With their large size and a bushel of quills on their back, porcupines are easily recognizable. These large rodents can sometimes find their way into our yards while looking for food, but what exactly does a porcupine eat and how can you deter them?
Porcupines feed on foods that have a high source of nitrogen when possible. The foods that attract porcupines include apples, salt, evergreen needles, tree bark, nuts, berries, flowering herbs, grasses, and roots. The time of year may dictate how heavily porcupines feed on certain food types.
We’ll go over all the foods that attract porcupines, why those foods are attractive, and how you can keep these prickly rodents out of your yard!
Why Do You Need To Repel Porcupines?
Porcupines can be found almost everywhere in Canada and Alaska. They feel right at home in the western United States as well as the Northeast. They can be found as far south as northern Mexico.
These widespread rodents are elusive in some areas while in others they may be an everyday sight.
Native Americans used to use porcupines as a source of food and their quills as a source of decoration. In today’s day and age, porcupines are looked at as more of a pest than an animal to be revered.
What about porcupines makes them a pest to many homeowners throughout North America?
Porcupines Chew Man-Made Structures And Tools
Porcupines love chewing on wood. There are a few reasons they might decide to make a meal out of the corner of your wooden shed.
- Filing front teeth: According to Vermont Fish and Wildlife, the front teeth of porcupines will continue to grow throughout their life. They must chew on hard materials like wood to keep them filed down.
- Glue: Porcupines are attracted to the bonding glue that is typically used in the siding of houses.
- Salt: Wood that has been handled by many different people will contain salt residue from sweat. Porcupines LOVE salt and will chew anything that contains salt.
A few common things in our yards that will attract porcupines include:
- Wooden structures
- The wooden handle of tools
- Wooden boards
- Building materials
Porcupines Damage Trees
Porcupines are equipped with teeth typical of any rodent – large incisors and strong cheek teeth. This gives them the perfect weapon to use against trees.
Damage to trees happens more often in the winter when other food sources are scarce. The species of tree that gets damaged depends largely on the area where the porcupine lives.
For example, porcupines in the rocky mountains feed on ponderosa pine while the quilled rodents in the eastern US feed on basswood, aspen, and beech trees.
Porcupines will target the bark, inner cambium, phloem, leaves, and twigs of the trees. These giant rodents can do some damage. They certainly drive park managers crazy!
Not only does porcupine feeding damage trees, but the resulting damage also opens the tree up to disease and insects that can do far more damage than feeding.
As a result of their feeding habits, porcupines also make reforestation efforts difficult as they will feed on young trees to the point where they either do not grow or have stunted, twisted growth.
Trees, both new and old, are some of the main things that attract porcupines to yards.
Foods That Attract Porcupines
The most important thing in a porcupine’s diet is a source of nitrogen. Even when they eat enough food, they may still starve due to a lack of nitrogen.
Most rodents only live a few years in the wild, some even less than that. Despite being part of the rodent family, porcupines are more similar to beavers, living up to 18 years in the wild.
Their long lifespan means they could potentially be a nuisance in your yard for a long time. According to the Adirondack Ecological Center, porcupine home ranges are less than 1 square mile, and usually no more than ½ square mile.
If your yard happens to be in that small home range, you could have a porcupine problem on your hands pretty quickly!
So, what is attracting these lumbering rodents to your yard? We’ll go over some tactics to keep them away a little later.
Porcupines Love Eating Apples
It is a rare thing when a porcupine ventures outside of its home territory. According to the University of Michigan, porcupines will leave their home territory and venture far and wide to gobble up apples.
During late summer and fall, apples can make up a significant portion of a porcupine’s diet. They’re not too picky about the type of apple, and will just as happily munch on a crab apple as a red delicious.
If you have an apple tree in or near your yard, it may be attracting porcupines. They are capable of climbing the tree to reach the apples or browsing the fallen apples on the ground.
Apples make up an important source of carbohydrates and sugar that help fatten up these prickly rodents before winter hits. During winter, porcupines can become nutrition-stressed, and eating apples is one way to combat this.
Porcupines won’t say no to other fruits as well, but apples are their favorite!
Porcupines Crave Salt
The diet of a porcupine will change with the seasons. They are considered by some to be generalist herbivores, but others consider them specialists.
During the spring, trees contain the least amount of tannins. Porcupines take advantage of this and devour new buds. As summer rolls around, the tannins ramp up in trees and porcupines switch over to other sources that are higher in potassium.
The only problem with potassium is that it makes porcupines crave salt to balance out their nutrients.
Salt can come in many forms. If you lay salt blocks out for deer, porcupines are bound to be attracted to it. Many other forms of salt exist, some you would never think of:
- Tool handles
- Roadside salt
- Dropped deer antlers
Salt is another food source that porcupines will leave their home range to find.
