The recording features Barred Owls hooting and American Beaver scraping, chewing and moaning at night in the Shindagin Hollow wetland (recorded at 2am in late September 2020). The photo shows the effects of the drought. Resident beaver have shoved mud onto the banks in order to deepen the channel. Media © Lang Elliott.
Note: The recording featured here is a “3D binaural soundscape”. Please wear headphones for a profound listening experience that will make you think you’re actually out there, immersed in the natural world!
Early last autumn, I decided to focus on a beaver colony that had taken up residence in the hollow. The colony appeared to be doing quite well, but by late September, a drought had nearly dried up the wetland, forcing the colony to move upstream to the last remaining section with water. In what appeared to be a frantic bid to avoid catastrophe, the beaver quickly built a new dam, constructed a new den, and then began deepening the channel by shoving large amounts of mud on to the banks … clearly a “last-ditch effort” to preserve their aquatic environment.
A closer view of the beaver dredging activities (click to enlarge). Note abundant beaver footprints in the mud. I wonder how they haul the mud out of the water … perhaps they shove it with their noses and feet? Or do they pull it up with their forelegs, or push it up with their hind legs, while moving backwards? Has anyone observed this behavior?
It was a depressing scene, for sure, but there were also abundant signs of feeding, and the beaver had piled a large number of small limbs in the deepest portion of the channel, to act as a winter food source. So, at dusk, I placed my mic setup near the food-bed and left it there to record through the night.
The results speak for themselves! Be sure to listen to the above 8-minute recording in its entirety. Not only did I capture the sounds of beaver scraping and chewing bark in the darkness, I also documented the animated moans or whines of young of the year, begging calls given as their parents feed … what a surprising and unusual sound! And not only that, Barred Owls showed up on several occasions, their resonant hoots echoing across the landscape.
Needless to say, I was (and still am) quite pleased with the outcome of my effort!
Over the next few days, the water level receded even more. I became very concerned because the nearest wet area that I was able to locate was over two miles downstream, and that spot appeared to be inhabited by another colony. I wondered what would happen if the water evaporated entirely? Would the beaver simply stay put, trusting that nature would send rain in time? Or would they disperse overland, perhaps individually, in what might be a hopeless search for better habitat?
Fortunately, rain arrived just five days after I made my recording. And to my delight, the wetland quickly filled with water, reviving the beaver’s aquatic environment, with plenty of water for all.
I well remember when the rain began. It was late afternoon. I was at my home on the edge of town, but I quickly mobilized and headed to the hollow where I remained until dark, watching with pleasure as the pools began to fill. With heavy rain falling all around, I smiled to myself and felt a great sense of relief, knowing that the beaver would once again be in their element, happily preparing for the long winter ahead.
For more information about the biology and behavior of the beaver, check out this informative article published by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.
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amazing! The moans could be mistaken for human in another context! For beaver enthusiasts I recommend Lily Pond by Hope Ryden, a naturalist who observed a family of beavers for two years in Bear Mountain and Harrison State Parks, NY.
Great sound video and the narration was great too. I was listening to it here in Maryville Tennessee sitting by my pellet stove with temperature at 25 degrees. I was just thinking to myself how interesting the beavers are!! Love hearing the sounds!!., beautiful photos of the area we were hearing the sounds from. I live 20 minutes from the Smokies and we have several Beaver dens. Thank you for sharing this with us.
Nancy from Tennessee
ah … Maryville … just a stone’s throw from Cades Cove.
Thank you for this wonderful recording! As I was listening to your recording around 1PM today, Barred Owls were hooting right outside my window in the woods. I live in NE Florida, at the edge of a maritime forest. The owls here can be heard hooting in the daytime, in addition to their nighttime activity. But we never hear or see beavers! That was really fun and interesting.
