What is a Beaver's appearance, biology, life cycle, habitat, diet, behavior

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Not many people know this, but the beaver is actually a rodent. Not just a rodent, the beaver is also the largest rodent found across North America, and is responsible for some incredible handiwork when it comes to building dams. After all, that is exactly what the humble beaver is known for.

What do beavers look like?
Believe it or not, beaver are usually much bigger than you'd think they are. The biggest of them can grow to over a meter in length, which is over three feet, in case you didn't know. Their tail helps to give them away, usually long and very powerful, as well as flat and broad. This tail is what helps them to glide through the water with ease, and also gives them a way of protecting themselves. They can slap it around, making a loud noise to start with, and if that doesn't work, the slap from the tail will be quite painful to most. We should probably also mention that these mini beasts can weight over forty pounds in weight.

Of course, the thing you most need to be careful of when getting too close to beavers are those long and powerful teeth. They are used to chew and gnaw through wood and other materials, so they can do some serious damage to the flesh of another animal, or a human.

Where do beavers live?
Beavers live ear water, as you probably expected to learn. They prefer rivers, marshes, ponds and streams that are close to trees. These trees offer materials to help build the dams — their intricate homes. Believe it or not, despite beaver dams being seen as a bad thing by many homeowners, they do still come with their far share of positive after effects, usually only seen when the animal isn’t invading within residential, heavily human-populated areas. Beavers can redirect water to spots that need it the most, and they can also raise water table and allow aquifers to replenish. When you add to that the brand new environment that the beaver creates when it builds new pools of water, you can understand why the need to have these creatures around is great.

Although colonies of many beavers can form, the size of that colony will depend on the area in which it lives. If there is plenty of food and enough room for a big enough damn and lodge, the colony will grow stronger. If the situation deteriorates, the colony will get smaller. You will very rarely find two beaver colonies within the same half-mile area.

What do beavers eat?
Beavers eat a really wide and diverse mix of foods, ranging from corn and beans to crops and grasses, ferns, plants that grow in the water, shrubs, and more. They seem to love tree bark too, especially deciduous ones. Aspen twigs, inner bark and leaves are often hard hit, and willow, cottonwood, alder, and birch trees also seem to be particular favorites.

As you can probably imagine, when the weather gets colder, the water in which these beavers live can freeze over. When this is the case, food can be hard to come by, but beavers have a way around that. They will usually have a stash of food that has been cleverly anchored so that it doesn’t move or float away. This is usually in a spot between the beaver lodge and the beaver dam, but isn't prevalent in all places across the United States. When the water doesn't freeze over, the beaver doesn't have such a high need to stash food for later on.

When do beavers have babies?
Beavers mate for life. Okay, perhaps not always for life, but once they’ve mated once, they will stay together for a long time. Some of them really do stay together for life too, and they tend to breed towards the end of winter and beginning of spring, usually between January and March. Just a few months later, between April and June usually, the baby beavers will be born. These are called kits. The average amount of kits per litter is four, but it isn’t unusual for beavers to have just one youngster, and also as many as eight. You will generally find that the older beaver females will have more babies. If it is their first litter, the beaver will have just one or two kits.

They stay in the nest together — mother, father, and the babies, until they are coming up to three moths of age, and this is when they are free to leave the nest to find their own food. The mother will have been weaning them up until this point but will stop now. Although the youngsters are now okay to go off and find food on their own, they won’t actually leave their parents for some time yet. In fact, it is has been noted that many beaver children stay with their parents for a couple of years before they feel brave enough to head out in the world alone. Some braver souls will potter off sooner - around a year of age. It’s usually the female youngsters that stick around for the longest, and in some cases, this can be for as long as three years.

As well as males and females coming together and then staying together, beavers will often form small colonies of around ten to twelve individuals. Although strangers can enter the colony from time to time, it is usually made up of a mother and father, plus different litters — one from last year and another from this year, for example.

How to Tear Down a Beaver Dam

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If you have a beaver dam on your land, it is strongly recommended that you seek professional advice before taking any action in terms of tearing it down and removing it. There are plenty of things that could go wrong, especially when you're talking about the quantity of material that beavers use within their dams, as well as the water those dams are often holding back. The very least of your concern is physical injury. In worst case scenarios, you could flood patches of land further down the stream, river or lake-edge with a mass of water that they are not prepared for. You may be liable for any costs incurred as a result of this too, if it can be determined that it was your fault.

Beaver dams are often very intricately created, a mixture of wood, sticks, branches, twigs and chewed up material, packed tightly together using mud and water mixes which essentially set like concrete. Beaver dams are usually quite difficult to tear down or apart, without the help of very heavy machinery. In many cases, the beaver dams are isolated and unable to be reached with heavy machinery in tow, making your job all the more impossible once again. This is why we would always recommend calling in the professionals. This is not a job that's easy to complete by yourself, especially if you don't really know what you're doing.

Read more about How to get rid of beavers.
For more information, you may want to click on one of these guides that I wrote:
How To Guide: Who should I hire? - What questions to ask, to look for, who NOT to hire.
How To Guide: do it yourself! - Advice on saving money by doing wildlife removal yourself.
Guide: How much does wildlife removal cost? - Analysis of wildlife control prices.

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