Kansas


Our finding of mammals as the primary food item of Coyotes in western Kansas is consistent with studies throughout the Great Plains Region (e.g., Gier 1968; Springer and Smith 1981; Gese et al. 1988a; Lewis et al. 1994; Brillhart and Kaufman 1995). Our finding of Leporidae as the most frequently occurring mammalian family in the Coyote diet was similar to that observed in Nebraska (Fichter et al. 1955) and Kansas (Gier 1968). Although Coyotes consume many types of fruits and vegetation (Fichter et al. 1955; Gier 1968; Brillhart and Kaufman 1995), no study has indicated the extensive use of commercial sunflower seeds that we observed. One study reported that sunflower seeds occurred in trace amounts (Brillhart and Kaufman 1994, 1995). We recognize small sample size in this study, yet our finding that commercial sunflower seeds occurred frequently and in high volumes in scats suggests Coyotes may consume relatively large quantities of seeds when available. Moreover, our finding sunflower seeds in July indicated that unharvested sunflower seeds remain available in the environment well into the next growing season. Because scats containing commercial sunflower seeds were found within 4 of 7 Coyote family home ranges along our collection routes, a minimum of four different Coyotes appeared to have used seeds as a food source.

The importance of commercial sunflower seeds in the diet of Coyotes is, at present, unknown, although our observation suggests it may be an important food source in some localities, as it is for other carnivores. Planting of sunflower crops has recently increased, particularly in the northern the Great Plains region (U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistic Service, Published Estimates Database, www.nass.usdagov:100/ipedb/). Although the efficiency of harvest continues to improve, there is still a considerable amount of seeds left in fields after harvest which are available to wildlife (Hofman and Kucera 1984). Harvest loss can result in 45-55 kg of waste seed per hectare (D. R. Berglund, Department of Plant Sciences, North Dakota State University, Fargo, personal communication), providing an abundant food supply when or where other naturally occurring foods may be scarce.

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