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Porcupines Foraging

10-1-15  porcupine in leaves IMG_2537There are a few weeks in September and October when acorns (and beechnuts) are mature enough to eat, but haven’t yet fallen to the ground. Porcupines take advantage of this nutritious supply of food that is not yet accessible to small rodents, deer and turkeys, and climb oak trees to consume acorns. Because an average porcupine weighs between 12 and 35 pounds, it is unable to climb all the way out to the end of a branch, where acorns are located, so it nips off the tips of fruit-bearing branches and then scoops out the acorn, leaving the cap still attached to the branch (diagnostic porcupine sign). When all the acorns on a branch have been eaten, the branch is discarded. You can often find many of these branch tips, or “nip twigs,” in the canopy of large oaks on a good mast year, but inevitably some fall to the ground. The end of the twig is usually cut at a 45° angle, and often you can see the lines made by the porcupine’s incisors. (Beechnuts are also harvested in this manner, as are the cones and terminal buds of eastern hemlock in winter.) Red squirrels also nip twigs in order to reach fruit, but typically do so when they harvest the cones and terminal buds of conifers. (Thanks to Ethel & Michael Weinberger for photo opportunity)

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8 responses

  1. Ron Willoughby

    Mary, In my experience, the squirrels that nip the terminal branch tips are gray. I see this every year at this time. The reds will scurry all the way up a mature oak tree, “pick” one acorn, and carry it all the way to the ground to stash it. The process is then repeated. Porcupines will not only strip oak branches and hemlocks, they will do the same thing to an apple tree. Apples are very hardy and can withstand such abuse. Hemlocks, however, cannot. After a couple of years of near total defoliation, they will . Ron

    10/1/2015 8:11 AM, Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote: > WordPress.com > Mary Holland posted: “There are a few weeks in September and October > when acorns (and beechnuts) are mature enough to eat, but haven’t yet > fallen to the ground. Porcupines take advantage of this nutritious > supply of food that is not yet accessible to small rodents, deer and t” >

    October 1, 2015 at 10:14 am

  2. Cheron barton

    *Watch for these… Have plenty of oaks around!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    October 1, 2015 at 11:27 am

  3. Michael Robinson

    Do porcupines, break off the branches baring the acorns and eat the fruit when the branch is on the ground? Not sure what “nips” means, thanks, Mike

    October 1, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    • Hi Mike,
      They nip, or cut with their incisors, off the tip of a branch that bears acorns (that is too slender to bear their weight), eat the acorns while in the tree, and then toss the branch, bearing just acorn caps, and it lands either in the oak tree or on the ground.

      October 1, 2015 at 3:09 pm

  4. One late summer I found a Swamp White oak covered in acorns close to Lake Champlain in West Haven. I waited to go back to the tree to collect acorns for our local native plant nursery to find that porcupine had visited the tree and eaten almost all of them. It was easy to see that the porcupine had bitten into the branch and pulled it closer to it’s mouth to then consume the acorns. I have planted apples for wildlife habitat in isolated locations to find them severely damaged by porcupines as well. I have even found quills stuck in branches of these apple trees! Left a calling card maybe?

    October 2, 2015 at 6:32 am

    • I guess porcupines probably aren’t at the top of your most-liked rodents! I love the quills in the apple tree – I’ve found them stuck in den trees, but never in a tree where they’ve been feeding!

      October 2, 2015 at 7:48 am

  5. Interesting!

    October 2, 2015 at 9:31 pm

  6. Michael Robinson

    Just want to check, if I may, Mary, Do the Porcupines break off the branch to eat the meat of the nuts they cannot reach by climbing—what does Nipping mean? Thanks so much, email :kksandi@comcast.net

    October 3, 2015 at 9:38 am

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