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Beavers Consuming Herbaceous Plants

8-31-16 beaver cutting fern 052

One associates Beavers with a fairly strict diet of bark and twigs. While their winter diet consists primarily of woody plants, they consume a variety of herbaceous and aquatic plants (as well as woody) during the spring, summer and fall months. Shrubs and trees make up roughly half the spring and autumn requirements, but as little as 10% of the summer diet when herbaceous plants such as sedges and aquatic plants become available.

Recent observation of a local active Beaver pond revealed that Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana), Jewelweed/Touch-Me-Not (Impatiens capensis) and grasses are high on the list of preferred foods of one Beaver family during the summer, although woody plants such as poplars (Populus spp.) and Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) have also been consumed in fairly large quantities.   All too soon Beavers in the Northeast will be limited to the bark of branches they’ve stored under the ice. Until this time, they take advantage of the accessibility of more easily digested herbaceous plants. (Thanks to the Shepards and Demonts for photo op.)

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14 responses

  1. Cecelia

    Mary, do you know if beavers will eat Japanese Knotweed? This plant has become rampant on some streamsides. The Mill Brook in Windsor has quite a stretch of it in an area where a beaver is trying to set up shop. My impression is that the beaver is eating sumac trees and other plants instead.

    August 31, 2016 at 9:31 am

    • Hi Cecelia,
      I have never seen nor heard of a beaver eating Japanese Knotweed – but it would do wonders for their survival if they did. Please let me know if you see any evidence of this! I’d love directions to where I could observe the beavers!

      August 31, 2016 at 10:00 am

      • Cecelia

        Going down Union St from the Kennedy Pond area, you come to where Mill Brook passes under the road. It is possible to get in the stream and walk, wearing water shoes. I get in south west of the street bridge. Then, walking under the bridge and down stream there are some signs of beaver activity, There are two slides on the west bank we saw and two starts of dams each 100yds on, first from the bridge then beyond. The beaver is smallish and only one (at least at a time) has been seen. I am wondering if this is a young beaver. Would a young beaver possible just live in a hole in the b ank the first year then do the works the following year once he or she has a mate? I haven’t read your book!

        August 31, 2016 at 9:32 pm

      • Yes, that’s exactly what usually happens. The first year the beaver lives in a bank den and in rivers, that’s often a permanent den.

        September 1, 2016 at 6:42 am

      • Cecelia

        Mary, do first year beavers living in a bank den typically go on to making a dam and lodge in the same area the following year? Have they chosen what they hope will be a permanent location? It seems to me that would be the case, and then the beaver could observe what happens with that section of the stream over that year.

        September 1, 2016 at 9:21 am

    • Hi Cecelia,
      Yes, usually the second year a lodge is built…sometimes sticks are piled over the bank lodge, but sometimes it’s out in the middle of the pond.

      September 2, 2016 at 1:14 pm

  2. Kathryn

    A nice juicy jewelweed certainly sounds more appetizing than a stick!

    August 31, 2016 at 10:28 am

  3. Ann Tiplady

    My instinct tells me that the ferns being eaten here have very low food value and may have toxins. My first thought was that eating this plant might help reduce intestinal parasites. The microbes in beaver guts must be very powerful to handle their diets.

    August 31, 2016 at 11:44 am

  4. I’ve recently seen corn stalks (fresh full-grown stalks) littering a pond where beavers have access to an adjacent cornfield. The stalks were cleanly chomped off at the base not nibbled by some small creature. I think beavers take advantage of available water-side plants. I did not see any ears of corn on the stalks… Perhaps they ate the ears and left the stalk?

    August 31, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    • Very possible — they love corn, and eat it just as we do, rotating it around and around!

      September 1, 2016 at 6:40 am

  5. I’ve been pulling invasive water chestnut most all summer as a volunteer. Some ponds are littered with dis-articulated water chestnut plants. I am unsure if this action is muskrats or beavers. I’d appreciate any feedback from anyone that has seen water chestnut attacked. Sadly, these invasive plants are not being eaten fast enough………….

    August 31, 2016 at 8:12 pm

  6. Yes! Finally someone writes about cazare.

    September 10, 2016 at 11:05 am

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