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Beavers: Wetland Engineers

January 20, 2013

I discovered a copy of Grey Owl’s “The Adventures of Sajo and Her Beaver People” when I was still young enough to be taken with the life that Grey Owl described.  Among other things he watched beavers  using an open window in his cabin to construct an indoor beaver  lodge.  My mother would definitely not have approved.

A Beaver in a winter pond

A Beaver in a winter pond

Grey Owl had carefully constructed his public persona: he was really an Englishman who romanticized native life.  Whatever his deceptions, he certainly sparked my interest in beavers.

A Beaver Eating at the lodge

Canada herself seems to have had a love-hate relationship with beavers. On the one hand, the fur trade, fueled mostly by a European hunger for beaver felt hats, opened up the eastern part of the country to development. The fur trade  almost exterminated the beaver, but populations have soared in the past decades.  The beaver has come to represent the more hard-working and industrial aspects of the Canadian character. On the other hand, beavers can kill prized trees and their activities  flood out land and roads.

A beaver slapping its tail

A beaver slapping its tail

A beaver in a winter pond

A beaver in a winter pond

I am still fascinated with beavers. They are not just large industrious rodents (although they are indeed just that), they are also the architects and engineers of much of the Canadian landscape. When beavers construct mud and stick dams to keep water levels high enough to maintain their own activities, they and their neighbouring kin create a network of small ponds. These small ponds are homes to nesting ducks and other animals and a unique association of plants.

This beaver had not seen me just yet

This beaver had not seen me just yet

I knew a Kootenay “old-timer” who would tap the trees near a beaver pond with a stick to tempt the beavers out.  I have enjoyed the early mornings I have spent by beaver ponds – even if I didn’t always catch a glimpse of the beaver.

A beaver lodge in a small pond

A beaver lodge in a small pond

It is hard to mistake the handiwork of beavers. They eat a variety of plants but their presence is most evident when they take down  trees (mostly deciduous).  They drag the pieces back to the their lodge where they can eat the inner bark and the leaves in safety. You can see the stumps they leave, the drag marks, the round scat and their footprints in the mud or snow. They can fall prey to cougars, coyotes, bobcats and other predators when they venture out to find food.  They are usually active at dawn, dusk and at night in summer but may be active in the day over winter.

Right about now, on this cold clear winter night, I can imagine the beavers in their lodge, sharing  their body heat and awaiting a new day.  Then they will venture out and see what the world has in store.  Pretty much what we all hope to do on a new day.

All photos and writing in this blog copyright J.A. Siderius, 2013.

2 Comments
  1. Beavers are extraordinary creatures indeed. They are an example of the sophistication of instinct in birds and other animals. How, for instance, do they know how/when to regulate the water flow to keep it deep enough to cover the entrance to their lodge and keep out predators?

  2. It is extraordinary! I have heard that the sound of running water triggers their dam-fixing activities. And apparently, they do control which way the tree is going to fall – although some beavers do get hit by falling trees. Very cool beasts!

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