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Beaver Watching

I had some fun up at the International Peace Garden recently.  I stopped along the road to go for a short walk.  At a spot where a culvert connects two adjacent ponds I paused to look around.  There was a thin sheet of clear ice on the lake, and I was startled to see a beaver swimming under the ice. Then upon hearing a little commotion in the nearby cattails I noticed two beavers feeding on what I assumed were cattail rhizomes or tubers at the pond margin. I bet I was not 25 feet away.  Their chewing was noisy! Comparable to being at the kitchen table with someone quickly chewing on raw carrots with their mouth open.  That was some good entertainment for a few minutes. 

It made me curious about the diet of beaver.  Most everyone knows they cut down trees.  But what do they actually eat?  I checked Bob Seabloom’s Mammals of North Dakota.  He notes that beavers may be described as “choosey generalists,” feeding on a wide-ranging diet that may change markedly with the seasons and other factors.  Plants mentioned include the rhizomes of many aquatic plants such as cattails, grasses, and sedges.  They also utilize the leaves and twigs of a variety of trees and shrubs such as aspen, willow, green ash, bur oak, and red-osier dogwood. 

At another stop near a small lake I noticed a large beaver lodge.  As I looked out at it through binoculars, I was surprised to see a beaver was on top of it.  That was a first for me.  The beaver then proceeded to walk down to the water and disappeared below.  A few minutes later it reappeared at the edge of the lodge with its front legs carrying a big bunch of mud, and proceeded to walk up, pretty much upright, to the top of the lodge on its hind feet.  It then packed down the mud, headed back down, and again disappeared under the water.  This procedure was repeated several times before I headed off to see other things.  I have seen footage of beavers working on their lodges, but that was the first time I have been able to see it live.  That was fun to watch!

I suppose the beavers will be forced under the ice soon, but if you have a lodge nearby, now might be a good time to go check it out occasionally.  There is always a chance to see them swimming around, and if you are lucky maybe you can get a close-up view of them feeding or perhaps winterizing their lodge.  It is good entertainment!

-Chuck Lura

Prairie Public Broadcasting provides quality radio, television, and public media services that educate, involve, and inspire the people of the prairie region.
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