Porcupine

I thought we might have a porcupine around the house. I saw some tracks in the snow between our house and the next up the hill that looked like a porcupine … or some critter that dragged its tail once in a while between steps. Then, my sister, who lives next door, said she saw “Prickly” heading across her driveway. The critter was heading from the woods toward the Christmas tree plantation. I had suspected the critter had been visiting a balsam tree I have in the back yard as there were “clippings” of balsam brush beneath the tree where some critter had been eating. 

Porcupines eat mostly evergreen needles in winter months, so I knew we had a visitor. Yesterday, on my way to the car, I was surprised by a porcupine eating seeds beneath my bird feeder. A little too close to home for comfort with a bounding puppy running around the yard. I guess we will keep the pup on a leash for a while, as nose or mouth full of porcupine quills makes for a very unhappy dog. Not only does most of my bird seed now go to squirrels, now I have a porcupine snacking on a convenient meal. This worries me with a dog around the farm.

We have pulled quills ourselves and taken dogs to the vet for quill pulling on more occasions than I like to remember. Most recently, we had a chow-chow who had a run-in with a porcupine and think we may have missed a quill in the roof of her mouth as she later developed seizures and actually died after a seizure. The vet thought she might have epilepsy, but as quills can travel and she had a mouthful, one may have worked its way into her brain. This defense of a coat full of hollow barbed quills is a pretty effective deterrent to predators or threats. I know that fisher cats prey upon porcupines, flipping them onto their backs and attacking their vulnerable underbellies, but I think those are the only predators that will bother with the prickly critters.

When my sister was a kid, my father, an avid hunter, killed a porcupine only to discover it had a young baby with it. Feeling bad for killing the mama, he brought the little critter home and it became a family pet for a few months until they released it back into the wild. Of course, its name was Prickly. At the time, there was a 50-cent bounty on porcupines as they were creating lots of damage to homes and buildings and were enjoying a population boom. I remember accompanying Dad to the fire station with a wire strung with porcupine noses and he was paid $4 or $5 for his bounty and wandering around forests and abandoned buildings when he hunted the pests. They repealed the bounty program in the late 1970s, and I imagine the population is doing a lot better again some 40 years later. We sure have had plenty of sightings over the last few years.

We have had a love-hate relationship with porcupines here at the farm. They love vegetables, especially sweet corn, and can damage a lot of vegetation in a short time. A rodent like a rat or a squirrel, they chew. And chew and chew and chew. We usually leave the critters alone unless they are destroying crops or buildings, but they are tough to have around if you have a dog or they are wrecking your property. Our home is just on the edge of a heavily forested area, and Prickly and his or her family have lots of hollow logs to call home. We sometimes hear them on sticky summer nights as they wander around our home with their grunts and squeals much like a guinea pig. We had one set up shop in a little shed we store lawnmowers in right on the side of our house at one point. Nice thought, Prickly, but we had to close the hotel. Porcupines are pretty cool animals. As long as they stay out of our way.

We will have to check the Christmas tree plantation to see if our buddy is doing much damage to the trees or the maple tubing a bit further out. We have found where porcupines have chewed holes in maple tubing and hard plastic mainlines just for the fun of chewing, and the cost of replacing and repairing far outweighs the fun of seeing porcupines. I hope this porky is not going to become a pest, but he has been hanging around the homestead for quite a while now. We hope he is just enjoying the occasional sprig of balsam and a feed of hemlock boughs out in the forest somewhere and is leaving the farm products and equipment and buildings alone so we don’t have to dispatch it as a pest.

Fascinating creatures, but the boundaries between human and critter are sometimes very narrow at the farm or at your home when they are eating shrubs in your backyard, chewing and pooping in an outbuilding or filling your pet’s nose with quills. It is wonderful, and sometimes terrible, to live in an area filled with wild critters.

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