CRITTER CHRONICLES: North American Beaver

Beaver Tales: one fellow’s harrowing adventure, and the free-flowing future that awaits him.

This month’s Local wildlife feature is a true story about a baby beaver who hopefully learned a lesson about wandering far from home. From Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center’s clinic blog:


Philly Animal Control (ACCT) brought us a juvenile beaver. After physical examination and passive observation, the animal appeared healthy. 

Our best guess is that the beaver strayed far afield and found itself disoriented in unfamiliar human territory. An over-eager Good Samaritan assumed that the animal was ailing and brought it to ACCT.  (Always call us before containing an animal. Many situations involve ambiguity. More often than not, animals do not need to come into care. Even if something is amiss, some issues may be addressed “in the field”.)

Young beaver may spend two years with their families learning the fine art of how to be a beaver. So, it was critical to get this beaver back to its home for further development. If reunification were not possible, the beaver might need to remain in care for over a year until self-sufficiency. 

We took two separate reconnaissance trips to the reported point of origin with no positive signs of beaver activity. Further investigation yielded a more promising location directly from the person who brought the animal to ACCT.  With this information, and recent correlating beaver sightings on iNaturalist, we zeroed in on the young beaver’s home.

Another scouting mission confirmed evidence of beaver and a probable lodge site. After one last patient examination and a fattening-up session, we set out to get this youngster back to its rightful place. A heartwarming end. 

UPDATE: At release, we didn’t see any adults. So, we returned to make sure the young beaver was thriving. Upon arrival, an adult exhibited a splashing display to ward us off. This was good evidence that our patient had successfully rejoined its clan.

This junior beaver’s adventure gives us a chance to talk about baby mammal season, roughly March thru June, when wildlife rehabbers are inundated with calls from people who’ve found “abandoned” fawn or bunnies, and squirrels who seem to have fallen from nests somewhere. As humans, we’re conditioned to think a youngster without its parents is a crisis situation – that’s not always the case.

In the animal world, many species leave their offspring alone most of the time to help safeguard from predators. For others, some independent roaming is necessary for young to develop the skills they need to survive. Even if the furry little baby you found looks weak and helpless, resist the urge to cuddle and for godsakes don’t try to feed it. Before you do anything, call the experts.

Metro’s executive director Rick Schubert stresses that, in the vast majority of cases, baby animal situations can be handled entirely over the phone. Of course if there’s blood, insects, broken bones, a dead parent, etc., the rehabbers manning Metro’s wildlife hotline are well-equipped to handle these emergencies, too. After hours, they’ve got a handy “Decision Tree” on their website that walks you through steps you can take in the meantime to help to improve the animal’s chances of survival.

As for our beaver, he’s very lucky the person who found him didn’t take him in. Beavers (like all wild animals) have very exacting nutritional needs, and even one day of inappropriate food can have irreversible effects. They have social needs, too, and natural drives that can’t be satisfied in the human world. You might call it a higher purpose. 😇

Beavers build their dens in slow-moving streams and narrow inlets with, preferably, lots of soft-wooded deciduous trees around like maple, willow, and birch. Their dams create an open pond that slowly drowns the flooded forest, leaving hollow dead tree trunks that attract cavity-nesting birds like owls and waterfowl. Beaver ponds also provide habitat for reptiles, amphibians, otters, racoons, and even fish.

This ecosystem usually lasts about a decade before the colony exhausts their food supply, and moves on to start over with a new den somewhere else. Their abandoned dams eventually burst. After all the pond water drains off, what’s left is an expanse of super-rich soil that quickly fills in with natural grasses, berries, shrubs, and stalks for a whole new wildlife community: deer, rabbits, butterflies, songbirds. Soon, trees in the area send up shoots, which eventually grow big enough to attract new beavers and begin the cycle again.

Here’s to this very special circle of life, and best wishes to Metro’s baby beaver. We hope he and his whole family will be engineering our natural landscape for generations to come.

🦫 Fun Facts About Beavers 🦫

    1. Beavers are North America’s largest rodents: the average adult is 3 – 4 feet long, weighing 35 – 65 lbs; the heaviest beaver on record was 110 lbs.
    2. Beavers mate for life, but they’ll find a new partner if one dies (they can live up to 20 years in the wild).
    3. Beavers can create a water-tight den in under 24 hours
    4. Beavers can hold their breath underwater for 15 minutes.
    5. A beaver’s front teeth never stop growing and they’re also self-sharpening.
    6. Beavers vocalize with distinct grunts, barks, and grumbles. They will even hiss if threatened.
    7. Beavers have transparent eyelids – like swimming goggles.
    8. Beavers don’t see well and rely mostly on their sense of smell to locate food.
    9. Beavers eat an herbivore diet including bark, buds, twigs, grasses, mushrooms, duckweed, cattails, and water lilies.
    10. An adult beaver cuts up to 300 trees every year; an acre of trees can support a colony of five or six beavers about two years.
    11. The average beaver colony dams a half-mile of stream.
    12. The fur industry had all but eliminated the area’s wild beavers by the time William Penn arrived.
    13. PA Game Commission began reintroducing beavers to state waterways in the 1930’s, and by the 1990’s – thanks to local river cleanup efforts – they spread into the city’s watershed parks and rivers.
    14. Local spots to see beavers: Delaware River Waterfront, Schuylkill River (near Waterworks), the Manayunk Canal, and Cobbs and Tacony creeks. Last month, one was videoed nonchalantly walking down MLK drive!
    15. While mostly untouchable in the water, on land beavers are very vulnerable (off-lead dogs have been known to kill them).

WILDLIFE HOTLINE: 267-416-9453
Never provide food or water to injured/orphaned wildlife.

Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center Serving Phila, Montgomery, Chester & Delaware Counties
2815 Township Line Rd (Norristown)

ℹ️ iNaturalist is a non-profit social network, a giant crowdsourcing of observations and identification by naturalists, citizen scientists, birders, biologists, mapping and sharing biodiversity across the globe. You can enter any species and check out user sightings in your area, often with pics, video, and fascinating field notes.

The app is also a great tool for anyone who’s ever seen a weird plant or bug or other wildlife that defied explanation. In addition to a whole community of experts, iNaturalist also uses image-recognition technology for faster feedback on ID’s. Pro Tip: check out the “Projects” tab for fun ways your photos and observations could assist another member’s research!    ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thoughts? Opinions? Strong feelings about which other native animals we should (or shouldn’t) highlight in this year of local fauna features? Please leave your comments below or email

Stay tuned for next month’s spotlighted species, and meanwhile read all about last month’s featured Critter, the Eastern American Toad.

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