Porcupines Eat Evergreen Needles In The Winter
As we mentioned before, a porcupine’s diet will change with each season. They have their preferences, but when those aren’t available, they’ll switch to something different.
When Jack Frost comes nipping at our toes, porcupines change their diet over to evergreen needles.
The needles aren’t very nutritious but they are plentiful in the winter and help keep porcupines going until the first breath of Spring.
As with apples, porcupines aren’t very picky with which kind of needles they eat. However, they may target one tree specifically and strip it bare.
According to an article in the Journal of Comparative Physiology B, porcupines have the remarkable ability to maximize the intake of low-nutrition foods (like pine needles) while minimizing the loss of stored foods.
In short, when porcupines eat evergreen needles, they suck up every last drop of nutrition they can and only excrete what they absolutely cannot use.
Porcupines can also put up with nutritional and chemical imbalances during times of nutrient stress. So, if they have an excess of sodium in their bodies and can’t find any salt, their bodies just deal with it.
Porcupines Gnaw On Tree Bark
Well, it’s not exactly tree bark. It’s the inner layer of tree bark called the cambium. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the cambium is the part of the trunk that is actively growing. It lays just underneath the outer bark.
To the annoyance of many forest managers, porcupines will eat cambium at a rate that damages the trees enough to stunt growth or cause twisted trunks.
Cambium is typically eaten in the winter when berries, nuts, and leaves are unavailable. Porcupines will not eat from the same trees they sleep in.
The species of tree that porcupines eat will depend on where the porcupine lives. Basically, porcupines eat from the trees that are around them.
Rocky Mountain porcupines target ponderosa pines which are common in that area. According to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, porcupines living in the northeast will flock to a variety of trees:
Some trees are preferred over others when available. For example, porcupines prefer hemlocks because they have large foliage, protecting porcupines from predators while they feed.
Porcupines Go Nuts Over Nuts
We already talked about the spring, summer, and winter diets of porcupines. Now, let’s discuss the fall diet of these trundling rodents.
Acorns and beech nuts are targeted by porcupines in the fall. They will especially go after these delicious food items when they are still on the trees.
As soon as acorns and beech nuts begin falling to the forest floor, porcupines are quickly outcompeted by bushy-tailed squirrels and browsing deer that snatch up all the fallen acorns and nuts.
Acorns and beech nuts are high in proteins, fats, and carbs, making them an excellent source of food for porcupines while they prepare for winter.
Porcupines Are Attracted To Berry Bushes
Spring and summer are the best times for almost any animal. Food once again becomes abundant, baby animals are taking their first steps, and temperatures are finally on the rise.
During the warm seasons, porcupines will feast on berries. As with many of the other foods on our list, the type of berry doesn’t matter too much to a porcupine. They will eat what is around them and what is easily available.
Blueberries, blackberries, and huckleberries are just some of the varieties that are eaten by porcupines. They’re also fond of raspberry stems. According to a dissertation from South Dakota State University, buffaloberries are the most frequently eaten berries.
Porcupines Feast On Flowering Herbs
For many tree-browsing animals like porcupines and deer, tannin levels will dictate when they can and can’t eat certain parts of the tree.
By the time late spring hits, tannin levels are usually too high for porcupines to eat the leaves of trees. Instead of leaves, they’ll switch over to flowering herbs and other herbaceous plants.
Clover is one of the main flowering herbs that porcupines will eat, but as we’ve seen in the past, they’re not too picky about which herbs they eat!
Porcupines Chow Down On Grass
Grass may not be the most nutritious meal for a porcupine, but it is plentiful from spring through fall.
Porcupines have the amazing ability to squeeze every bit of nutrition from the food they eat. Just because it’s grass doesn’t mean that porcupines won’t benefit from eating it.
One reason that porcupines might opt for grass as opposed to berries or flowers is if predators are around.
A study published in the Journal of behavioral ecology found that porcupines will change their movements when predators are a threat, despite being armed to the teeth with painful quills.
Porcupines Will Make A Meal Of Roots
Similar to grass, roots may not be the most nutritious meal for a porcupine, but it contains at least a little nutrition that will keep them going until they can find something better.
The type of root is not important to a porcupine, but in general, they will go after whatever is easiest to obtain and whatever is available in their home range.
What Is A Porcupine’s Favorite Food?
When it comes to repelling porcupines from your yard, garden, or orchard, an important question to ask is what their favorite food is.
Apples and salt are two food items that porcupines go crazy over! If you have either one of these in your yard or nearby, they’re likely to attract porcupines far more than herbs, trees, or grasses will.
How To Keep Porcupines Out Of Your Yard
Porcupine damage can range from negligible to severe. Like most pests, the damage will depend on many variables such as:
- Food availability
- Competition with other porcupines
- Presence of predators
- Proximity to humans
- Availability of den areas
Porcupines aren’t found near cities or suburban neighborhoods, they only appear in places that are rural with plenty of cover, hiding places, and available den space.
