Out to lunch

Porcupine

There are, of course, lots of birds around at Innis Point. That’s the whole reason we’re there, after all: to monitor the birds. What I wasn’t expecting there to be lots of was porcupines. Spring is their season, the time of year when they’re most likely to be encountered, although I’m not exactly sure why this is the case, since they’re active year round. Even still, prior to this year I’d only ever seen the odd one here or there, and most of them tended to be in the form of roadkill, sadly. I spotted one in our own woods while out with Raven last week (fortunately, she hadn’t seen it yet and I steered her the other way before she had a chance to; Dan came across one with her a couple days later and wasn’t so lucky with the timing, though he was still able to call her away before she actually made contact with it), but have just seen the one. Out at Innis we’ve seen them every day. One day there were as many as four of them spotted around the site. One of them was especially laid-back, allowing me to approach within a couple dozen feet while it calmly continued foraging. I guess it has a lot of confidence in its protection.

Porcupine

They’ve mostly been up in the big, gnarly oak trees. They clamber along the thick, sturdy limbs, reaching out to the little twigs to snip the tender green buds off. Their hands seem to be remarkably dexterous, reminding me a lot of the fingered feet of raccoons.

Porcupine

They reach out with their broad paws to snag the twigs and bend them back to where they can easily reach the buds. Check out the long, thick claws. They and the rough pads would be useful in gripping the tree as the animal clambers about. Also for hauling that huge bulk straight up the trunk. On my way back from the washroom one morning I heard a rustling in the underbrush and spotted a porc approaching in my direction. It hadn’t seen me, so I stopped and watched it for a few minutes. It wandered to a small line of young trees, approaching the base of each and giving each a good sniff as it decided whether it was worth climbing. It passed by two trees in favour of the third, which was of a different species. I found it fascinating that it could apparently tell the difference just by smelling the trunk.

Porcupine

Porcupines are rodents, and one of the obvious features that they share with members of the group is the evergrowing, sharp orange teeth; they’re not dissimilar from beaver teeth. Since part of their diet, especially in winter, consists of the inner bark of tree trunks (which requires chewing through the outer bark to get at), these teeth come in especially handy.

Porcupine

When the twigs were too long for simply bending the branch to bring the buds within reach, the porcupine put its teeth to good use. It would bend the twig down…

Porcupine

…and then chew through the twig to remove it from the tree. Then it would manipulate it with its hands and snip off the buds before finally dropping the denuded twig.

I’ve written a bit about porcupines before, discussing their ecology a bit more in-depth. You can find previous posts here, here and here.

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18 responses to “Out to lunch

  1. I really enjoyed these great shots of the Porcupine. I’d have to go to a zoo to see one around here. Thanks.

  2. Hi Seabrooke, I just came across your blog – it’s really great. You have a nice easy writing style and lovely pictures. We don’t have porcupines in Ireland – I didn’t know they could climb trees!

  3. Beaver teeth! Hugh Pine and his friends.

  4. How fascinating that it chose a tree based on smell. And how cool that you got to see the behavior.

    These are great shots! I keep meaning to head west to photograph some; their range comes close to here but not quite this far east. But it sounds like you have them all around, which is pretty cool.

  5. Great porky pics! What a terrific find.

    Have you read Uldis Roze’s book about porcupines? He’s a “leading authority” on the subject. Lots of good info…including why they each each species of tree.

  6. What fun it was to see your excellent photos! ~karen

  7. Enchanting! Your photography is wonderful. Thank you for such a captivating post.

  8. what a lovely informative post & great pictures too!

  9. Hi Seabrook
    I have joined you via jasmin and the lovely tree post. I really enjoyed your wonderfully educational post about the porcupine. I didn’t know he was a climber, I envisaged him as rather like a hedgehog but he is very different, good strong climbing legs and a great set of choppers for another. Your excellent photos are appealing and capture the critter in action so well. Thank you for this great post.

    happy days

  10. These photos are amazing…and so many interesting facts too! Thanks!

  11. I was completely unaware that porcupines are tree-climbers. Thanks for this great post!

  12. What fun! Great observations on the feeding habits…

  13. Thanks, everyone, for the comments! I really appreciate receiving them all, and apologize that I don’t have the time to keep on top of them better. The down side to the new job, of course, is that it eats up a lot of my day!

  14. Hello, I found you from Jasmine’s. I enjoyed your post, very much. I guess I have never seen photos like this of a porcupine, because I was amazed to see each photo! Thank you for sharing.

  15. Absolutely beautiful post! I knew zilch about Porcupines & have never seen a photo of one front one, just taken from above shots when I was a kid. Your photos are terrific. Glad there is still animals in the wild like this & I very much wish I could see this myself.

  16. Great post! I just interned at Innis Point this spring! Loved seeing the porcupines. Just two days ago as we were slowly driving out – there were two on the road by the outhouse (which they have claimed as their own – now that IPBO has a composting toilet). So cute and we saw a very young one that joined them. Incredible quills and great picture of their orange teeth! : )

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