Spiky little porcupines can hold their own against a horde of predator birds, including falcons, owls and hawks, new research has found.
They can even stave off that most lethal of killing machines, the golden eagle, which sometimes attack deer.
Eagles probably clash with porcupines “more than you think”, US wildlife biologist Robert Murphy told Science Magazine — with the prickly rodent the victor.
Motion-sensor cameras in the US state of Pennsylvania recently captured a young golden eagle watching a wandering porcupine.
A week later, the camera photographed the same bird again — with four painful quills stuck in its face.
This intrigued a team of wildlife researchers, who decided to trawl through previous studies, finding at least 17 mentions between 1909 and 2009 of birds trying to attack porcupines and failing.
“Predation is dangerous, not only for the prey but sometimes also for the predator,” the study’s authors wrote in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology.
“At least nine species have been documented as having contact with porcupine quills. A minimum of 39 per cent of these interactions resulted in death to the bird, demonstrating the risk birds face when interacting with porcupines,” the authors said.
Porcupine quills are barbed at the tip, causing them to drive deeper and deeper into anyone unfortunate enough to get spiked.