Have you ever wondered what beavers do in the winter months? No? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. I found myself wondering what on earth these busy bodies get up to when their watery homes freeze over. I did some research, so you don’t have to.
Spoiler alert: Disappointingly, beavers do not launch themselves into the air and fly south for the winter. But wouldn’t that be a sight.
First off, let’s get some beaver facts straight. A common misconception is that a “beaver dam” is a beaver’s home. This is fake news. A beaver dam is not a beaver’s home. The dam is a structure that the beavers build to prevent the flow of water. By blocking off water flow, they create new ponds and lakes, making it easier for them to access food and trees on the shore.
Beavers are pretty unique. They take the natural landscape and mold it to fit their needs. They’re out there chomping down trees, making new habitats. A wee bit destructive, but very impressive. Throughout the year these rotund rodents build dams, elevating water levels to allow them to store food underwater and keep it safe beneath the winter ice.
A beaver home is called a beaver lodge. Lodges are often home to a monogamous beaver couple (aww), and once built, the lodge can last up to 30 years!
These fuzzbutts build their lodges in the middle of shallow ponds and riverbanks, far enough from the shore and away from predators. Beaver dams and lodges are amazingly strong, yet minimalistic. They are built with nothing but sticks, mud, and grass.
Like your grandma heading to Florida, the beaver seeks warmth at the first sign of snow. They will spend the entire winter inside the lodge, protected from the cold and predators (like wolves and foxes). It sounds a bit dull, if you ask me. They are missing out on Ontario’s winter wonderland.
So what do they do to pass the time? Quite simply, they eat and they mate. Beavers mate in their lodges during the cold season. Romantic winter getaways don’t get much more rustic than this.
Not only are their lodges nice and dry, but they are hot. Like actually Florida hot. While the outside temperature plummets into the negatives, studies have shown that the inside of the lodge can hover around 32°C.
Beavers occasionally share their abodes with free-loaders like muskrats. This is probably because the muskrats also help to keep the lodge warm. From the muskrat’s perspective, it’s worth being an awkward third wheel in order to have a warm home during the winter.
The entrance to the beaver lodge is located under water. To eat, they swim out of their lodge and under the ice to gather food. What to beavers eat in the dead of winter? Twigs. Yum. Specifically, they eat the bark off of their favourite trees (which include willow, alder, birch, and poplar). They stash their favourite twigs near their lodges during the warmer months.
Unlike fat, sleepy bears, beavers don’t hibernate in the winter. They have thick, waterproof coats well adapted to winter temperatures. They secrete waterproofing oils that they comb through their fur with their little paws. They also have those iconic, magical tails that help to store fat and regulate their body temperatures in the winter
If you stumble across a beaver lodge, you can tell if the homeowners are inside by taking a look at the top of the lodge. Heat from within the lodge will rise and cause the snow at the top to melt. You might be able to hear the beavers… or smell them. You might even see steam rising from the top of the lodge.
Basically, if you see a hot steaming pile of snow, sticks, and mud this winter, it’s probably an occupied beaver lodge. Just let it be. Not that this is something you’d typically want to get close to... I would not recommend approaching smelly, hot, steaming piles of anything outside, tbh.
There you have it. Everything you ever wondered, or didn’t wonder, about beavers in winter. What are you going to do with all of this newfound beaver knowledge?
If the chance to see the majestic steaming beaver dam doesn't get you outside this winter, I don’t know what will.
P.S. if you’re wondering how many times the word “beaver” appeared in this article, the answer is 31. Well, 32 now.