Our beaver is likely about two years old, for that is the age when the young leave to make their own way in the world. They may leave their natal site in spring, summer or fall but I’ve most often seen wandering beavers in autumn and often in the most unusual locations. I’ve seen them trying to cross busy roads in Ottawa and found them in the tiniest of streams trying to establish their home.
Beavers usually mate when two or three years old, the female giving birth to anywhere from one to six kits in the spring (the number usually depends on how much food is available). Eventually these tiny creatures will attain a weight of upward of 25 kilograms. Unusually, they are monogamous and mate for life, which somehow to me, highlights even more, the cruelty of trapping, for one of a pair may be killed, the other left alone.
Family groups typically consist of both adults and the offspring of the previous two years. Once the young reach the age of two, they leave the colony to seek their own territory. As noted above, this is a difficult time for they wander into situations that are not only unsuitable but very dangerous. If they survive attacks by predators and avoid cars on roads, they may end up being trapped (killed) to remove them from areas where they are not wanted, which in the City of Ottawa seems to be most places. Another reason we are letting the beaver remain, is for just that – so many other places are unwelcoming. And we, after all, are a “wildlife garden.”
Another hazard young beavers encounter when seeking their own territory is hostility from beavers already established in ponds or wetlands. Normally peaceful animals, resident males will fight off intruders, particularly in situations where the wetland is small and food supply limited. Vanishing wetlands mean that beavers have an ever-harder time finding suitable habitat. Around Ottawa, we can see examples of large wetlands being filled in for development. Beavers dislodged from their natal site often end up in places like the FWG or the Arboretum, where habitat is unsuitable (the latter site) and barely suitable (the former site).
As noted above, beavers do not hibernate. They remain active throughout the winter, warm and cosy in their lodge or bank burrow, dependent on the winter food supply laid up during fall. This is another reason why we decided to let the beaver remain at the pond. If we tried to live trap and move him to another location, chances are it would be too late for him to establish a territory, create a dam, build a lodge or burrow, and lay in food.