Beavers are famously busy, and they turn their talents to reengineering the landscape as few other animals can. When sites are available, beavers burrow in the banks of rivers and lakes. But they also transform less suitable habitats by building dams. Felling and gnawing trees with their strong teeth and powerful jaws, they create massive log, branch, and mud structures to block streams and turn fields and forests into the large ponds that beavers love.
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Beavers are known for their natural trait of building dams on rivers and streams, and building their homes (known as "lodges") in the resulting pond. Beavers also build canals to float building materials that are difficult to haul over land. They use powerful front teeth to cut trees and other plants that they use both for building and for food. In the absence of existing ponds, beavers must construct dams before building their lodges. First they place vertical poles, then fill between the poles with a crisscross of horizontally placed branches. They fill in the gaps between the branches with a combination of weeds and mud until the dam impounds sufficient water to surround the lodge.
Beavers are herbivores, and prefer the wood of quaking aspen, cottonwood, willow, alder, birch, maple and cherry trees. They also eat sedges, pondweed, and water lilies.
Beavers continue to grow throughout their lives. Adult specimens weighing over 25 kg (55 lb) are not uncommon. Females are as large as or larger than males of the same age, which is uncommon among mammals. Beavers live up to 24 years of age in the wild.
Beavers fell trees for several reasons. They fell large mature trees, usually in strategic locations, to form the basis of a dam, but European beavers tend to use small diameter (<10 cm) trees for this purpose. Beavers fell small trees, especially young second-growth trees, for food. Broadleaved trees re-grow as a coppice, providing easy-to-reach stems and leaves for food in subsequent years. Ponds created by beavers can also kill some tree species by drowning but this creates standing dead wood, which is very important for a wide range of animals and plants.