How to Attract Beavers to Rivers, Ponds & Lakes [Updated]

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How to Attract Beavers to Ponds, Creeks, Rivers & Lakes [Updated]

Beaver swimming in water
Beavers are intelligent semi-aquatic animals that have a special relationship with water. Matthias, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Beavers going about their business are extremely fascinating to watch. These semi-aquatic mammals are some of the most dexterous of all rodents. Like humans, they are ecosystem engineers as they alter their environment to suit their needs. They are intelligent creatures that have a special relationship with water and the structural features around them. “Busy as a beaver” is an accurate expression as beavers seem to endlessly work with natural tools.

The second largest of all rodents worldwide, beavers were once a common occupant of freshwater systems across North America and Eurasia. Now, there are only two living species: Castor canadensis and Castor fiber. Fortunately, populations of these two species are not greatly threatened in their natural environments. Though they were once overhunted for their fur and meat, their populations have recovered. Still, beavers can be indicators of a healthy environment as they require stable water features and vegetation to thrive.

If you would like to attract beavers to natural freshwater systems in your area, it may be helpful to get in touch with environmental rehabilitation groups or experts on beaver behavior. If nearby water features have been disturbed or exposed to pollutants, they may require restoration efforts beforehand. Keep in mind that the more an area is fragmented or urbanized, the more challenges beavers may face. Your efforts will be most effective if a measure of connectivity exists. To start, it is important to familiarize yourself with beaver behavior and the structures they will require to build their homes.

Beaver Characteristics and Behavior

Beaver swimming underwater
Beavers can survive underwater for up to 15 minutes without resurfacing! GlacierNPS / No copyright

The most notable features of beavers include their large front teeth, muscular paddle-like tails, and webbed feet. Though somewhat awkward on land, beavers expertly make use of their adaptations to dive quickly, swim efficiently, and manipulate food sources and natural tools. Their brains are developed in a way that indicates they have higher intelligence, which allows them to socialize and maintain their habitats as a coordinated colony.

Beavers are able to breathe, and much more efficiently than we can. A single exhale can expel and replace up to 75% of spent air, which is impressive compared to our 15%. This is why they can survive underwater for up to 15 minutes without resurfacing! Their truly special relationship with water has allowed them to develop a means of exploiting both land and water features for survival. Even their bodies are streamlined and are covered in a dense coat of fur for warmth, protection, and buoyancy.

Beaver Habitats in the Wild

A beaver dam
Beavers like to build their homes in wide, slow-moving streams. Jeff Hudgins / CC BY 2.0

These furry rodents prefer to build their homes in wide, slow-moving streams with water levels that rarely fluctuate throughout the year. Frequent flooding can be destructive toward their homes and would likely compel them to relocate. They are more likely to thrive and collect their building supplies in water bodies that are flanked with abundant vegetation and relatively flat terrain on both sides. Remarkably, they can harvest their building blocks from sites that are hundreds of meters away from water.

When the necessary resources grow scarce, beavers will naturally disperse and search for temporary shelter as they make their way to better environments. These shelters can come in the form of suburban backyards, ditches, agricultural sites, and smaller streams. If beavers naturally occur in your area, these are ideal places to scout in search of individuals you’ll want to attract.  

All About Beaver Dams

A tree gnawed by a beaver
Beavers have giant incisors that allow them to fell a tree as wide as 10 inches in just a few hours! Ivan Radic / CC BY 2.0

When beavers come across a body of water that suits their preferences, they begin to work. When enough wood (in the form of trees and shrubs) is available, they are able to obtain the necessary building blocks. If you consider their size, they can sometimes go about this is in quite a shocking way. A modest beaver can fell a tree that’s as wide as 10 inches (25 cm) in just a few hours! They can even control the direction in which the trunk falls. Those giant incisors of theirs are truly a feat to behold.

Using their forceful jaws and forelimbs, they bring an assortment of logs and twigs back to the water feature and begin constructing their dams. They make use of considerably sized logs, which they orient in the direction of water flow. These are piled on top of one another and weighed down with heavy rocks. They fill in open spaces with grasses and keep building on the dam until a slope is formed and the entire structure has fully settled.

For shelter and protection, they tend to build annexes to the dam site. These are often referred to as beaver lodges. These are complex structures with holes, tunnels, and chambers that can only be accessed through an underwater entrance. Mud is often used to waterproof these structures. Sometimes, beavers even create canals that can aid in protection from predators and speed up transport of both food and tools. Keep in mind that whatever beavers construct can considerably transform your landscape.

In some cases, beavers don’t feel the need to build these complex protective structures and instead dig burrows at the water’s edge. What they construct is influenced by several factors, such as experience, season, availability of materials, and characteristics of the water feature.

