What do wolves eat?

Written by Nicklas Iversen | Last edited 1. June 2021

Wolves are adaptable animals. They will learn to hunt the prey animal that is most plentiful where they live. So it is completely natural that wolves in Scandinavia should mainly eat moose. On this page, you can read more about how the wolf hunts.

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THE HUNTER

The wolf is a hunter in the true sense of the word. Because, when the wolf goes hunting, it is simply about chasing the prey animal in a hunt that might cover several kilometres. The hunt is a test of endurance, and the first to give up loses! Wolves are not successful every time and therefore have to make several attempts before managing to kill an animal. That comes as no surprise, perhaps, when we think of the sort of animal the wolf mainly hunts here in Norway – the moose.

Foto: Roger Brendhagen.

DANGEROUS PREY

Hunting the moose, king of the forest, is not without a certain risk. A moose can directly endanger the life of a wolf, which is many times smaller than that massive beast.

A moose defends itself not with its antlers, but with it’s front feet!  The moose kicks forward, so if it wants to defend itself, it has to face the wolves. A kick like that can easily kill a wolf if it catches the head. The strategy employed by wolves is therefore to make the moose run so that they can attack it from behind.

The wolf pack will kill and eat around a hundred moose in a year. The number is so high because they mainly kill calves in spring and early summer. They are smaller and provide less food, so the wolves have to kill more. In autumn, they kill a smaller number of larger animals.

Foto: Roger Brendhagen.

WOLVES AND LIVESTOCK

Of the large predators, it is the wolf that kills the least grazing livestock. This may seem strange, perhaps, as the wolf is mentioned most often in this context.

The explanation is simple. We have fewer wolves than the other large carnivores. On top of which, there is a defined area where the wolf is allowed to live. The so-called wolf zone. The wolf zone was located where it now is because it was the area of Norway with the fewest grazing sheep and adjoined the area of Sweden that has wolves. The zone therefore runs along the Swedish border.

But wolves can kill sheep, and it is young wolves in particular that stumble across flocks of sheep on their wanderings. These young wolves can kill a lot of sheep in a short time. Unfortunately, this is quite typical of young, inexperienced carnivores. They kill what they can when they have the opportunity to ensure that they will eat tomorrow too. So it can actually look as if the wolf has gone crazy and killed without reason among a flock of sheep.

This inevitably makes the wolf unpopular with many people who keep livestock.

This article has been written by Bjørn Henrik Stavdal Johansen, a nature guide at Visitor Centre Carnivore Flå.

Foto: Arne Nævra.