Beaver Behavior

Beaver Behavior

My First Encounter
I still get weepy when I think about it. My friend Michelle, her brother Brian, and I came across a beaver caught in a beaver guard for a culvert one day while we were hiking in Rutland State Park, Massachusetts. Brian did his best to free it. Michelle made phone calls trying to get somebody to come out to the park and release it. We weren’t able to save it.
I have become a bit fascinated by beavers. Perhaps it began in memory of Brian, since I always think of him when I see any type of beaver activity. Hiking around Vischer Ferry Nature Preserve I was drawn in by their lodges. I have discovered beavers to be an adorable and gentle animal who are extraordinary engineers and family oriented.
Hiking Observations
My friend Becky was visiting the weekend of March 7th and we decided to go hike around my favorite place, Vischer Ferry Nature Preserve. We went on a trail where a portion of it I had never been down before. We made some discoveries like picnic tables and grills on the banks of the Mohawk River.

I also got to see the Whipple Truss Bridge from a whole new perspective. Unfortunately, you cannot see the bridge well in the pictures I took.

As we began to loop around to where we were parked, we saw two holes broken through the ice and some scat. We thought we found a beaver bathroom. Assuming it was caused by beaver activity we looked around to see where the closest beaver lodge was. It was quite a ways off and Becky was not convinced that the beavers would swim that far to relieve themselves.

We also came across a pile of snow, encroaching on the path we were traveling. I took a good look at the timber because I was sure it was a beaver lodge. I was completely convinced the wood was lumbered by beavers. Becky thought it couldn’t be a beaver home because it was in the path.

I studied the picture I took. I researched beavers on the internet. I had a little doubt nagging me. So I went back on March 9th. I started the loop Becky and I did but went the opposite direction because I wanted to get to that beaver house! I took numerous pictures so I could examine them later in great detail.
The holes we saw were mostly gone, in two days, because we had a few days where the temperature reached over 35° F. No scat was left for me to take a picture of or reexamine. Honestly, I wanted to look at the scat to see if it was beaver or river otter since they have completely different diets. Information I have read leads me to believe that the holes were actually created by river otters.
I’m fairly new to watching signs for different animals. It began when Nathan and I did our Rocky Mountain trip and me looking for signs of bears. I am much more aware of my surroundings now. Although I can be oblivious at times, I do listen more intently and watch more closely.
I made another trip to the Preserve on March 12th. Snow had been melting at a pretty fast rate and I had the idea that maybe, just maybe, I could see the lodges without them being completely covered in snow. I even brought my binoculars. I feel like I got some great photos, but the detail of the lodges viewed through the binoculars amazed me.
I’m fairly certain at this point I’ve read all I can on the internet about beavers. I found some amazing blogs and videos. I even watched a PBS documentary about beavers on Netflix.
Since I am just learning about beaver behavior I wanted to write a little about what I have learned.
Quick Beaver Facts
  • Beavers are strictly vegetarians. They don’t actually eat trees. They eat the inside layer of bark as well as twigs, buds, and leaves from trees like willow, birch, cottonwood, aspen, alder, maple, and poplar. They also enjoy eating cattail shoots and water lilies. Sometimes they’ll eat berries.
  • A beaver’s front teeth (incisors) never stop growing and are self sharpening. The front enamel is orange because they contain iron.
  • A beaver’s hind feet are webbed.
  • Beavers can hold their breath for up to fifteen minutes.
  • Beavers do not hibernate in the winter.
  • Beavers are nocturnal. They live in relative darkness. Their lodges have vents but these holes let in very little light, if any.
  • Beavers are clumsy and more vulnerable to predators on land so they do their best to limit their time out of water.
  • Beavers create their ideal living environment by building dams and forming ponds. In the ponds, they construct their homes and create a winter food storage.
  • Beavers utilize the same building materials for their dams and lodges, using mud as grout to solidify and insulate.
  • Beaver lodges are fascinating structures. Domed shaped with multiple chambers, their homes have several underwater entrances. When entering a beaver lodge, there is a mudroom to dry off in before entering the main chamber.
  • Beavers are considered to be very hygienic and generally will not defecate on land or near their homes. They prefer moving water.
    • Learning this is what made me reconsider who made the holes in the ice.
Photos from Vischer Ferry Nature Preserve
The first five photos are all similar viewpoints from the Whipple Truss Bridge. It wasn’t until my March 9th visit to the Vischer Ferry Preserve that I noticed beaver lodges in the distance from this vantage point. Of course, I had to go back through my pictures and see if I could find proof that the lodges were there in November.
If the beaver lodges were there in November they were well camouflaged. All I could see in pictures from November were Canada geese. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the lodges. Not only because I was distracted by birds, but also because I had never seen a beaver lodge before.
Looking back, I remember getting caught up in the migrating behavior of the Canada geese and listening to them chatter. To me, the cadence of many geese honking sounds like women gossiping and complaining.
If you look closely at the third picture down you can see a beaver lodge. It is a little left from center. In the fourth picture down, if you look closely, you’ll see two lodges. In the fifth picture down, if you look closely you can see three lodges, because of the snow melting.
Another thing about these photos that surprised me was how very different they are although they are taken from the same place in a relatively short amount of time.
November 17, 2014
November 19, 2014
December 14, 2014
March 9, 2015
March 12, 2015

January 2015 was the first time I saw and recognized beaver lodges. I took the following two photos so I could reference them later to see if they were actually beaver homes at all. You can see two lodges clearly in the first photo. In the second photo you can see five, but I remember counting seven when I was there. I believe I just couldn’t fit them all in the frame.

January 2015
January 2015

February 2015 there was a lot of snowfall and accumulation. If you look closely at the next two photos you can make out five lodges in both photos, although there are a lot of visual obstructions.
I get frustrated sometimes because of plant life blocking my view and my need to get awesome pictures. I didn’t have any pictures from this particular trip taken from the same vantage point as the two photos above. Most likely because the snow was too deep for me to stand there and take pictures. There is the real possibility though that it was just too cold to take my camera out for very long.

February 2015
February 2015

March 2015 is showing the first signs of Spring. Birds chattering, sun shining, snow and ice melting! The next two photos are of things I had never seen before. Holes broken in the ice with scat nearby and a lodge on the bank of the causeway trail from the Whipple Truss Bridge to Clutes Dry Dock.

March 7, 2015
March 7, 2015

The picture below is the lodge on the trail, only from a different angle.

March 9, 2015

After a couple warm days I just had to go back to the Preserve. I did my best to find similar views from the pictures above. I think I did a fairly good job, but now that the lodges have been uncovered I’m not positive they are all lodges. I now believe some mounds are winter food caches.

March 12, 2015
March 12, 2015
March 12, 2015
March 12, 2015