Scientific Name: Castor canadensis
Abundance: Common throughout state
Species Profile (PDF)
The beaver is the largest North American rodent and its stocky, compact body is covered with rich brown fur. It has webbed hind feet and a broad and flattened scaly tail. The average adult weighs 35 to 40 pounds and large beavers of 70 pounds have been reported. When they reach 2 1/2 years of age, they select mates for life.
There is one species of the beaver in North America and beavers are distributed statewide in North Carolina.
Beavers provide many positive benefits to people; their ponds help control erosion and sedimentation, recharge groundwater resources and provides valuable habitat for waterfowl, herons and other wetland wildlife.
But the beaver’s dams can also cause flooding in agricultural fields and residential areas. They can also destroy timber by chewing on or felling trees.
The best way to prevent conflicts with beavers is to manage their population by letting licensed trappers remove them during the regulated trapping season (November 1 through March 31 statewide), when they can be used as a renewable natural resource because its pelt, meat and castor oil are highly valued.
The beaver, Castor canadensis, was an important part of the economy in North Carolina well into the 1800s. Its valuable fur was the main item of trade in the colonies. As a result the beaver was nearly trapped to extinction in many sections of the United States, including North Carolina. The last report of native beaver taken in this state was in 1897. In the 1930s and 40s several states began restocking programs. In 1939, 29 beavers were obtained from Pennsylvania and released in North Carolina, on what is now the Sandhills Game Land. By 1953, they had populated seven counties and were estimated at nearly 1,000 animals.
Public demand for beaver stocking was high due to pelt values and aesthetic reasons. Because of this demand, the stocking program was continued between 1951 and 1956, and fifty-four beavers were trapped and released in nine counties including Cherokee, Henderson, Nash, Northampton, Person, Rockingham, Surry, Vance, and Wilkes. Currently, beavers occupy most of North Carolina's watershed systems.
The most frequent misunderstanding about beavers is that many people think that beavers eat fish. Beavers are strict vegetarians adapted to a diet of the inner bark of woody plants and herbs.
They eat a wide variety of trees and shrubs including sweet gum, poplar, willow, birch, box elder, fir, pine, cedar, ironwood, privet and elderberry. Agricultural crops of corn and soybeans are also eaten and beavers may store cut sticks underwater for winter feeding. They show a particular preference for horticultural shrubs and tree farms, primarily due to the fertilizer applied to cultivated species.
The beaver is best known for its ability to construct a sturdy dam, creating a pond which floods vegetation and allows them to feed in an aquatic environment. If the food supply becomes depleted in or near a pond, beavers may relocate and build new ponds. These ponds may range in size from less than one acre to over 100 acres.
Beavers construct two types of houses or lodges apart from the dams. Pond lodges are constructed of sticks and mud and may reach 15-20 feet in diameter and 10 feet high. Bank dens are dug into exposed banks and are sometimes covered partially with sticks and mud. Dens and lodges usually have more than one underwater entrance to the dry protected nest site. The nest site inside the lodge is covered with wood shavings which are less susceptible to dampening than grass or leaf bedding.
Breeding takes place during the months of December and January. After a gestation period of 3 to 4 months, the young kits are born from March to May. The litter size varies from one to eight kits with two to four being common. Only one litter is born per year.
At about one month of age, the young beavers begin to follow their mothers to feeding areas. The young are driven out at about 2 years of age to start new colonies. A colony usually consists of five to seven beavers—two adults, two yearlings and two kits
The beaver is the largest rodent in North America, weighing between 35 and 50 pounds as adults. However, beavers weighing up to 90 lbs. have been reported. Beavers are 2-3 feet in length, with an additional 10-18 inches for the tail. Males and females are similar in size. Beavers have short front legs and webbed hind feet with a double claw on the second toe that the beaver uses to comb its fur. The beaver’s fur is chestnut brown to blackish, depending on the individual. Two noticeable features are its four large yellow incisor teeth used for cutting bark and chiseling trees, and its large flat hairless tail. Muskrats, also an aquatic rodent, are mistaken for beaver, but have ratlike tails and weigh less. The beaver uses its tail for swimming, for communicating warnings, for storing fat and also for support. Beavers are slow and clumsy on land, but agile and quick in the water.
When beaver ponds are situated in areas that do not interfere directly with man's land use practices, there are several positive impacts of beaver presence, including erosion control and the filtration of silt, pollutants and agricultural chemicals resulting in increased water quality for fish, wildlife and people. Beaver ponds provide quality habitat for many wildlife species, such as waterfowl, and provide a source of water for wildlife, livestock and irrigation during drought.
Controlling Beaver Damage
If beaver activity becomes detrimental and is resulting in property damage, there are various options for resolving conflicts with beaver and more than one option can be employed to rectify beaver damage.
Resolving Types of Damage:
· Tree Girdling
· Damage to Small Ponds
Options for Removing Beavers and Dams:
· Beaver Management Assistance Program (BMAP) – Click here to see if your county is enrolled in BMAP. Property owners in enrolled counties can obtain assistance through this program.
· Trapping – Trapping is the most effective and practical method for beaver population control and management. In many cases, landowners need to do no more than contact a local trapper to trap beavers. Many trappers will be happy to trap beavers during the regular trapping season, especially if they receive permission to harvest other furbearers.
• Click here for a list of licensed trappers
• Click here for a list of Wildlife Damage Control Agents (WDCA)
· Click here to learn basic beaver trapping techniques
· Shooting – There is an open season for taking beaver with firearms or bow and arrow throughout the year. Permission must be obtained from the owner or lessee of the land on which the beaver is being taken.
