October 11, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Birds Need Beaver

Things go better with Beav around.  Science Daily has a delightful entry about the ecological benefits that beaver ponds provide for migratory birds.  It says that beaver are not just beneficial for our feathered friends; they are vital.  Because of the rich streamside habitat that grows around beaver ponds, the formula is simple: the more dams, the more birds.
    The Wildlife Conservation Society studied this subject in Wyoming and along the eastern Sierra Nevada of California, where mountain streams rush down steep rocky canyons.  The beaver ponds help slow down and soak up the water.  This helps maintain wetland habitats for a wide variety of animals and plants.

“Beaver are an essential ecosystem engineer,” said co-author Steve Zack of the Wildlife Conservation Society.  “Beavers help repair degraded stream habitats and their dams and associated ponds recharge local water tables and create wetlands.  With our changing climate likely to mean increasing droughts in the West, managing ways to allow watersheds to act more like sponges will be a challenge.  Beaver are a powerful tool to be considered for that, and the associated benefits to other wildlife add to their value.”

Early American pioneers valued beaver for their fur.  The “beaver wars” among competing trapping outfits in the 1800s nearly led to their extinction in the Rocky Mountains and Sierras.  Fortunately, beaver have made a strong comeback in many areas, but some still consider them a pest, the article said, when they gnaw down trees and flood property.  The study hoped to show that “beaver are very important to wildlife and to reviving the natural function of streams.”  Humans also benefit from their work (see 02/25/2008, 06/08/2006 and 07/16/2005).  Beaver also provide recreational value.  It’s fun to watch the little engineers at work in our national parks and forests.

The article includes a picture of a beaver dam in Lundy Canyon along the eastern Sierra.  For a little visual vacation, your trusty reporter has posted a picture he took in August a few miles south of there along McGee Creek.  Note the lush habitat all around the pond.  Can you spot the beaver house?
Quiz questions: (1) What is the plural of beaver?  (2) What are the young called?  (3) How big was the largest beaver in the fossil record?*

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Categories: Birds, Mammals

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