Porcupines are found throughout the United States in a variety of habitats. Most of the time, they fade into the background, but they can be quite destructive when they do waddle into our lives. Fortunately, there are ways to keep them away, but to do that, you need to know what attracts porcupines to your yard in the first place.
You can reduce porcupine activity around your home by removing attractants, installing wire fences, and using deterrents. Generally, porcupines are attracted to:
- Trees (both dead and alive)
- Rock ledges and caves
- Existing animal dens
- Flower and vegetable gardens
- Other mature porcupines
- Birdseed and feeder
Join us as we take a closer look at porcupines, break down exactly what attracts them to your yard, and reveal the most effective ways to keep them off your property!
Porcupines Are Attracted to Various Types of Trees
If you live in an area with porcupines, there’s a good chance you have a tree or two in your yard. But did you know those trees might be attracting the critters?
Porcupines are attracted to trees because they eat the leaves, twigs, and bark. Some of their favorites include willow, spruce, fir, and various pines. However, any tree with soft bark could become a target for a hungry porcupine.
According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, porcupines are herbivores that eat a wide range of vegetation. Since the available vegetation changes seasonally, so does the porky’s diet.
The rodents mainly target the buds and leaves of trees during the spring and summer and eat the twigs and bark of the tree during the winter. Additionally, they often “shred” the tree to get to the soft cambium bark below.
You can identify porcupine damage by looking for the following signs:
- Stripped bark
- Porcupine scat
- Porcupine tracks
- Branches being pruned of twigs
- Areas where the tree appears shredded
- Shavings on the ground beneath the tree
- Large scraping marks made by their two front teeth
Ornamental and fruit trees will often attract hungry porcupines in the winter. Unfortunately, this can be detrimental to the tree. Unlike a garden you can grow each year, it takes a long time for a tree to grow.
The damage they cause is permanent, and while more minor wounds may heal over time, severe damage can kill a tree. If you believe you have porcupines in your area, it’s essential to protect your trees before the critters have a chance to damage them.
Dead and Fallen Trees Might Also Attract Porcupines
Porcupines don’t just eat trees; they live in them too! This is why even dead trees might attract rodents to your yard.
One of the downfalls of living in the wild is that there’s always something that wants to eat you. Fortunately for porcupines, not many animals want to invite them to dinner.
Cleverly hidden under a thick layer of hair are thousands of sharp quills. According to the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, up to 30,000 quills could cover a porcupine’s rounded body at any given time.
When they sense danger, the porcupine lifts the hair on their back and tail to expose their needle-like quills, warning predators to back off. Most animals learn to stay away from prickly rodents, but not all animals give up so easily.
Leopards, fishers, coyotes, and even snapping turtles have found some truly unique ways to take down porcupines.
For example, snapping turtles have learned to grab the rodents from below to avoid the sharp quills, and fishers have learned to flip them onto their backs to expose their vulnerable (and quill-free) bellies.
Although heavily armored, porcupines need to find sheltered places to rest and let their guard down. A hollow or fallen tree is prime real estate for a porky looking for a place to live.
You can often find them living under the root systems, inside hollow areas, and in the branches of trees and large shrubs.
Porcupines Will Look Everywhere For Salt
In addition to trees, porcupines are attracted to things that can furnish them with the salt they need to survive. This can include anything from the wooden handles of tools to winter tires.
Porcupines need to balance their high-potassium diet by excreting the excess potassium and replenishing their sodium. For this reason, they can often be found munching on things humans have touched.
The reason behind this is a bit scientific. But living creatures need salt and potassium to activate the muscles and nerves in their body. Without a relatively equal amount of each, an animal cannot survive.
Because of their attraction to salt, porcupines might come into your yard to nibble on:
- Boat oars
- Winter tires
- Wooden siding
- Wooden furniture
- Plywood structures
- The underside of cars
- Wooden handles on tools
Anything that’s come into contact with sweat or contains sodium-rich glue or resin is fair game to a porcupine.
Occasionally, porcupines might chew on wooden structures even if they don’t contain sodium to help maintain their tooth growth.
Not only is the destruction annoying, but it can be dangerous. People have reported falling through wooden structures and losing the brakes in their cars because of porcupine damage.
Keeping an eye out for damage is essential if you believe you have critters around your home.
Rock Ledges and Caves May Attract Porcupines
Porcupines are solitary creatures who prefer to spend most of their time alone.
Although they occasionally build nests, porcupines typically live inside dens close to a food source. They can be found living in trees but tend to prefer rocky crevices and caves.
The rodents will look for rock ledges, cracks, crevices, and caves that are big enough to fit comfortably inside. To protect their vulnerable front side, they crawl in head first and position their tail towards the entrance.
