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A Winter Hike and Wildlife:  Looking for Porcupines

A Winter Hike and Wildlife: Looking for Porcupines

A winter hike can be a great experience. Recent snowfall turned a leisurely hike to a more strenuous activity, requiring snowshoes. It was peaceful and easier than ever to see wildlife.  There were footprints in the snow. Hawks, Juncos and Chickadees were found in trees. And, to our delight, we spotted a Porcupine!

Porcupines can be a little tricky to find, even in the winter. To the average person, if the Porcupine is not hanging out towards the end of a branch, it may be overlooked as a squirrel nest.

During the day, they may rest near the truck of the tree. Their dark color can provide camoflauge against the bark, especially in Pine or Hemlock trees.

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Porcupine in a Pine Tree. The branches make it difficult to get a clear photo.

Porcupine Facts

The North Amercian Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) is the second largest rodent in North American, behind the North American Beaver.

  • Porcupines weigh from 10 to 28 pounds (4.5 to 13kg). For a diet consisting mainly of trees, that’s pretty heavy!
  • They are typically dark brown or black in color with white highlights.
  • Their bodies are stocky, with short legs, a short and a thick tail.
  • Although they have big brown eyes, their vision is not very good.

When are porcupines active?

They are mostly nocturnal – active at night – and have an amazing memory for finding their way through mazes to food sources and back to their dens.

Can porcupines shoot their quills?

The most familar feature about a Porcupine is their quills. An adult has about 30,000 quills on most of it’s body, except for it’s underbelly, face, and feet.

Although the quills are used as a defense mechanism, they cannot throw or shoot their quills. They will contract their muscles when threatened, causing the quills to stand up from their body. This makes it much easier for the quills to detach from their body.

Backing up into the predator is a commmon way of defense, leaving the attacker with a patch of painful quills that are hard to remove. The quills look long and straight, but they actually have little barbs which stick into the flesh of the enemy. Ouch.


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Porcupine in Pine Tree during winter.

Do Porcupines hibernate?

Unlike our Groundhog friends, Porcupines do not hibernate. They hang out in trees close to their dens in the winter. The den may be a rock crevice or cave, a hollow log, or sometimes under a barn or shed.

How long do Porcupines live?

Porcupines are naturally social-distant, living mostly solitary lives up to 30 years. They may starve, fall out of a tree, or get hit by a car.

The Male Fisher is it’s greatest natural enemy. The Fisher can climb trees. If it can cause the Porcupine to climb down, it will attack the face and underbelly.

What is a baby Porcupine called?

One of my favorite things was to learn that baby Porcupines are called Porcupettes. Their quills are soft when they are born, thankfully for Mama, and will begin to harden within a few days. Typically, only one Porcupette is born at time.

What do Porcupine eat?

They will eat conifer needles and tree bark. The damage they do to trees makes them a pest to some people.

Porcupines love salt.  They will seek out road salt, which can also result in getting hit by cars. They will also eat plywood for it’s salt content and even eat sweat-soaked leather gloves and wooden tool handles from forestry workers.

Some Porcupines love Pumpkins, like the famous Teddy in this YouTube video.  They make the cutest noises ever!


Photographing Porcupines

It is not easy to get a good photo of the Porcupine in the wild, despite it’s slow movement. It is almost always obstructed by tree branches. Otherwise, it it curled up and sleeping or will move closer to the trunk, where it will hide it’s face. They are usually high up in a tree.


Porcupine at the Zoo, image by Eliza28diamonds of Pixabay



Next time you are out on a hike, especially in Winter, be sure to check for wildlife.  You might just spot a Porcupine while you’re at it!

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