How to Make Sure Your Area Is Suitable for Beavers

1) Food availability

Beaver eating a piece of bark
In the winter, beavers prefer to eat bark & the soft cambium of wood. Charlie Marshall / CC BY 2.0

Beavers are generalist herbivores that feed on herbaceous plants, seaweed, mushrooms, and wood. In summer, they consume the foliage and roots of a wide variety of aquatic and terrestrial plant groups, such as water lilies, cattails, rushes, water shields, sedges, and ferns. They prefer to consume bark and the soft cambium of wood in the winter. Your water features should be surrounded by naturally sustained populations of aspen, willow, birch, alder, oak, or dogwood. They tend to store their harvest in their most protected chambers.  

2) Shrubs and trees

A tree felled by a beaver
You may need to protect vulnerable trees with barriers to prevent beavers from felling them. Corey Burger / CC BY-SA 2.0

Your water features should be surrounded by a profusion of both young and mature shrubs and trees. Beavers use various log widths and lengths to build and secure their dams. Do be aware that the presence of beavers could wipe out populations of vulnerable species, either by flooding due to their dam construction or by their harvesting and feeding demands. Vulnerable trees may have to be protected with barriers, such as fences or hardware cloth.

3) Structural supplements for restoration

Workers setting up a beaver analog dam
Human-made beaver dams, known as analog dams, can act as a ‘jump-start’ to beaver-friendly habitats. USFWS Pacific Southwest Region / No copyright

Existing structures can save energy for beavers, especially if they have to quickly construct their homes as winter approaches. You can attract beavers by providing them with structures that they can reinforce into effective dams and lodges. Human-made beaver dams, which are referred to as analog dams, can be constructed along slow-moving streams that are suitable for habitation. These “jump-starts” to beaver-friendly habitats can range from simple to complex.

Simple structures, such as post lines arranged in a row perpendicular to the flow of water, can grow in complexity over time as detritus, twigs, and logs accumulate around the structure. An example of a complex structure is a woven wicker fence. This can be made with the same post lines, except more logs are alternately arranged along the structure. It’s important to note that these structures can significantly alter the flow of water and allow sediments to accumulate.

Streambeds that raise the ground table are developed over time. These can eventually cause a wider expanse of flooding to support the growth of riparian forests along the banks of the stream. The resulting environment is likely to attract beavers, as it would sustain the conditions required to produce complex dams. The best time to install these structures would be spring or summer, when beavers can more safely venture to new areas.

4) Managed water levels

A large beaver dam in a river
A beaver dam should last for at least 2 years, though they can last for centuries if left undisturbed! Grand Teton / No copyright

As beavers are sensitive to drastic fluctuations of water levels, they are less likely to choose sites that experience considerable flooding. Just as you wouldn’t choose to build a home in a known flood zone, beavers wouldn’t opt for areas that could decimate their dams in just a year. The beaver dam analogs above are a great way of ensuring that these structures can remain intact through considerable flooding events. A beaver dam should last for at least two years (though they can last for centuries if undisturbed) to ensure that the next generation of beavers can mature prior to leaving their colonies.

Is It Okay to Trap and Relocate Beavers?

A beaver caught in a trap
Live-trapping beavers should only be done in certain situations. Be sure to consult an expert first if you’re in any doubt. The U.S. National Archives / Public domain

Another way to ensure that beavers eventually occupy the pond, creek, or lake in your area is by live-trapping and relocating them. There are many excellent forms of bait that beavers readily take up.

Make use of large traps that can comfortably accommodate a mature beaver. The bait, which can come in the form of apple slices, poplar twigs or branches, or other food choices soaked in beaver castor, should be placed far inside the trap. A properly placed piece of bait will allow the beaver to engage the trigger when it is fully and safely inside the trap.

Because trapping animals and taking them away from their natural environment can be inhumane, you should only do so when the following situations apply:

  • The beaver is located outside of its natural habitat and could potentially be endangered in an urbanized zone
  • Trapping is part of an ecologically necessary control effort to manage beaver populations
  • There is a potentially dangerous human/wildlife conflict in your area
  • Resources are scarce and beavers must be moved to richer areas
  • For ethically performed research observations
  • There is widespread damage to natural systems due to the presence of beavers

If in doubt about your reasons to trap beavers and if you require more guidance on the beaver trapping process, consult experts in your area. It would be best to educate yourself as much as possible before venturing out to trap a beaver.

Ecological Services Provided by Beavers

A beaver next to its dam
Beavers build effective dams that provide many ecological services to the area. Jennifer C. / CC BY 2.0

It can be ecologically advantageous to have beavers in your area, especially when it is in need of habitat restoration. Amazingly, beavers can effectively do the restoration work that would normally cost thousands of dollars and considerable amounts of manpower. As the builders of effective dams, beavers basically create wetlands. These furry creatures can ingeniously provide the following services, and more, over time:

  • Water retention
  • Recovery of stream habitats
  • Enhanced habitat complexity
  • Increased wetland area
  • Increased density of riparian vegetation
  • Improved water quality
  • Increased aquatic biodiversity

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