An impaled dove? A tree stripped of its bark? Send your questions to
QJOHAN FOURIE from Centurion writes: I photographed this dove in my garden. Although impaled by a porcupine quill, it didn’t seem to be struggling too much, but it did sometimes trip over the quill. It ate some pap that I put out and flew into a nearby tree. I know it’s a myth that porcupines shoot their quills and to my knowledge there aren’t any porcupines in my area. However, Rietvlei Dam is about 13 km away. Any idea what might have happened here?
ABird expert FAANSIE PEACOCK says: It looks like the quill has penetrated the right side of the bird’s chest, but it missed the wing so it doesn’t seem to have an effect on the bird’s ability to fly, eat or walk around. The wound is probably smaller than it looks because it’s hidden beneath a thick layer of contour feathers. This is a freak accident and how it happened is a mystery. It might be that the bird ventured too close to a porcupine, but that’s unlikely. Porcupines can’t shoot their quills, but people can. It’s possible that there was a third party involved. Quills are often used in home-made weapons and traps. But if the bird was shot, the quill is at a strange angle. around the tree, but a baboon had marked one of the branches higher up. Did baboons strip the bark?
AA recent study on the interaction between birds and the North American porcupine reported 17 cases and nine species that got to know the sharp end of a porcupine quill. The end result of many of the cases are unknown, but at least half of the birds died. The majority of these cases involved birds of prey (eagles, buzzards, hawks and large owls) as well as crows. A grouse hen with quills in her breast has also been recorded. The grouse nests on the ground and she might have been injured while protecting her eggs: Porcupines might be largely vegetarian, but there have been reports of North American species eating bird eggs. The calcium in the eggshell could be the real target, since porcupines like to gnaw on bones as well. Johan was surprised to see a porcupine quill in suburban Centurion, but porcupines are highly adaptable and are widespread in green belts and urban areas. They’re found in many municipal nature reserves and estates in and around Pretoria. I doubt the dove will survive for long. Even if the wounds heal, the quill will remain a hindrance.
Plant taxonomist BRAAM VAN WYK says: It’s hard to say without seeing the tree up close. The most likely explanation is that people stripped the bark. Many parts of the cabbage tree are used in traditional medicine. Could it have been an animal? Porcupines sometimes ring-bark trees, but mostly along a relatively narrow strip just above the ground. In this case, the animal would have had to move around in the branches and porcupines aren’t known for their tree-climbing skills. If there are visible tooth marks on the stripped parts of the tree, the animal had large and sharp teeth. This would point to baboons and rock dassies – both species are known to eat bark. I’ve seen bushveld trees stripped by dassies that looked much like the tree in this photo, but not a cabbage tree. As far as animals go, the dassie is suspect number one, and the baboon number two. When an animal strips a tree, there will be small pieces of bark scattered around on the ground. Dassies (and baboons too, I suspect) selectively eat the innermost living layer of bark that lies directly against the wood; the outer, dead layers are left alone. I can’t see any bark lying on the ground, which makes me think that humans are the culprits in this case.