Florida is full of Barred Owls, especially in the swamps. And they seem to be much friendlier, or at least way more tolerant of humans, than those up here in New York State. I remember one visit to the Everglades where I was recording at night along a boardwalk and a Barred Owl let me walk right up to it as it perched on the guardrail. I watched it for awhile from just a few feet away and then finally reached out to touch it, at which point it finally flew away. That would never ever happen in my neck… Read more »
Interesting little anecdote about the Everglades owl. I thought you were going to say that it turned out to be a plastic fake owl – ha ha! We have a new nature preserve area here and for some reason ‘someone’ put those plastic owls on the boardwalk railings. Not sure what or ‘who’ they’re trying to scare away. Thanks again for your nature stories and sounds!
Leora and I listened to the whole piece. We loved the beaver moans – it sounded as if it were enjoying its meal. Thank you Lang!
Glad to hear that Leora enjoyed the sounds … and you too of course!
You might enjoy reading some of Grey Owl’s books about living with beavers in Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan during the 1930s. Grey Owl was an Englishman who passed himself off as a Native American. But he was an early conservationist and helped restore beaver populations in Canada.
How on earth did he manage to pass himself off as an Indian? Maybe he had some mongol in his heritage? Hey … I hope to be in the SW this spring (though not sure; probably will depend on getting vaccinated first). I’ll be dropping by Portal to hang out at the bed-and-breakfast to get bird photos. But mostly I’ll spend time in other places. You guys doing OK?
Methinks his aquiline proboscis might have contributed to his deception. He looked the part, or at least what people expected. But he did good work and his books are enjoyable to read.
And we’re doing fine, Lang, but miss our travels.
“Aquiline proboscis” … I’ve never heard that expression before.
A beautiful story and wonderful recording Lang.
Thanks as always for sharing!
What a wonderful recording! I had no idea about these sounds that beavers make.They have been reintroduced to parts of Scotland but need vocal advocates as some landowners are not keen.
So the species was entirely eradicated from Scotland?
I just googled and drummed up this article about their reintroduction: https://theecologist.org/2020/jul/22/wild-beavers-scotland
And here’s another interesting article: https://scottishbeavers.org.uk/beaver-facts/
Thank you for the detailed story as well as the wonderful sounds! I love hearing and then learning about mammal sounds and I have never heard beavers other than tail slaps.
So good to hear from you Lisa … I trust that you’re still doing a lot of insect recording?
Wonderful recording! I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing beavers eating and moaning/grunting but I have watched them pull, push and tug trees and limbs in their building of a den. Thanks so much for what you do and putting it online for us to enjoy.
I have also seen them pull, push, tug and drag limbs, but I’ve never seen them dredging a channel (which I presume they do mostly at night). I wish I owned a trail cam; this would have been an excellent opportunity to document the behavior.
I’d be making those sounds, too, if I had to chew bark!! I never heard a beaver before. That was awesome.
Let’s hope you never get so hungry that bark starts to look good. Did you know that the word “Adirondack” was originally a derogatory term given to the Algonquin tribe by the neighboring Mohawks … it means “barkeaters” and referred to the fact that the Algonquins would resort to eating bark when the going got rough.
Oh, my my, how amazing to get all the sounds plus the photos, HAH! Fun audio and photos. thanks
I love all your recordings and the details of your adventures in nature. I am a big fan and always look forward to your posts. I’m off to listen to beavers and owls now!
Wow! That was amazing!! I loved hearing the insects, the Barred Owls echoing call, and the beaver activity and vocal sounds. I was thinking it would be great, if there was a video to watch. It leaves a lot to the imagination.
I should probably get a trail cam (with night viewing capability), just for this kind of situation, where I’m pretty sure I’ll be recording an animal that will pass closeby, in a known direction (such as beaver swimming by in front of the microphone). Most of the time, though, the sounds I’m capturing (in a soundscape recording) are created by animals that are far away, and out of sight, even under the best conditions.