For this reason, it’s never a good idea to poke around inside a suspected den. Unless you want to get a face full of quills!
Porcupine dens are pretty easy to identify; just look for the pile of scat by the front door. When porcupines poo inside, they push the waste out of the den, where it accumulates by the entrance.
Porcupine scat is about an inch long and changes color depending on the animal’s diet. Most of the time, the droppings contain wood fibers and look like sawdust pellets when they dry.
Existing Animal Dens Make Good Porcupine Homes Too
Sometimes porcupines will live in underground burrows. The animals can dig, but digging takes a lot of energy. Instead, they prefer to find previously dug holes.
Porcupines often make themselves at home in another animal’s burrow. These are usually abandoned. However, since most animals know not to mess with the business end of a porcupine, they usually won’t fight to reclaim their home.
If you have abandoned burrows on your property, there’s a good chance these may attract porcupines. You can prevent this by filling in any holes or burrows that you find around your home.
Additionally, if you liked your previous neighbor, you can try to help them reclaim their home by relocating the porcupine. Be sure to read the section below on relocating/contacting a pro.,
Porcupines Might Visit Your Garden
The awkward rodents have earned such a reputation for destroying trees and wooden structures that we often overlook the damage they cause to vegetation.
Porcupines are commonly attracted to yards because they enjoy munching on plants in both flower and vegetable gardens.
Porcupines will eat almost every part of a garden, including:
- Root vegetables
The thing about porcupines is that they aren’t attracted to specific plants. Instead, they’ll eat almost anything that grows in a garden.
This makes it difficult to control the critters because instead of protecting just a few plants, you have to defend the entire garden.
Very little research has been done to determine which plants are attacked more often by porcupines. However, the rodents seem to favor lily pads, apples, clover, corn, alfalfa, sugarcane, potatoes, and various berries.
Did you know that porcupines have a particular taste for pumpkins? Read more about this in our article on 9 animals that love eating your pumpkins.
Female Porcupines Can Attract Males To Their Location
One of the most unique things about porcupines is their long gestation period. But before they can give birth, they have to attract a mate.
If you have a mature female porcupine living on your property, she could potentially attract several other mature males to your yard.
According to a fact sheet created by the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, female porcupines enter an estrous period that lasts 8 to 12 hours. To ensure she has a mate before this, she advertises well in advance.
The female porcupine will mark her territory with secretions and urine before continuously emitting a high-pitched mating call. This attracts several adult males who will fight to become her suitor.
The winning male protects the female for several days before mating is complete.
After mating, the female will carry her offspring for up to seven months before giving birth to one porcupette in the spring. The male will venture off in search of other mature females.
On very rare occasions, a female may give birth to twin porcupettes.
Bird Feeders Will Bring In Hungry Porcupines
You’ve probably noticed that porcupines will eat practically anything, and that includes birdseed.
Bird feeders will bring more than just birds to your yard. Skunks, raccoons, chipmunks, deer, opossums, squirrels, bears, and porcupines all find bird seed to be a tasty and accessible snack.
Porcupines cannot access feeders if they are mounted on poles or hanging on thin branches. However, they’ll scrounge on the ground beneath the feeders for seeds that have fallen out.
In many cases, an accessible feeder will attract more than one porcupine and you might witness a fight or two on your front porch.
How to Keep Porcupines out of Your Yard
Now that you know what might attract porcupines to your yard let’s talk about how you can keep them away!
Build Fences Around Your Property or Things You Want to Protect
According to the Utah State University Forestry Extension, fencing is the most effective method for preventing porcupine damage. But because the rodents are such good climbers, you’ll need to install the correct type of fence.
Most professionals recommend installing wire fencing around your property or individual trees. This works best when you fold the top of the fence outward at a 65-degree angle and add electrical wire.
Mesh fencing and chicken wire can also be used to protect wooden structures. Wrapping the base of these structures will help prevent porcupine damage because they will have a much harder time chewing the wood.
It can also be used to keep rodents out of crawl spaces underneath buildings and homes.
You can use an electric fence kit like this Poultry Netting Electric Fence around larger areas like gardens and groves of trees.
Adding hotwire like this Electric Fence Portable Poly Wire to mesh fencing can protect individual trees by keeping porcupines from climbing up the trunk if you’d rather not change your whole system.
Wooden barricades rarely work because porcupines can climb over them. Additionally, because most wood is treated with a sodium-rich resin, the fence could attract porcupines instead of deterring them.
Remove as Many Attractants as Possible
Because porcupines are attracted to a wide range of food and wood items, removing everything from your yard is almost impossible. Still, you can make your home less desirable to rodents.
- Store tools and wooden furniture appropriately. Pick up and store all wooden handle tools in metal or plastic storage sheds like this 5×3 Waterproof Steel Storage House. Also, keep wooden furniture covered when it’s not in use.