These quilled rodents have small home ranges, so they must find everything they need in that small area.
If you’re having problems with some troublesome porcupines, we got you covered! Let’s check out all the ways to keep these pesky rodents away.
Build A Fence
Fencing is the most effective, yet most expensive, way to keep porcupines out of your yard. Specifically, you can use fencing to block off problem areas such as a garden, favorite berry bush, or vulnerable tree.
- Height: According to Utah State University, a fence that is 18-24 inches high will be adequate to deter porcupines.
- Depth: It’s recommended to bury the fence at least 12 inches into the soil. 18 inches is better.
- Material: Consider using wire fencing or hardware cloth. Luckily, porcupines are large rodents so the size of the holes doesn’t matter. Lan Jia’s Galvanized Hardware Cloth measures 24 inches high and 50 feet long. Perfect to keep pesky porcupines away!
You can put your fence around a single tree that keeps getting gnawed on, but be aware that you may have to continually expand the fence as the tree grows.
This type of fence can also be used to protect a garden that is getting devoured by porcupines. Just be aware a 24-inch fence will not keep out deer and other pests.
Use Scent Deterrents
Fencing may be effective, but you can’t fence everything that a porcupine eats. When these troublesome rodents decide to make a meal out of the corner of your shed or house, a fence is possible but also an eye sore.
Scent deterrents are a great solution to deter porcupines from tough spots.
An article in the Wildlife Society Bulletin found that hot sauce is an effective deterrent against porcupines, as well as several other troublesome forest animals.
In the study, they compared black-tailed deer, pocket gophers, porcupines, and mountain beavers. Of all the animals, porcupines were deterred the most successfully by hot sauce.
To use hot sauce to deter porcupines, put 10-15 drops of hot sauce into a spray bottle and fill the rest with water. Spray the areas where porcupines are gnawing.
Scent deterrents are cheap and effective, but they also require reapplication to work. Make sure to reapply the scent at least once a week and any time after heavy rainfall to ensure it stays effective.
You can learn more in our full list of scents that porcupines hate here!
Protect Trees With Aluminum Flashing
If you’re not into building a fence around vulnerable trees, you can use aluminum flashing instead to protect your trees from gnawing porcupines.
Amerimax Home Products 20-Inch x 10-Feet Aluminum Flashing can be wrapped around the tree at ground level. This will prevent porcupines from climbing the trees to get to tasty leaves, nuts, or twigs.
As with hardware cloth and other fencing materials, be sure to allow enough room for the tree to grow.
Provide Alternative Food Sources
Porcupines have a small home territory. If they are targeting things in your yard for food, they are likely going to stick around as long as there are food sources.
If you can’t eliminate the food sources, try providing porcupines with a salt block. They are far more likely to go after the salt block than your vulnerable garden, herbs, and trees.
This tactic is a double-edged sword and should only be used if all other alternatives have failed. If you don’t have a porcupine problem you will not want to use this option as it will attract unwanted porcupines to the yard.
Did you know that porcupines love eating pumpkins? Learn more about it in our article on 9 animals that love eating pumpkins.
That’s All For Now!
Porcupines may not be as high on the list of pests as deer, raccoons, and coyotes, but they can certainly do some damage!
Most of the time, porcupines are causing damage because they are looking for food. If your yard provides porcupines with food, they’re going to stick around and enjoy the buffet for as long as they can.
Now for a quick recap.
The foods that attract porcupines include:
- Evergreen needles
- Tree bark
- Flowering herbs
Eliminating these food sources can help keep porcupines out of your yard. It can be difficult to eliminate all food sources, however, so using physical deterrents and scent deterrents can help keep these troublesome animals out of your yard.
If your neighborhood porcupine doesn’t want to leave your yard, you can always reach out to a professional near you using our nationwide pest control finder.
Cho, W. K., Ankrum, J. A., Guo, D., & Karp, J. M. (2012, 10 December). Microstructured barbs on the North American porcupine quill enable easy tissue penetration and difficult removal. Applied Biological Science, 109(52), 21289-21294.
Coltrane, J. A. (2012). Redefining the North American Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) as a Facultative Specialist Herbivore. Northwestern Naturalist, 93(3), 187-193.
Coltrane, J. A., & Barboza, P. S. (2010). Winter as a nutritional bottleneck for North American porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum). Journal of Comparative Physiology B, 180, 905-918.
Pokallus, J. W., & Pauli, J. N. (2016, March-April). Predation shapes the movement of a well-defended species, the North American porcupine, even when nutritionally stressed. Behavioral Ecology, 27(2), 470-475. https://academic.oup.com/beheco/article/27/2/470/2196582
Wagner, K. K., & Nolte, D. L. (2000, Spring). Evaluation of Hot Sauce as a Repellent for Forest Mammals. Wildlife Society Bulletin (1973-2006), 28(1), 76-83.