Welcoming Rodent Engineers

Welcoming Rodent Engineers: Spawn Creek Beaver Dam and Pond Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
Spawn Creek Beaver Dam and Pond
Courtesy and Copyright Bethany Neilson, Photographer
Finding a beaver dam gives me a sense of discovery and connects me to the past. I fondly remember my parents pointing out dams when we drove up Logan canyon. Instinctively, we’d scan, hoping to see the animals that built and maintained those structures. When we talked about beaver dams, the conversation often turned to trappers who would rendezvous and re-supply in the Bear Lake and Cache valleys. We lived where history had happened, and I was eager to know more.

Years later, inspired by a history class, I read Dale Morgan’s Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West. Morgan followed the travels of Smith and his fellow trappers who answered William Ashley’s 1822 ad in the Missouri Gazette requesting “ONE HUNDRED MEN, to ascend the river Missouri to its source, there to be employed for one, two, or three years….”

North American beaver (Castor canadensis) Courtesy US FWS, Larry Palmer, Photographer
North American beaver
(Castor canadensis)
Courtesy US FWS, Larry Palmer, Photographer
Ashley’s troop competed with the Hudson’s Bay Company, the American Fur Company and several native indigenous tribes, all trapping beaver. The story sounds familiar: beaver pelts, and later bird feathers, were used to create hats, and the movement to harvest them led to a significant decline in numbers. For the birds, this decline led to building refuges and other conservation efforts. But the plight of the beaver continued downhill as exploration and discovery encouraged an influx of settlers. For the next century, the remaining beaver were regarded by those settlers as invasive land-grabbers, in competition with efforts to direct water, mine and irrigate.

However, today beavers are gaining more respect as we better understand the benefits of their skills in supporting wildlife and wetland conservation. Researchers at Utah State University, including Joe Wheaton and Nick Bouwes of the Department of Watershed Sciences, are studying habitat improvement after beaver introduction as a cost-effective way to combat drought and fire.

Spawn Creek Beaver Dams Courtesy & Copyright Joe Wheaton
Spawn Creek Beaver Dams
Courtesy & Copyright Joe Wheaton, Photographer
They have repeatedly demonstrated, over the past few years, that beaver families can be introduced and thrive behind fabricated beaver dam analogues(BDAs). After release into the resulting ponds, the beavers take over maintenance and produce their own dams. Over time, these dams and their rodent engineers improve stream flows, raise water tables, and cool water temperatures.

In essence, active beaver dams create Mesic habitats where the land maintains a well-balanced supply of moisture throughout the growing season. These dams slow spring run-off as they retain water in ponds and the surrounding soil, thereby, securing water for fish, trees, birds and wildlife. The best part is that the beavers do the maintenance.

Installing Beaver Dam Analogues, Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest, Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Installing Beaver Dam Analogues
Post Fire Rehabilitation
Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest,
Courtesy USDA Forest Service

Completed Beaver Dam  Analogues, Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest, Courtesy USDA Forest Service Completed Beaver Dam Analogues, Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest,
Courtesy USDA Forest Service

When wildfires occur, beaver oases preserve wildlife and habitat. However, if beaver and their habitats don’t exist in an area before a fire, they can still play a role. By retaining water with beaver dam analogs, we can create wetlands conducive to beaver habitat. In Joe Wheaton’s words, “We can’t dump beaver into a watershed that has burnt to the ground and expect them to do the restoration of degraded streams on their own…. What we can do post-fire is accelerate recovery with low-tech structures that make it easier to more quickly get beaver into an area and accelerate recovery. We’d like to help them do that.” (Utah State Magazine, Winter 2019, p.12)

To learn more about how birds, beaver and water are key to the understanding and improvement of our environment, and to find ways to get involved, check out this story on this wildaboututah.org.

I’m Lyle Bingham for Bridgerland Audubon, and I’m Wild About Utah

Photos: Beaver Dam, Courtesy & Copyright © Bethany Neilson, Photographer https://uwrl.usu.edu/people/faculty/neilson-bethany
Spawn Creek Beaver Dams Courtesy & Copyright Joe Wheaton
Installing & Completed Beaver Dam Analogues, Rio Cabolla, Santa Fe National Forest, Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Lyle Bingham’ Wild About Utah Postings

Strand, Holly, Beavers: The Original Army Corps of Engineers, April 29, 2010, https://wildaboututah.org/beavers-the-original-army-corps-of-engineers/

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver–Helping Keep Water on Drying Lands, April 17, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/the-beaver-helping-keep-water-on-drying-lands/

Leavitt, Shauna, Sixty In-stream Habitat Structures in Four Days: Demonstrating Creek Restoration Techniques, December 18, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/sixty-instream-habitat-structures-in-four-days-demonstrating-creek-restoration-techniques/

Hellstern, Ron, Leave it to Beaver, July 30, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/leave-it-to-beaver/

Leavitt, Shauna, Proposed Beaver Holding Facility in Millville, Utah, September 3, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/proposed-beaver-holding-facility-in-millville-utah/