- Bring bird feeders in at night. Porcupines are nocturnal and will raid bird feeders at night. You can prevent this by emptying feeders at dusk, bringing the feeders inside at night, and raking up any seeds that have dropped to the ground below the feeders.
- Remove dead or fallen trees from your property. Removing dead and fallen trees from your yard will prevent porcupines from finding places to live. Additionally, you can seal up hollow holes in tree trunks with this Steel Wool Fabric Kit.
- Remove as much salt as you can from your car during the winter. Porcupines are mad about salt and will eat almost anything to get it, including your vehicle. Cleaning your car regularly during the winter months can help reduce this damage.
It’s a good idea to do this away from your yard as the salt will just wash onto your lawn and continue to attract porcupines.
If you have winter tires that you remove during the spring/summer months, store them in a garage or hang them on the wall where porcupines cannot reach them.
If you notice porcupines are attacking your car at night, wrapping it with chicken wire can help. It’s a pain, but it will prevent unwanted damage.
- Fill in abandoned burrows. If you come across a burrow on your property, fill it in with dirt. This includes abandoned burrows. Doing this will limit a porcupine’s housing options and might deter them away from your property.
Use Deterrents to Keep Porcupines off Your Property
So I have TWO specific recommendations for you here. The first is to look into the Orbit Yard Enforcer Motion Activated Water Sprinkler. This fancy contraption will spray medium sized animals with a powerful jet of water when they approach it. It’s about as harmless as you can get for a deterrent!
Unless of course, that porcupine likes taking a bath.
Next up, you can use specific smells to keep porcupines away. These work by blocking other scents that can attract them and by doing so, the animals won’t be able to detect the things they like in your yard and thus will stay away.
Use Sound Machines to Repel Porcupines
Sound machines also use noise to deter pests, but in a different way. Instead of emitting high-frequency sounds, these machines play a range of noises from bird calls to predator snarling.
People often use sound machines with decoys to trick pests into believing a predator is nearby.
One common predator or porcupines are owls – specifically great horned owls. One thing you can do is get an owl statue or two and have a repeated owl noise going around in your yard via a radio or CD.
Should My Dog Chase Away Porcupines?
Dogs are commonly used to repel pests, but unfortunately, they won’t do much good for porcupines.
Porcupines are not easily scared away, and a dog is more likely to get a face full of quills than to chase off a determined porcupine. The quills are difficult to remove and can lead to infections and hefty vet bills.
If you have dogs, keep them inside at night to prevent them from getting hurt, and don’t encourage them to chase the rodents.
Call A Professional
If porcupines are causing extensive damage to your home and nothing else is working, you may have to call in the pros.
Although porcupines are not considered an endangered species, there may be local laws that protect the animals. Instead of taking action into your own hands, you’ll want a wildlife professional to handle it instead. Don’t get quilled!
This handy pest control finder will help you find an agency in your area that can help you navigate the laws in your state.
That’s A Wrap!
At the end of the day, porcupines aren’t all bad. The rodents often drop twigs and other edible tree parts, which become food for ground-dwelling animals.
They also prune the tree tops, which keeps the canopy region from becoming too dense and blocking light from reaching the plants and animals below.
But while the forest depends on its destruction, it can become a nuisance for humans. Porcupines can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage in a relatively short period, making it almost impossible to cohabitate with the critters.
Luckily, you can do a few things to keep the spiky animals off your property.
Remember, porcupines are attracted to:
- Bird feeders
- Animal dens
- Rock crevices
- Sheltered areas
- Wooden structures
- Hollow tree trunks and logs
If you already HAVE them running around..
You can control the porcupine population around your yard by:
- Installing mesh or wire fences around your yard, trees, and wooden structures
- Removing as many of the things that attract the critters as you can
- Using chemical and natural deterrents, sprays, and sound machines
- Contacting a pest control company near you
Cho, W. K., Ankrum, J. A., Guo, D., Chester, S. A., Yang, S. Y., Kashyap, A., … & Karp, J. M. (2012). Microstructured barbs on the North American porcupine quill enable easy tissue penetration and difficult removal. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(52), 21289-21294.
Dolbeer, R. A., Holler, N. R., & Hawthorne, D. W. (1994). Identification and assessment of wildlife damage: an overview. The handbook: Prevention and control of wildlife damage, 2.
Kuhns, M. R., Dettenmaier, M., & Tegt, J. (2019). Identifying and Preventing Porcupine Damage to Trees.
Roze, U. (2009). The North American porcupine. Cornell University Press.
Sweitzer, R. A., & Berger, J. (1992). Size‐related effects of predation on habitat use and behavior of porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum). Ecology, 73(3), 867-875.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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