Positive Benefits Often beaver ponds are situated in areas that do not interfere directly with man's land use practices. In these cases, the positive impacts of beaver ponds far outweigh the negative impacts by slowing run-off from drainage areas and retarding erosion. They also filter silt, agricultural chemicals and pollutants from streams, and generally improve water quality for fish, wildlife, and man. During periods of drought they provide water for wildlife, livestock, and irrigation. Beaver ponds often provide abundant recreational opportunities to sportsmen for hunting, fishing, and trapping. In addition, trapping for beavers and other furbearers and leasing beaver ponds for waterfowl hunting can provide valuable supplemental income to landowners. Beaver ponds provide quality habitat for other furbearers, waterfowl, fish, non-game wildlife and endangered species. Beaver ponds provide ideal habitat for ducks. North Carolina's native wood duck populations increased significantly following increases in beaver populations and wood duck harvest has more than doubled since the beaver population increase. Wood duck nest boxes, combined with natural tree cavities in beaver ponds, make these areas ideal brood habitat for wood ducks.
Here you can find out how you can manage your beaver pond to positively impact wildlife and people. You can also find out about the Beaver Management Assistance Program to remove beavers and their dams.
Water Level Control
In most cases, water level control can provide the best technique for beaver pond management in situations where the removal of the beavers is not desired or practical. Several types of drains proven successful in controlling water levels include aluminum, PVC, and wood and steel. All of these drains have one thing in common, small drain holes, which the beavers are usually unable to obstruct.
The three-log drain (Figure 2), made of wood and steel, is the most economical. It is constructed with three logs, nails, short pieces of wood and two pieces of tin or scrap metal. The disadvantage of the three-log drain is its weight, which makes it difficult to handle. Due to this, you may want to use a 6 to 10 inch diameter aluminum irrigation pipe or PVC pipe with three rows of 3/4 inch diameter holes spaced six inches apart along the bottom of the pipe (Figure 3). In addition to being lightweight, these drains are easy to construct, install, and remove, when the area is ready to be flooded again.
High rainfall and high stream flow may prevent drainage unless several drains are installed in a beaver dam. After three-log drains or pipe drains are installed, they should be checked at least monthly and maintained as required to insure proper operation.
Pipe Drain Installation
Figure 2. Water levels in beaver ponds can be managed to compliment land use practices through installation of log drains.
Figure 3. Aluminum and PVC pipe drains can be used to manage beaver pond water levels and are also lightweight and easy to install.
Property owners in enrolled counties can obtain assistance through this program. Learn more about BMAP here.
Although beaver ponds are naturally beneficial waterfowl habitat, in some cases they may be improved by management. New ponds with live trees may be converted into green-tree reservoirs to attract ducks, with minimal loss to timber production. Acorns are a preferred food of many ducks, and oak trees can be maintained by draining the beaver pond during the growing season from March through September. Remove the drain during the dormant season (October-February) allowing the beavers to repair the dam. Then the resulting flooded area will provide resting and feeding areas for waterfowl.
Old beaver ponds with dead trees and plenty of sunlight reaching the water surface can be developed into attractive waterfowl feeding areas by draining the pond during the growing season. One method is to drain the pond and rely on natural vegetation to grow and provide waterfowl food. Another method is to drain the pond and plant Japanese millet. Whether relying on natural vegetation growth or millet plantings to produce waterfowl food, the drain should be set to leave water on 1/3 to 1/2 of the pond area. If the pond is completely drained, the beavers may relocate.
Wood Duck Nest Boxes
In addition to providing attractive waterfowl feeding areas, beaver ponds provide excellent nesting and brood rearing areas for wood ducks. Initially, the use of wood duck nesting boxes will increase the number of wood ducks reared in beaver ponds. Yearly maintenance of wood duck nest boxes is essential to insure maximum use. For this reason, do not erect more nest boxes than you will be able to maintain annually. As the breeding wood duck population increases additional boxes may be erected up to a maximum of 7 boxes per acre.
Plans for an artificial wood duck house are shown in detail in Figure 4. Pay special attention to the entrance hole measurements, which are designed to keep out larger predators such as raccoons. For best results, use rough cypress lumber to build the box. However, you can use one-half inch exterior or marine plywood, or any other suitable lumber treated with a preservative such as copper napthanate or pentachlorophenol. If materials with a smooth inner surface are used, a four inch wide strip of 1/4 inch hardware cloth must be attached to the inside front wall from the floor to the exit hole, to enable the ducklings to climb out of the box. Boxes should be erected in early winter to insure maximum use, because wood ducks start selecting nest sites as early as January.
Figure 4. Erection of wood duck nest boxes will increase the attractiveness of beaver ponds to this native waterfowl species.
All houses should be securely fastened to some stable structure such as a post or tree in or near the water. They may be erected with no tilt or a slight forward tilt. Never tilt a box backward, since this prevents the ducklings from being able to climb the wall and leave the nest. All cracks or holes, except the exit hole and several drainage holes in the bottom, should be sealed or covered. Place boxes in relatively open areas with the entrance holes pointing either upstream or downstream so that that they may be readily found by the ducks. Do not shield the entrance with branches since wood ducks fly directly into the box and do not need to perch before entering.
Many wood duck boxes have become "death traps" because they were poorly constructed or not made predator-proof. Be careful to select locations that do not offer overhanging branches or other pathways for depredating raccoons, snakes, or other hungry animals. Always use the predator shield explained in Figure 4, or install the boxes on a smooth pipe. Boxes should be placed a minimum of three feet above the water or, when placed over land, at least ten feet above the ground.
Yearly maintenance will be needed prior to each nesting season. At this time be sure to remove all useless debris, replace or add wood shavings, check the box stability, and replace all broken hardware or rotten boards.
Processing Beaver Fur
Best Management Practices
Animal Control Officers and Wild Animals