The Beavers in Centennial Woods

I’ve had the good fortune (and patience) to get to know quite a few of the beavers quite well. About 3 weeks ago a pair started to dam up Wool Pullery Brook. The trail along the brook has slowly been consumed by the rising water levels, and now the bridge is just a few inches from being submerged as well. Exciting stuff. Over the next few issues, I’ll be diving into what it’s like to be a beaver, particularly in the late fall in the far north.

Cedar with a black oak recently cut down by the beavers. We did them the kind service of dragging it the 20′ down through the tangled brush to the pond.

How to Befriend a Beaver

I decided early on in my adventures of getting to know beavers that I didn’t just want to know them, I wanted them to know me as well. So rather than sit quietly in a blind observing from a distance, I’d head down to the water’s edge where I could interact directly with the beavers. This means that I’d have to earn the beavers’ trust to get to the point where they would relax and go about their normal business in my presence. There are basically 3 steps to befriending a beaver (works for most wild animals): (1) bring food, (2) be consistent, (3) don’t break the unspoken contract.

The beaver swimming towards me – nose up sniffing the air and making a wheezing sound as it takes in my scent

Stages of Friendship

The rain was gently falling down as I was sat quietly along the bank of the small, flooded stream. The sun was blocked by the heavy clouds and the afternoon light was quickly fading into a dusky haze. The thicket of shrubs blocked my view upstream, but I knew the beavers would soon rouse from their daytime slumber and begin foraging for breakfast (breakfast for beavers starts around dusk). After about 10 minutes the calm waters gently rippled and my heart quickened in anticipation of their arrival. A solitary beaver nervously approached, sensing my presence before seeing me. In the image above the beaver was holding its head well above the water and sniffing the air. It had detected my scent and was trying to locate me. It got about 10′ away before it spotted me. As soon as it did, THWACK! It slapped its tail against the water and dove below the surface.

A beaver slapping its tail in alarm (Centennial Woods, Burlington)

I quietly sat on the edge of the water waiting for the beaver to return. I’ve been bringing food down to the water’s edge for about a week now. My son and I have also been rubbing oil from our noses on the twigs to familiarize the beavers with our scents (and to attach a positive association with that scent). I figured by this point my smell would be familiar to the beavers, though my intentions might not yet be clear. It wasn’t surprising that the beaver initially regarded me with healthy skepticism.

Beaver retrieving a stick from its cache site and carrying it to a safe space to feed

When the beaver returned, I gently said, “Hello, friend” and put some of the cottonwood I’d brought out into the water. The beaver again sniffed the air, decided I was but an odd addition to the landscape, but not of immediate concern, and paddled up to the opposite bank. It lumbered onto shore, retrieved a freshly cut branch, and then swam downstream to feed.

Step 2 – Be consistent

Step 1 was easy – they’ve been cutting second-rate foods down for their winter cache, so I’ve been collecting primo cuts of their favorite Salicaceae (willows, cottonwoods, aspens). Step 2 is a bit tougher. Going once to a beaver pond does little to establish a relationship. So I’ve been trying to go down to the beaver pond 3-5 times a week, even if only during the day when the beavers aren’t active. Beavers can certainly remember individuals after a few interactions, but trust comes from more than just remembering.

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