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Beaver dams create habitats

November 19, 2011
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

BEAVERS (Castor canadensis) are among the largest rodents in the world. For us North Americans, the beaver has a long history which includes trapping by explorers to take the furs for European markets. Past intense pressure placed on beaver for those markets led to all sorts of encounters by fur trappers and mountain men of the past. In a sense, our western frontier was opened to more people by the presence of beaver and the potential promise for economic gain. In spite of all that pressure, this rodent endures. Even in a modern landscape so dramatically altered by mankind, beavers survive.

This animal can grow to four feet in length and weigh more than 60 pounds. Its webbed hind feet help propel it through the water. Its large flat hairless tail is used to maintain balance when gnawing on trees. The tail can also be slapped on water surfaces to warn of danger or predators. A thick coat of fur is waterproofed by an oily secretion called castoreum that the animal obtains from its scent glands. A thick layer of fat under its skin helps keep it warm. The large front teeth work like chisels to cut wood. Constantly growing, the teeth are 'sharpened' by the continual action of chewing and sliding past each other.

Beaver lodges are typically bank dens having an underwater entrance with burrows leading to above water chambers for living and raising families. The young, called kits, are born after a three month gestation. One litter per year is the norm. Kits are born with their eyes open and have a lot to learn before they are on their own. In fact, the learning curve lasts for two years as adults teach the young skills to survive. If they can survive the obstacles of life, they can reach 20 years of age.

Article Photos

Preparing for their winter survival, beavers have created a series of shallow impoundments on many smaller streams in Marshall County. This dam on Minerva Creek clearly shows how beavers make an arrangement of sticks and mud to create a watery environment for themselves and other aquatic creatures. Beavers have sometimes been called ‘landscape reengineers’ for their energetic works.

Beaver dams on tributary streams to the Iowa River are common. And just as common will be next year's spring rains or floods that will increase water flows substantially and wash away those mud and stick dams. When conditions return to normal, the beaver will be back, building and reengineering new dams to help it survive.


Turkey tales ... one wild, the other domestic ... help present the facts of the similarities and differences between the two. Since many of you will be eating domestic turkey Thursday, do enjoy one of the most sought after traditional meats for the Thanksgiving season. For sportsmen and women that have hunted the wild variety, your Thanksgiving Day meal may have an extra special meaning.

The North American native wild turkey has been around for a long time. Ever since early explorers to this continent five centuries ago, the wild turkey has been well documented in mankind's recorded history. The wild bird is the epitome of grace as it walks with outstretched neck and head, broad tail feathers and drumming wings held close to the ground. The domestic bird was bred and raised for its meat. So when looking at that basted and stuffed bird on the dining room table, just take a minute to note that we should be very thankful for this nation, our families and our freedom. Now it is time to eat. Enjoy.


This weeks IPTV Nature program about raising wild turkeys was excellent. The filmmaker/author had to live with his turkey brood of 16 that had imprinted on him at hatching time. The poults thought of him as 'mother' and went wherever he went. So he took daily hikes into the grasslands and forests of his Florida landscape. While the turkeys learned, he learned from the turkeys. There clicks, purrs, clucks and body language are constant and varied. There are even calls to differentiate between poisonous and non-venomous snakes! Toward the end however, one male turkey that had treated the film maker as a brother, turned on him in a serious battle, a dominance fight that drew blood. The wild in these wild turkeys was coming through. All these traits of the wild turkey are hard wired into its brain for activation throughout the maturation process. If you get a chance to view a repeat of this IPTV Nature show, I urge you to watch it closely. You will be glad you did.


The NATIONAL WILD TURKEY FEDERATION, SINCE 1986, has cooperated with private and public conservation agencies to bring funding to conservation projects and assist in habitat programs that benefit wild turkeys and other wildlife. The NWTF has spent more than $258 million upholding hunting traditions and conserving more than 1.3 million acres of wildlife habitat. Membership numbers nearly 584,000 folks in 50 states and 16 foreign countries. The NWTF supports scientific wildlife management on public, private and corporate lands as well as wild turkey hunting as a North American tradition. Consider this wildlife success story: From a national population low of 30,000 in the early 1900s, today there are more than 7 million wild turkeys.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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