I saw my first live beavers not in a national park or protected wetland, but in Philadelphia behind the Philadelphia Art Museum. That’s the building with the “Rocky” steps. I was the facilitator for a cohort of Master Naturalists and we were taking a break watching the fish swim up the Schuylkill River. And I spotted a fat animal with wet brown fur, a beaver. Who would have thought a beaver in Philly?
Now it seems Philadelphians have spotted beavers many places and times along the two major rivers, the Delaware and the Schuylkill.
The Delaware River: Beaver Habitat
The Delaware River which separates Philadelphia from Camden New Jersey is approximately 98 miles north of the Atlantic Ocean where it empties into the Delaware Bay then into the sea.
The Delaware River is a water highway up to the port of Trenton. The river is extremely busy with large cargo ships and whatever debris and pollution that comes with the heavy traffic.
Philadelphia is a major port city. The Port of Philadelphia is the fastest growing port on the U.S. East Coast. That means a lot of river traffic, with trash, debris, oil spills, and more. It takes effort to keep the river as clean as it can be, given the amount of activity on the water.
Cleaning Up Beaver Habitat
Philadelphia waterways were polluted. We used to joke about drinking “Schuylkill Punch” since we take our water from the Schuylkill River. But the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers are much cleaner than they used to be. One reason they keep the Schuylkill clean is because Philadelphians fish in it for food.
The presence of beavers signals that the river’s health and ecosystem are improving. Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said our goal was that the water was so clean we could swim in the Delaware River.
That hasn’t happened just yet, but the beavers are a sign we are getting there.
Beavers Are Back In Philly
The beavers continue to spread in the area’s rivers and creeks. Reintroduced into wild places into the state by the Game Commission, the beavers came down the Delaware and into the Schuylkill Rivers and adjoining creeks.
Knowing that beavers have returned and are present in every Pennsylvania county is a success story. When we protest, vote, contact our representatives and talk to everyone we know – that all works. We just have to continue to protect the land and her ecosystems, no matter what.
I need success stories like this. The fight is long and maybe never-ending, but the stakes are too great.
Beavers And All About Them: Video Presentation
The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education held an online presentation on the North American Beaver, its habitat, life cycle, and its presence here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is an hour long presentation filled with beaver natural history. You can register for future Thursday Night Live at the Schuylkill Center here.
North American Beaver Facts
Common name: American Beaver
Scientific name: Castor canadensis
Size: 32-55 inches (.08-1.4 meters)
Description: large, heavy-bodied rodent with dark brown fur, webbed feet and a dark flat tail. Weighs 30 – 70 lbs (13.6 kg. – 31.7 kg)
Average life span: approximately 10 years in natural settings
Habitat and Home Range: Small to medium-sized watersheds, ponds, and lakes throughout North America. Beavers live in lodges or bank burrows.
Home Life: 4 to 8 animals called colonies.
Natural Range: North America from south of the tundra to northern Mexico
Food and Foraging: In winter leaves, barks, and twigs of just about any woody plant that grows in their territory and near their den. In summer soft plants including grass, reeds, duckweed, and algae.
Courtship and Mating: Beavers pair up for life. Sometimes a male beaver will mate with two females in a colony. If one partner dies, the remaining animal will find a new mate.
Young: Females give birth to 3 or 4 young called kits. The young are born covered in brown fur, eyes partially closed to fully opened, and their incisor teeth showing.
Ecosystem Role: Beaver activity distributes water across the land and creates habitat and food sources for fish, birds, amphibians, and other animals.
Status in the United States: Beavers were declared extinct in Pennsylvania in 1912. This prompted conservationists to reintroduce beavers using animals from other states.
Wildlife of the Mid-Atlantic: A Complete Reference Manual by John H. Rappole (newer edition – Amazon affiliate link)
Behavior of North American Mammals (Peterson Reference Guides) by Mark Elbroch and Kurt Rinehart (Amazon affiliate link)
Beaver Information on the Internet
The Lodge at BeaversMatter.org (beaversmatter.org) Written from a beaver’s pespective, this webiste contacts spectucular photographs of beavers at work and play.
Is There a Beaver Resurgence in Philly? (WHYY.org)