Making a Home in Highfield
Winter is a quiet time in the Highfield Discovery Garden at Glenwood Gardens. Frogs wait patiently in the mud for warmer weather. The vegetables in the raised beds are all gone except for some hardy greens. We’re not greeted by buzzing bees or happy grasshoppers. However, if we take a walk down to the wetland by the meadow, we see that someone has been very busy, indeed.
The water level around the boardwalk has mysteriously risen, and several young trees have been cut down and dragged away. Branches lay in the water, their bark stripped off. A quick scan for more clues leads us to a new dome-like structure in the pond. A beaver lodge!
Lodges are constructed of branches, logs and mud. Beavers (Castor canadensis) use their incredible, ever-growing front teeth to cut down trees and build their homes in standing water. They are strong swimmers with waterproof fur, webbed feet, closable nostrils and ears and a rudder-like tail. They hide the entrance to their home underwater, which leads to a dry indoor chamber.
I am always thrilled to see signs of beavers – these busy builders can transform their landscape. Weighing in between 30 and 70 pounds, they are the second largest rodents in the world, and can live to be 10–15 years old in the wild. They were once hunted nearly to extinction for their pelts, furs and meat, but now their populations are stable and widespread at around 15 million in North America (though still short of their estimated historic level of 100 million)!
In my excitement, I watched to see beavers coming or going from the lodge. Of course, I had to remind myself that they are primarily nocturnal animals, and since it is winter they would likely stay in their lodge all day. In winter, beavers store food (leaves, woody stems and of course, sticks) in their lodge where they can stay warm and safe from predators. They will sometimes venture out to feed on vegetation, but will most likely remain unseen.
The small size of this lodge may mean that this is a young, lone beaver. But it is exciting to remember that this is the beaver mating season. Mature beavers live in monogamous pairs, caring for their young until they are 2 years of age. If we are very lucky, we may see some beaver kits by late spring or early summer. Either way, as the weather warms in March, we will have to keep our eyes peeled for our new beaver neighbor.
On your next walk near water, keep an eye out for signs of beavers!
Nature Interpreter, Glenwood Gardens