Puma hunting, feeding and social organisation – comprehensive coverage

This page discusses puma hunting feeding and social organisation. Cats generally are opportunistic predators. This means a wide range of prey depending on season and place. Pumas will treat any animal that is vulnerable as prey. Pumas are also flexible in the selection of prey. For example, in Nevada some pumas attacked wild horses. Flexibility may in part be due to necessity because of prey reduction of an animal species (due to human activity). Pumas can also kill to create a surplus; killing many more animals than required. This probably does them no good in respect of retaliatory attacks by people! It usually occurs with sheep and might be because the panicked movement of sheep, when one is attacked, triggers the puma’s hunting instinct to attack again (moral: when people are fearful of being attacked, they should not panic and run but face down and see off the puma).


Puma. Pic in public domain.

Method of hunting and success rate

The puma stalks and closes in on prey relying on cover such as grass and bushes. The attack might start from above at about 2.5 – 10 metres from the prey. Prey in open territory with little cover is much safer from attack. When attacking prey, the puma will usually catch the prey on the side or rear and grab with the front claws. For larger prey, when it is brought down the puma kills with a suffocating bite to the throat or neck, and with a bite to the back of the neck for smaller prey such as rodents and squirrels.

If a puma becomes disabled through injury in an attack it could mean the end of its life so a degree of caution prevails. Pumas get hurt in attacks on large prey and killed sometimes by, for example, falling off cliff edges or trampling. In a study of all naturally occurring puma deaths, 27% related to prey attack injuries.

The killed prey is dragged to a more secure site and hidden with leaves, grass etc. (If planning to return to the carcass). Pumas are strong and are impressive in this task. Pumas remain close to the kill. Pumas shot in California were found to have full stomachs containing 2.2 to 3.6 kg of meat. The kill is sometimes scavenged. Scavengers are sometimes killed by pumas. On occasions, females share the male’s kill and vice-versa when they are courting.

Estimates of kill rates are: one adult deer every 8-16 days for a single puma rising to one every 3 days for a female and young. Success rates are uncertain but research suggests: 82% success rate on deer in California. While in Argentina a 10% success rate was assessed in respect of visachas (a rodent in the chinchilla family which use alarm calls and live in burrows). Research suggests that in many places the puma has little effect on prey populations (people are by far the biggest factor), while on other areas prey was decreased. The research is inconclusive it would seem.

Scar the 5-year-old puma mysteriously shot in Santa Ana Mountains

Scar the 5-year-old puma mysteriously shot in Santa Ana Mountains. Photo by Jason Andes

Hunting in a group

Although there is no mention of it in my excellent reference book on the wild cat species, it appears that mountain lions occasionally hunt in groups as can be seen in the video below. This is perhaps a family unit of mother and subadult offspring who are learning to hunt and failing in this instance. Also, in the video below, we can see the dangers of attacking a large animal. The puma that takes on the animal is trampled on. There is a substantial risk of injury which can lead to the death of a Puma through starvation as mentioned above. This looks as though it was videoed in South America.


This varies with availability and depends in part on where the puma is. Here is a table:

Country – PlacePrey2
Most of North AmericaDeer 60-80% of diet (average weight 39-48 kg) – fawns/calves
Central & South AmericaSmall & medium sized mammals: hares, armadillos, viscachas for example.
MexicoWhite tailed deer
Venezuela (Ilanos)For example: juvenile collared peccary (see picture below). Average weight: 8.4 kg
British Columbiabighorn sheep rams
Alberta, Canadamale pumas: Moose calves (89% of diet). Female pumas: elk & deer
Southern Chilewinter/spring: young female guanacos.
Puma aka mountain lion

Puma. Photo by Lee Elvin on Wikipedia.

Social Organisation

Most cats in the wild live alone and the puma is no different. Male and female come together for mating and the female raises the young. However, home ranges do overlap and pumas have various methods of communication including their voice to retain their territory and to notify others of their presence. On the linked page, I cover the range of mountain lion sounds. Other forms of communication are:

  • scent deposits (feces and urine but pumas don’t spray like other felids)
  • scrapes
  • fecal mounds (buried feces)
  • scratches on the ground

Females are less adventurous when establishing a home range. Sometimes it is close to their natal range (where they were born and their mother’s range). Females usually breed only when settled. Males travel far and are sometimes killed by resident males protecting their range or by people hunting. The male’s life in respect of range is more problematic and transient and the establishing of a home territory fraught with difficulty and danger.

Picture of a puma on an iceberg off the Upsala glacier in Patagonia's Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Picture of a puma on an iceberg off the Upsala glacier in Patagonia’s Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina. Photo: a tourist on a cruise ship on Lago Argentino.

People killing pumas through hunting greatly disrupts the stability and balance of the home range structure, as can be expected. And sport hunting is a major reason for puma deaths in many areas of western USA (20-50% of all deaths in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Montana and Texas). The sport hunting of resident females is the worst kind of death in respect of puma population. Do sport hunters recognise this and take steps to avoid it?

Understandably, prey density impacts on the size of the home range. Lots of prey equates to a smaller range and vice-versa.

PlaceHome Range Size3
Southeastern Briitish ColumbiaFemale: 55 km². Male: 151 km²
Southern UtahFemale: 685 km². Male: 826 km²

For the female the most important factor in suitability of the home range is availability of prey (to feed the young), while for males it is availability of females! Densities of adult puma per km² are as follows:

Utah, USA0.37 to 0.5 per 100 km² – note large puma ranges above.
North AmericaDensities of more than 4 per 100 km² are uncommon it seems. In winter it can be 7-8 per 100 km².

Puma Hunting Feeding and Social Organisation Sources: The major source of the information on this page is Wild Cats of the World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist – a fine and dependable book and highly recommended, buy it! The information here should therefore be accurate. If you want to see the references to their work (which are extensive) you’ll have to buy it or you may see some here: Google Books. I also use IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM (which, incidentally, also sometimes relies on this book).

From Puma Hunting Feeding and Social Organisation to Wild Cat Species

Puma Hunting Feeding a nd Social Organisation – Some more on the Puma:

  1. Published under a creative commons license – published under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs creative commons License — this site is for charitable purposes in funding cat rescue.
  2. Pages 256 to 260 of Wild Cats of the World
  3. Pages 261 to 263 of Wild Cats of the World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist
Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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