I am floored. These recordings are spectacular! What a fabulously noisy world! Just last week I was at a friends property in Northern New Mexico. He lives up a narrow valley which is fed by many creeks, spring fed right out of the side of the rocky mountain. The beavers there are happy and hard working. The locals used to shoot them as they would destroy the deciduous trees along the creek bank. But my friend does not shoot them on his property and so they are just going koo koo. In one week and entire bank was denuded of… Read more »
Thank you Lauren. Great story and informative video!
Love it! If anyone wants to read about how beavers live together, they might enjoy Hope Ryden’s Lily Pond: Four Years with a Family of Beavers
Mary: Do you know if she includes information about their sounds?
I don’t recall comments on sounds, but she does mention some; I’d have to re-read it to say for sure. The primary contribution she makes is detailed behaviors– which in 1989 when the book came out were either not known or perhaps not well documented. It’s a great read for understanding their family relationships.
I’ll check it out!
Just to check, I flipped open the book: “And trailing after this sight were two kits,swimming hard and whimpering for sticks all the way: ‘uh, uhh, UUH, UUUH! UUUH!’ (pg 68) It’s great to have your recording– text can only go so far!
so does that mean she saw two kits begging for sticks from an adult swimming in front of them (presumably carrying a stick)?
yes! she interprets the calls to English as, “My stick! My stick! My stick!”
Learn something new every day!
So maybe the moans or squeals (or whatever one might call them) are indeed the sounds of young-of-the-year trying to get handouts from adults. Or possibly not. I’d still like to locate some definitive study.
I found a few old articles about the natural history of beavers which included descriptions of their sounds. And now I’m pretty sure those are sounds of young of the year, begging as their parent (or parents) feed. So I’ve changed the text of my post accordingly.
Thanks for opening the door to the beavers’ world.
I agree that it sounds like young ones crying to be fed.
So that’s what a beaver with a New York accent sounds like. Great recording, and story , too.
An upstate NY accent, to be sure. Beaver living in sewers beneath The Bronx speak a an entirely different language, rather undecipherable in fact.
I just loved the recording. It is so cool to hear the beaver making sounds and chewing and splashing with the old owl hooting in the darkness!
… the clock strikes midnight … the old owl hoots and the beaver moan … the spirits rise from their watery graves … I long for the safety and warmth of home!
The beavers are quite amazing. I had no idea that they moaned while gnawing! The owls are also amazing. Great recording. I did feel like I was right nearby. Thanks!
Brings a smile to my face.
yes … especially those moany whines … or should we call them whiny moans? … or is there a better word?
Can you tell us whether it is one whining to another or the same beaver eating and whining? I have to admit (LOL) I had a “story” going in my mind as I listened:
Feed me Feed me (from kit)
You know how to eat, get your own stick! (from parent)
I am not sure, although I’m pretty certain I hear two individuals vocalizing at one point in the recording. Yes, they may be sounds made by the young of the year, but I really don’t know. I googled but found no answer, although I would imagine their vocalizations have been studied in detail by some field biologist. I’ll try to find out more.
What a wonderful gift this happy-ending story and your amazing recording are at this low point in our lives, pandemic raging. I cannot thank you enough.
I have shared your blog’s link with an organization that promotes healing for survivors of domestic violence as a form of audio “forest bathing” for urban folks. What a blessing you are to us all.
Barbara: I love the “forest bathing” Shinrin-yoku concept and I think my recordings can definitely help people struggling with stress, for whatever reason. But it’s important to wear headphone to experience the immersive 3D effect, which helps to effortlessly transport the listener into wild nature.
I love the “forest bathing” idea too, though never had words to describe what I was liking til just now. Thank you Lang, and thank you Barbara Bates! I’ve recently had to move from wide-open, free-ranging living in the Catskills to a tiny 2-room apartment with my two flood-orphaned cats. They’re so unhappy with the drastic change and having become imprisoned ‘indoor cats’ that I’ve begun fearing for their sanity–they both seem to be declining into depression. I fixed up the apt. with waterfalls, plants and climbing refuges which seems to be helping, but when I accidentally came upon your… Read more »