High vet bills for quill extraction were a huge incentive for me to learn how to spot porcupines before my dog did. On walks in the woods, my eyes became extra keen at finding baby porcupines on the ground. Their tiny quills are especially difficult to remove from a dog’s mouth.
As I no longer have a dog, I’m not on the lookout for porcupines as much as I used to be while walking in the woods. However, it’s pretty hard to miss this fresh evidence of their activity just behind my home: fresh bark chips on the ground below a girdled trunk. Unfortunately, the Balsam Fir at left will die because its bark has been nibbled all around the circumference.
Porcupines breed in autumn and give birth to one baby in the spring. Within a week this little pincushion is already chewing on the inner bark of trees. Favorites are softwood trees and the twigs on birch. Tamarack trees are considered especially tasty.
Porcupines are also attracted to the salt left on wooden tools that are handled by humans with sweaty hands. The salt on roads also attracts them to highways, making them a frequent item on the roadkill menu. They are slow movers and consequently an easy target on the ground.
The last time I saw a porcupine was last fall along the Salt Marsh Trail. It was mid morning and three of them were dozing, each on separate limbs up in an apple tree, right next to the trail. Mostly nocturnal creatures, they had probably snacked on apples the night before.
Before Europeans settled here in the 1700s, the Cow Bay area was considered a prime summer hunting and fishing spot for the Mi’kmaq tribe. Considering the number of porcupines in this neck of the woods, it’s no surprise that the Mi’kmaq are a people known for their artistry with quills.