A tree, stripped of its bark by a porcupine.
North American Porcupine
AKA: Common porcupine, Canadian porcupine
Identifying characteristics: A large, stout rodent with large bright-orange incisors. The fur is dark brown to black, mixed with longer cream-colored spines. The face is dark brown to black with a large blunt snout and large nostrils. The body is plump, the limbs are short, and the toes have long claws. They have 4 toes on the front paw, while the rear paw has a fifth (vestigial) thumb-like toe.
Size: The second largest rodent in North America. Average body length of 2 to 3 feet, weighing an average of 11 to 30 pounds. Males are generally larger than females.
Habitat: Coniferous, deciduous and mixed forests with plenty of cone-producing trees and ample ground cover. In New York, Porcupines spend the majority of their time in trees. The North American Porcupine is distributed across much of Canada and New England as well as Washington and California. In New York State, concentrations diminish the further west you go. Porcupines will nest in dens under rocks or logs or within hollow sections of trees. In the daytime they may rest in trees.
Feeding: Herbivore; feeding on bark, twigs, roots and other plant material. In spring they concentrate on budding maples. In summer they tend to strip tree bark to get at the soft cambium beneath. In the fall, their diets shift towards acorn and beech nuts, which are usually eaten directly off the trees. A good sign that a porcupine is in the area is a tree stripped of bark (usually higher than a beaver can reach).
Predators: Fishers, bobcats, coyotes, great horned owls, humans (both for food and also those struck by vehicles). Fishers are specialized porcupine predators. They attack from the front and flip the porcupine to get at the soft-furred underbelly.
Reproduction: Mating season is from October through November. Males will compete aggressively for a mate. They will bite and use their quills in quarrels that usually occur in trees. Mating, on the other hand, occurs on the ground. A peculiar mating ritual particular to porcupines is that the male will douse the female with urine prior to mating. Oddly enough, this is supposed to entice the female into pairing. Usually 1, but sometimes 2 offspring are born roughly 200 days later. The young stay with their mother for 5 months. Porcupines become sexually mature around the age of two.
Other Info.: Porcupines are nocturnal; usually solitary, but often den in groups up to 8. They do not hibernate, but will become less active in winter. Porcupines are slow and have poor eyesight, resulting in a lot of them getting squished while crossing roads.
Vocalization: Teeth chattering (when threatened); high-pitch grunts.
Found across the state with higher densities in the Adirondack region.
Look for alternating prints with large 5-toed hind prints and smaller 4-toed foreprints. Prints may overlap. The hind prints are just over 2 inches long on average, while the front prints rarely exceed two inches. A clear print may show a beaded texture to the paw pad. The claws are long. The stride is about 7-8 inches long. Porcupines tend to drag their spines (and tail) on the ground as they walk.
Other signs of porcupines
Bark strippings, twigs, nut casings. Smooth trees with patches of missing bark is a good indication. Porcupines won’t inhabit the trees they feed on, but chances are they are close by.