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As busy as beavers this Spring

2022 03 23 beaversBy David J. Hawke — The upcoming thaws will be a welcome change to the season for most of us, but for the local beaver families the soft ice and open water will be as exciting as the lifting of COVID restrictions have been for us. “Get me out of this one-room lodge!!”

The past few months of snow and ice have kept the beavers inside their lodges where they rested but did not hibernate. They are active all winter long and will leave the lodge via an underwater entrance burrow. You may wonder: Why does the water not freeze solid thus sealing in the beaver? Two answers: one is that water does not freeze to the bottom of the pond (plus 4C degrees is usual for under-ice water temperature), and secondly the radiant body heat given off by the resident animals keeps things toasty warm.

If you have had opportunity to observe a beaver lodge in winter, the tell-tale wisps of steam rising from the lodge confirms that ‘somebody’s home’. It is here that numerous coyotes will have come to be taunted by a meal that is so close, yet so far. The outer and well-frozen shell of the lodge will thwart most predators who come calling.

The inside of the lodge is simply an open space, divided by a landing just above the water’s level and a slightly raised shelf where the beavers will rest. The thickness of the lodge’s walls and overall outside dimensions of the lodge will limit the size of the opening cut inside the structure.

Beaver lodges are used many years in a row, with repairs and additional strengthening added each summer and fall. About half the lodges you may encounter will be in the middle of the pond, while other lodges are dug into the shore and under the roots of a tall pine tree.

Beside the lodge will be found another pile of sticks, a conglomerate of aspen, alder, willow and maple branches gathered and stored here last autumn. This is the winter food supply for the beaver family. One-by-one the beaver family will dive down the entrance burrow, defecate in the water, swim over to the food pile and then gnaw off a portion of a branch to take back inside the lodge for a snack.

Only the bark of the stick has nutritional value, so it is eaten like we eat corn-on-cob, with the resultant bare stick taken back outside for later use in repairing the dam.

A word of caution if you are bent on taking a close look at a beaver lodge in winter: don’t do it! I say this not for the protection of the beaver family, but for your own safety. The ice around the lodge is very thin due to the beaver’s daily swimming about, and will not support the weight of a curious naturalist, even one wearing snowshoes (been there, done that!). Use binoculars or a long lens for lodge inspections!

As the season moves into March and then April, momma beaver is about to give birth to around four babies. Mating took place in January, under the ice, and now it’s about to be family expansion time.

So, how crowded will it get inside that lodge? Very! There are Momma and Poppa beaver, last year’s two kids, and the two two-year olds from the year before. That’s six, and four more arriving soon. All inside the living space equal to the size of an office desk.

As soon as the ice fully opens, the ‘teenagers’ take off looking for other runways up and down the watercourse to hook up with. The yearlings stick around for another full season, while the newest little gaffers will be taught the ways to be as busy as, well, a beaver.

If ever there was an animal deserving of a ‘spring break’ I think it is the beaver.

Dave’s Notebook: Crazy cold right now but warm temps arriving over the next few days have been assured by weather prognosticators!

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© 2022 David J. Hawke

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