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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!

Seven Ways to Help Backyard Birds in the Winter

Seven Ways to Help Backyard Birds in the Winter

During the winter months, snow, ice and freezing temperatures can become regular weather events. Snow Squall alerts pop up on phones for hazardous driving conditions. Hunker down – the Polar Vortex is coming! The media creates a panic to “hurry and buy all of your essentials”.


So how does this affect birds and is there anything we can do to help backyard birds survive the winter?


Many birds migrate away from cold weather. For the ones that do stick around, their food sources become limited. Some birds can lower their temperatures during the night to conserve energy, but that is often not enough for their survival.

For extended cold periods, there are a number of things that you can do to help backyard birds in the winter. As a bonus, get some enjoyment from watching them!


Cardinal at the Birdfeeder by GeorgeB2 at Pixabay

1. Hang up a bird feeder

An easy way to help birds in your backyard is to have the right kind of bird food for winter. Start putting out feeders in the fall so that the birds know about them – before the snow arrives. This can be a little tricky in bear country. I put out a small serving of food in the morning and afternoon so that it leaves no trace for bears.

The feeder should be sheltered. It will be less likely to get covered in snow if it is protected overhead by large tree branches or a wide roof overhang. You can also cut some evergreen branches to attach to the top of feeders for extra protection.

Part of the reason to put up a feeder is to enjoy watching the birds. Place the feeder very close to your window or far from your window to prevent birds colliding with windows. Decals and reflectors can also be placed on windows.

This window bird feeder is installed outside my husband’s office window. The feeder is easy to reach and clean.  Surprisingly, there are not a lot of scratches or anything to make it look unsightly, even after over one year of use.

Squirrels cannot get to it because it’s about 20 feet off the ground, which is also a great location from other larger predators.

2. Offer the right type of food

Birds benefit from a higher fat diet in the colder season. Suet is common as a winter food because of its high calorie content. However, not every bird will eat suet, but you might be surprised by the ones who do. Here’s a guide on what types of food birds eat.


Good foods to feed birds in the winter are:


  • black oil sunflower seed
  • peanuts – not processed and no salt
  • suets – you can even make your own
  • nyjer seed
  • peanut butter

Sunflower seeds by csabanagy at Pixabay

Winter Bird by Oldiefan at Pixabay

Depending on the type of seeds being used, consider what is underneath the feeder. In other words, if you have small children, the seeds should not fall in or near their play area.

Ground-feeding birds such as Juncos, Sparrows and Morning Doves will also collect the fallen seeds. So will the Squirrels.

If you are concerned about seed shells wrecking your landscape or attracting other animals, consider buying no-waste seeds, which are already shelled. They are more expensive due to extra processing, but may be worth it.

3. Provide access to fresh water

Fresh water can be difficult for birds to find in the winter. Consider adding a heating attachment to your current birdbath as a low-cost option. Better yet, install a heated birdbath. Heated bird baths come in a variety of options such as traditional standing birdbaths, ground-level bird baths and even bird baths that can attach to your deck.

Birdbath by Gerhardg at Pixabay

4. Create shelter for your backyard birds

Some of these tips will require advanced planning. The key is to provide places in your yard where birds have shelter and an area to forage for their own food.


  • Plant evergreens and shrubs. Birds can take cover in the foliage and branches during extreme weather events.
  • Grow local fruit or berry trees. This is a natural choice for birds to forage over the winter.
  • Let your garden and flowers overwinter. Don’t pull them out or cut them down. This can provide food for bird and even homes for insects.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have sunflowers standing in November, the birds will enjoy the seeds during winter. I can barely keep the flowers intact for a few days around here!

Chickadee Sunflower by 995645 at Pixabay

Chickadee Sunflower by Schanin at Pixabay

  • Pile up some leaves, branches, fallen debris, cornstalks and tall grasses in area of the yard for shelter and nesting material.
  • If you have a live Christmas tree, put it near your brush pile for extra shelter. I like to put it outside and attach suet “ornaments” for the birds to enjoy.


If you are using natural evergreen branches for cover over your birdfeeder, this may present an excellent photo opportunity!

Birds will typically perch on the highest branches or structure as they evaluate and make their way towards the food source.

Watch their behaviors, be prepared, make any necessary adjustments, and take lots of photos!

5. Install a bird house

Bird houses and roosting boxes offer a safe place to gather and stay warm. A bright and colorful birdhouse can spruce up your yard in the cold, bleak winter.

There are endless options available for bird houses. If you’re a DIY’er, you might want to make one or two. Kids would enjoy painting them. They make great gifts, too! They can be customized to your local area, such as a Lobster buoy birdhouse. This can be a great creative project for all ages and all abilities.

Winter Tit by Oldiefan at Pixabay

6. Create a birdwatching station

Keep track of the birds you see. There are a few ways to do this, some with a simple journal or more advanced with the eBird app from Cornell University. There are a few birdwatching events that you can participate in during the winter, such as the Christmas Bird Count by the Audubon Society.

Don’t forget to have a handy guidebook or poster near your station.

7. Keep bird feeders and baths cleaned.

Bring in feeder on a regular basis and clean with dish soap and water. Do not use chemicals or harsh cleaners. For bird baths, you may need to soak in some vinegar if there are any mineral deposits from the water.



There are a number of options to choose from in order to provide shelter for birds in winter, provide food and water, and enjoying their presence in your backyard. From hanging a simple birdfeeder, offering fresh water, and repurposing last season’s yard debris for bird shelter, it is well worth the effort.

Not convinced?  Check out my post about the Surprising Benefits of Birdwatching.


Thanks for taking care of your backyard birds. They will appreciate it and you will love seeing them visit!

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