Leavitt, Shauna, Beaver in Utah’s Desert Rivers, July 6, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/beaver-in-utahs-desert-rivers/

Heers, Mary, Beaver Tail Slap, October 12, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/beaver-tail-slap/
(re-aired in late December 2021)

Other Favorites:

Randall, Brianna, Nature’s Engineers: How Beavers Boost Streamflows and Restore Habitat, https://www.sagegrouseinitiative.com/natures-engineers-how-beavers-boost-streamflows-and-restore-habitat/
Randall, Brianna, How Beavers Boost Stream Flows, National Wildlife Federation, January 8, 2020, https://blog.nwf.org/2020/01/how-beavers-boost-stream-flows/

Low-Tech Process Based Restoration of Riverscapes Design Manual, https://lowtechpbr.restoration.usu.edu/manual/

New Manual for Low-Tech Riparian Restoration, https://www.sagegrouseinitiative.com/new-manual-for-low-tech-riparian-restoration/

Randall, Brianna, Beavers, Water, and Fire—A New Formula for Success, Low-tech stream restoration works wonders for people and wildlife, National Wildlife Federation, October 30, 2018, https://blog.nwf.org/2018/10/beavers-water-and-fire-a-new-formula-for-success/

Nicholas Weber ,Nicolaas Bouwes,Michael M. Pollock,Carol Volk,Joseph M. Wheaton,Gus Wathen,Jacob Wirtz,Chris E. Jordan, Alteration of stream temperature by natural and artificial beaver dams, May 17, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176313 OR https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0176313

Prettyman, Brett, Dolling (SLTRIB), Justin(UT DWR), Beavers in Utah, Creators of Habitat, The Salt Lake Tribune & Utah DWR, Oct 15, 2009 •

Utah’s population of beaver has recovered since the days when they were trapped by mountain men, but some people wonder if moving beaver to traditional habitats may help deal with drought.

Utah Beaver Management Plan, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/pdf/furbearer/beaver_plan_2010-2020.pdf

Birds, Beaver and Water in a Changing Climate, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/birds-beaver-and-water-in-a-changing-climate/

The New Dove in the Neighborhood

Eurasian Collared Dove
Note the black collar
and the broad square tail
Courtesy Stephen Peterson

During the winter after most doves have migrated, you may notice a dove foraging along the roadside or perched in a tree. A new species has arrived in our neighborhood, the Eurasian collared dove or Streptopelia decaocto, which has a distinctive black neck ring and a broad tail.

Originally found near the Bay of Bengal in Asia, this dove began its range expansion in the 1600’s. By 1900, it had made its way to Turkey, and by 2000 could be found as far north as the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia. Expansion into North America occurred in the early seventies when the collared dove appeared in the Bahamas. Since 1982, when first discovered in Florida, it has been gradually making its way north and west. Nineteen ninety-seven marked the first official report of Eurasian collared doves in Orem, Utah. Now they have spread throughout the state.

Eurasian collared doves join rock pigeons, the English sparrow, and the European starling as non-native birds that have expanded across the country. Experts attribute the success of Eurasian collared doves to the wide availability of seed offered by backyard bird feeders, as well as their ability to aggressively defend feeding areas. Some fear that they will cause territory or breeding problems for our native mourning dove, but so far there is no evidence to support this concern.

In an effort to reduce the number of Eurasian collared doves, the Utah DWR allows year-round harvesting. But be careful: don’t confuse this dove with the smaller mourning dove, which has a narrow, pointed tail and no ring on its neck. Eurasian collared doves have a distinct neck band and a broad, squared tail. Their calls also differ.

Native Mourning Dove
Courtesy USFWS

The mourning dove has the familiar melodic call:
[coo-ah cooo cooo coo]

[Kevin Colver, Songbirds of the Rocky Mountains
12 Mourning Dove]

Now listen to the Eurasian collared dove:

[“coo-coooo-coo”, “coo-coooo-coo”, “coo-coooo-coo”, “krreair”]

[Eurasian collared dove – From Kevin Colver’s private library

Two calls combined for this piece.]

The verdict is still out on the impact that the Eurasian collared dove will have on native species. In the mean time, let’s watch to see how this new dove adapts to the neighborhood and fits into the ecosystem.

Eurasian Collared Dove
Courtesy Stephen Peterson

Thank-you to Lyle Bingham of Bridgerland Audubon for writing this essay and to Kevin Colver for providing the recorded songs.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Photos: Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS)
Recordings: Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Voice: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon
Text: Lyle Bingham, Bridgerland Audubon

Additional Reading:

Florida’s Introduced Birds: Eurasian collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto), Stephen A. Johnson and Gay Donaldson-Fortier, University of Florida IFAS Extension, WEC 256,http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW30100.pdf

Tricky Bird IDs: Eurasian Collared-Dove and African Collared-Dove, Project FeederWatch, A Joint Project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/AboutBirdsandFeeding/EucdovRitdovID.htm

Romagosa, Christina Margarita. 2002. Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/630/articles/introduction

