Protect poor porcupines

Our resident porcupines are moving about more noticeably these days. Many of them, unfortunately, end up as road kill, for they are slow moving, and when they sense danger, they just curl up and put their quills out. This works fine in some instances but not when a car on a highway is the danger. As you drive about, you probably notice quite a few dead porcupines on the road everywhere you go. Carrion like this gets feasted on by crows, ravens and other wild creatures. Vultures are gone for the winter, but at other seasons, they would be part of the road clean up “feathered crew.”

A friend on the island had a porcupine sitting in a tree in his yard, and he was concerned about it being there. There is really no problem with them being close unless you have a free roaming dog. Dogs hardly ever learn to stay away from a porcupine even if they have been “quilled.” They do not throw their quills, but the quills come out very easily as the mammal flips its tails and moves around from whatever danger is threatening it.

Porcupines are slow moving and often spend many days just sitting, eating and sleeping in trees. They’re not in any trouble. That’s just what they like to do. On the ground they like to eat small plants and sometimes will stop and take a little nap right where they are.

A mother porcupine recently was found dead on the road. Not too far off, a young one was wandering about. Some kind humans carefully picked up the young one and brought it to an animal facility for help. It seemed late for a baby of its size to be about, for porcupines usually mate only once a year, and the resulting babies would now be much bigger. I did a little research and found that some females will have two cycles, and babies could be born as late as August. The baby was on its own but would still be nursing if the mother let it do so. Baby porcupines are called “porcupettes.”

Occasionally, you will come upon a tall tree in the woods that has had all of the bark stripped from it. It doesn’t look like a normal dead tree but just looks “naked.” This has been the work of porcupines. They eat the bark and cambium layer of many trees. Especially in the spring and summer, they eat buds, tree roots, grasses, seeds, leaves, flowers and other such food. They also like to gnaw on bones and antlers found in their travels through the woods. These items have a high mineral content, which adds to their diet. In the winter, conifer needles make up most of their diet, as well as the tree bark of conifers and hardwoods. The young orphaned porcupine mentioned earlier will be fed a nice diet of vegetables and fruits, including carrots, yams and apples, and a commercial rodent diet. Baby porcupines are very cute but hardly cuddly mammals.

A word to the wise dog owner living anywhere where porcupines may be roaming about it, do not just let your pets run freely any place. Have a pen for your dog(s), walk them daily on a leash in interesting places, maybe put up an electric invisible barrier. Always keep them under control and loved. Native wildlife lives in all sorts of habitats on this island, and it is their home. Letting your animals run freely any place they please, even if they have a GPS on the collar so you know where they are, is not fair to the native wildlife living in our various habitats, nor is it kind and neighborly to those near you who enjoy seeing the wild, native creatures living near them. Be respectful of your human and wildlife neighbors and keep your pets safe.

As strange as it may seem, peepers and tree frogs have been heard making their familiar calls in wet places off and on island. There seems to be a difference of opinion as to why frogs call now. It used to be thought that they found the length of day and temperatures like those in the spring when they are calling for females to mate, but in recent studies, it is thought that maybe that is not the case and there is another reason. The autumn calling frogs have a slightly different call from those in the spring. The autumn calls and the tone of their calls are slightly different, so maybe there is another reason. I’ll be interested in the answer to that mystery. If any readers have more information on this subject, I’d like to hear from you. If you live near a swamp or pond, listen on these November nights and let me know if you hear any frogs calling. November seems very late for this sort of activity, whatever the reason.

Red-winged blackbirds usually leave for the south this month, and a friend of mine off island sent me a beautiful photograph he recently took. It was a close-up photo of a flock in flight with just a touch of the red epaulettes showing as they prepared to land. It was very special. Red-wings are really very useful birds as far as humans are concerned, for they consume untold multitudes of insect pests. People sometimes do not welcome them, however, when huge flocks of red-wings come into fields and injure grain crops. In spite of this, however, the good far outweighs the bad. I welcome them in the spring when the males arrive and start setting up and guarding their territories. Their “honk-er-ee” call is music to my ears.

Snowshoe hares are changing their brown coats for white ones so they will match the coming snowy landscape. As they change, they have a mottled brown-and-white look.

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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