What Do Mountain Lions Eat? 20 Animals in Their Diet

Written by Krishna Maxwell
Updated: September 25, 2022
Image Credit Ipatov/Shutterstock.com
Share this post on:

Key Points

  • Mountain lions are obligate carnivorous like all other felines, which means they only eat meat.
  • Mountain lions are ambush predators who prefer to lie in wait on a ledge or tree limb and wait for whatever passes by.
  • Mule deer are their most common prey, but they are opportunistic and will take whatever comes their way.

Mountain lions are one of the apex predators found in North America. While they’re obligate carnivorous like all other felines, the exact specifics of their diets are often unknown – things like how much they eat or the exact animals they prefer. Their most common prey are mule deer but they will take down whatever prey they can. Mountain lions are ambush hunters who like to lie on ledges or along tree limbs and fall on their prey from above. In the article below, we’ll answer questions about what mountain lions eat as well as many more!

How Much Do Mountain Lions Eat?

What do mountain lions eat - mountain lion feeding
A mountain lion eating at a zoo

Ipatov/Shutterstock.com

In a single meal, mountain lions can eat anywhere between 20 and 30 pounds of meat, especially if they’ve recently hunted a large animal. In comparison, humans only eat around four pounds of food per day (and that’s usually at the very most!)

Mountain lions aren’t always eating fresh food either. While they won’t scavenge like other animals might, they have been known to bury their prey and eat off the remains for nearly two weeks at a time. However, mountain lions may not be successful hunters all the time. As a result, while their primary prey is deer, they may also eat smaller meals, such as mice or rabbits.

How Do Mountain Lions Hunt?

A mountain lion surveying the world

Kwadrat/Shutterstock.com

Mountain lions are known as opportunistic hunters, which means that they’re willing to hunt nearly anything that won’t take a lot of effort.

Rather than going out of their way to track and hunt prey, mountain lions are more likely to hide in treetops or other areas with high coverage in order to ambush and kill prey with a lethal bite to the spinal cord.

What Do Mountain Lions Eat?

Mountain Lion (Felis Concolor) Jumping a Canyon

Christina Moraes/Shutterstock.com

As opportunistic hunters, mountain lions aren’t likely to go out of their way when it comes to dinner. While they eat a variety of prey from small rodents to larger predators, it seems that deer, specifically mule deer, are the most common prey of most mountain lions.

However, while the majority of the species favors mule deer, Santa Ana’s Department of Natural Resources found out some surprising information while tracking a mountain lion named Brokenleg, which they shared in this Facebook post. Over the course of 21 months, Brokenleg consumed 35 badgers compared to only 5 mule deer and 19 elk!

Brokenleg’s full diet over the 21 months was:

Top 20 List of Mountain Lion Prey

Here is a list of the 20 animals that mountain lions most often eat:

Will Mountain Lions Eat Larger Predators?

Mountain Lion In Snow (Felis Concolor)

Unknown/Shutterstock.com

While it’s more common to find mountain lions making a quick meal out of deer, rabbits, and other smaller animals, they will occasionally kill and eat larger predators, such as coyotes and black bears. However, mountain lions don’t usually target black bears and will only eat them in the rare occasion that a conflict breaks out, usually because the mountain lion has strayed into the bear’s territory.

Are Mountain Lions Dangerous to Humans?

You’re more likely to have trouble with man’s best friend than you are a mountain lion.

While mountain lions could easily kill a human, they don’t see humans as a part of the menu and aren’t likely to attack unless in a dire situation. They also tend to avoid areas where humans live, making encounters unlikely. As a result, while mountain lions could pose a potential threat for humans in a chance encounter, they’re more often than not considered not a threat unless you tread into their territory.

What Do Mountain Lion Cubs Eat?

Mountain lion cubs take about four to six months to wean

Nagel Photography/Shutterstock.com

Like all mammals, mountain lion cubs start out by eating only milk from their mother. It can take up to seven weeks for them to wean and begin eating solid food. Until they’re able to hunt on their own, their mother will bring meat to the litter for them to eat.

Once they’re fully weaned, at around four to six months old, they’ll be able to start hunting their own prey, usually smaller animals like rabbits and skunks. As they mature and grow, they’ll be able to hunt larger prey until they’re able to easily hunt and kill deer, elk, and other common prey animals.

Up Next…

Share this post on:
About the Author

Krishna is a lifelong animal owner and advocate. She owns and operates a small farm in upstate New York which she shares with three dogs, four donkeys, one mule, and a cat. She holds a Bachelors in Agricultural Technology and has extensive experience in animal health and welfare. When not working with her own animals and tending her farm, Krishna is helping other animal owners with behavior or management issues and teaching neighboring farmers about Regenerative Agriculture practices.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.