2009-2010 Upland Game Guidebook, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, http://wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks/2009-10_upland_game/2009-10_upland_game.pdf

Complete Birds of North America, ed. Jonathan Alderfer, National Geographic, 2006

Bugging Marbled Godwits

Marbled Godwit on the shore
Photo by Lee Karney
Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

In the name of curiosity and hunger, man has tracked the migrations of animals for centuries. The first record of the use of leg bands to track birds is from 1595 when one of Henry IV’s Peregrine Falcons was lost in France. It showed up 24 hours later in Malta, about 1400 miles away. John James Audubon tied silver cords to a brood of phoebes and identified two nestlings that returned the next year. In 1899, Hans Mortensen added identification numbers and his return address to the plain leg bands and modern bird banding was born.

In the United States, anyone who finds a bird band is encouraged to report it to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. Banding provides us with limited information, however. There is no data about the bird’s life between the time of banding and its recapture or death.

But recent miniaturization of satellite transmitters used to track larger animals is now proving valuable in bird research. In 2006, Bridget Olsen of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and Adrian Farmer of the US Geological Survey started placing tiny satellite transmitters on the backs of Marbled Godwits, a hefty sandpiper that rests at the refuge during its migration. The Marbled Godwit is in decline throughout its range. This large shorebird was chosen by scientists from Mexico, the United States and Canada as the focus for an international shorebird conservation effort.
The solar-powered transmitters periodically record the bird’s GPS location. The transmission is picked up via satellite and returned to the researchers. Comparing two transmissions indicates travel time and speed.

Olsen and Farmer work with wildlife officers across North America to track the Marbled Godwits from their wintering grounds in Baja California, through their migration to nesting grounds in the Great Plains, Alaska and Canada.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Photo: Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service, National Digital Library


Text: Lyle Bingham, Linda Kervin, Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon

Additional Reading:

Go Godwits Resources: http://www.fort.usgs.gov/Resources/GoGodwits/

Frequently Asked Questions: Tracking Marbled Godwits by Satellite: http://www.fort.usgs.gov/Resources/GoGodwits/faq.asp#Q1
Conservation Plan for the Marbled Godwit: http://www.fort.usgs.gov/Products/Publications/pub_abstract.asp?PubID=21601

Marbled Godwit, Limosa fedoa, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Migratory Bird Research, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i2490id.html

Effects of Management Practices on Grassland Birds: Marbled Godwit, USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/literatr/grasbird/mago/mago.htm

Marbled Godwit, Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Conservation Data Center,

Satellites Used to Track Bird Movement and Preserve Species, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, USGS Newsroom, June 12, 2006, http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=1521

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Brigham City, UT – Research Page,

Avian Cyrano de Bergerac- long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew
Lee Karney, US Fish & Wildlife Service
Long-billed Curlew in Flight
Cresent Lake NWR, US Fish & Wildlife Service

The Cyrano de Bergerac of the bird world is the long-billed curlew. Its bill is 9 inches long and curves downward at the tip. This 19-inch bird is the largest shorebird of North America. The long-billed curlew is cinnamon brown above and buff brown below. It is similar in size to a marbled godwit, but the bill of the godwit is shorter and turns up.

Like Cyrano, the long-billed curlew is shy. They arrive in Utah in mid-March, seeking open fields and grasslands away from trees, posts, power poles or any other perches of use to predators. They can been seen walking through fields, probing with their bill for worms, insects, spiders and even berries.

In breeding season the male repeatedly flies high, then glides downward, calling all the while.
[Kevin Colver, Songs of Yellowstone #9 Long-billed Curlew]

Like other shorebirds, their nest is just a shallow scrape on the ground, lightly lined with grass. Typically 4 eggs are laid. Both sexes incubate the eggs for about 2 weeks. The down covered young hatch with their eyes open and feed themselves. Two to three weeks after the chicks hatch, the female departs. Dad stays with his chicks until after they fledge when they are about 35 days old. Soon thereafter curlews flock up to migrate south. In mid July, they fly to California or Mexico, where they frequent coastal mudflats eating crabs and other aquatic life.

The long-billed curlew was once much more common. Market hunting in the 19th century and habitat loss more recently have reduced their numbers, but they persist in parts of Utah.

Thanks to Kevin Colver for the use of his recording.

To view pictures visit the Wildaboututah link on upr.org

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Photos: Courtesy Fish and Wildlife Service Online Digital Media Library


Audio: Dr. Kevin Colver, www.wildsanctuary.com & https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections

Text: Lyle Bingham, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Additional Reading:

Washington State Birdweb:

Long-billed curlew Numenius americanus, USGS Migratory Bird Research – Patuxent Wildlife Research Center,

Long-billed Curlew Satellite Tracking

Prairie Birds: Fragile Splendor in the Great Plains, Paul A. Johnsgard, 2001, University Press of Kansas, http://www.amazon.com/Prairie-Birds-Fragile-Splendor-Plains/dp/0700610677

Long-billed Curlew Mating flight (Video),