Have you ever walked through the Bosque and seen what looked like a giant golden bird’s nest or a squirrel’s nest up in the tree? Chances are it wasn’t a nest, but more likely a porcupine. Better known as the Bosque porcupine, the North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum) lives primarily in the Rio Grande Bosque, or anywhere close to water. If you haven’t seen them yet, winter or early spring is the best time to catch the little guys up in the trees. While they are there in the summertime, the best time to view them is when there are little to no leaves on the trees.
Deborah Cook is the Science Education Coordinator for the ABQ BioPark. She says that staff at the BioPark have seen more porcupines since last fall than ever before. “We think it’s because there’s less water in the river, and they’re migrating to the BioPark for well-watered trees. We’ve also had a lot less foot traffic here due to the pandemic, so the wildlife around the bosque have gotten very familiar with us.”
Cook says the BioPark has a resident porcupine at the Botanic Garden who lives in the wisteria growing above the archway in the Ceremonial Garden. She’s lived there for five years and feels right at home. The staff even found a baby wandering around the garden last year while the BioPark was shut down. Cook says babies only stay with their mothers for five months and then move to their own territory, so their prickly permanent guest is on her own again.
Porcupines are nocturnal and will forage for leaves and bark at night and will sleep for most of the day, hence why they are up in the trees if you catch a glimpse. They are often alone, are rarely aggressive, but will charge at an opponent if they feel threatened. Contrary to popular belief, porcupines do not shoot their quills. The porcupine’s quills are just like tough hair; and they shed, which is why you’ll see them scattered along the ground.
Laura Paskus is an environmental reporter for New Mexico In Focus and New Mexico In Depth. She says she’s had an explosion of interest on social media in the past year since she started posting her porcupine finds. “I feel like porcupine sightings reminded me of being a kid. I think that’s why people are connecting with it. There’s a sense of magic and adventure in finding creatures in the woods nobody is looking for. We could all use a little excitement and positivity.”
Paskus says she hopes people can connect with natural spaces more often. “If you’re excited, you’re more observant and more emotionally connected with the environment and will want to do what you can to save it.”
Tips for Porcupine Watching: Look down as you walk, not up. If you see scat and quills, there’s most likely a porcupine above you. Take five steps back from the tree, because the dwellers will often pee on you. Porcupines sleep all day and will often poop in the afternoon, so watch your step!