Beavers Dam Good for Songbirds

October 15, 2008

A WCS study finds that the busy beaver’s signature dams provide critical habitat for a variety of migratory songbirds, particularly in the semi-arid interior of the West.

The songbird has a friend in the beaver. According to a study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the busy beaver’s signature dams provide critical habitat for a variety of migratory songbirds, particularly in the semi-arid interior of the West.

Researchers found that through dam building, beavers create ponds and stimulate growth of diverse streamside vegetation. The study found that the more dams beavers build, the more abundant and diverse local songbirds become. The study appears in the October 2008 issue of the journal Western North American Naturalist.

Beaver populations once numbered in the millions in the American West but dramatically collapsed in the 1800s due to the fur trade. Today, beavers are often considered pests when they take down trees and flood property. Their influence is still missing on most watersheds in the West, yet this study and others suggest that beavers are very important to wildlife and to reviving the natural function of streams.

“Beavers are an essential ecosystem engineer,” said Steve Zack, the study’s co-author and a WCS conservation scientist. “[They] help repair degraded stream habitats and their dams and associated ponds recharge local water tables and create wetlands.”

Zack added that because climate change is likely to cause increasing droughts in the West, beavers may become especially helpful in allowing watersheds to act more like sponges.

The researchers conducted their study in Wyoming, where beaver reintroductions have occurred on both private and public lands with owner consent and interest. The study was part of a larger effort by WCS to identify how to restore wildlife to streamside habitats in the western U.S.

In 2007, WCS made history with other beaver news when an active beaver lodge was discovered in the Bronx River on the grounds of the Bronx Zoo—the first one spotted in New York City in at least two centuries.

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