Monday, April 16, 2007

Muskrat Signs

The trail we walked this past weekend included several areas of natural and historical interest. The entire length of the RIM Park Trail is a paved, two lane path which made the springtime walk a lot less muddy. Hikers and cyclists are asked to stay on the trail as not to disturb the wild life living in sensitive areas near the adjacent ponds, marshes and river banks.

I admire how people like Bev, of Burning Silo are able to interpret animal signs in the wild. I have asked her questions and she recently wrote this post which describes things to look for when searching for caterpillars. The post she wrote on porcupines was just as interesting.
This week, I found a book at our local library called Tracking and the Art of Seeing by Paul Rezendes. It is full of colour pictures and the text is not too difficult for an amateur nature sleuth. I would recommend it without hesitation as he describes the signs of many familiar animals and birds in a very interesting way.

My husband has spent a lot of time outdoors over the years while pursuing his favourite hobby, fishing. He does not go on a lot of walks with me, but can surprise me with his good observation skills. He is the first to see a new bird or track, even though he just has a passing interest in anything that will not grab his fishing line.

As we walked by a pond near the large sports complex, he noticed two structures made from bulrushes and other plant material. Rezendes writes:

Muskrat construct lodges that are every bit as complex as beaver lodges. Construction can begin in August and go on until late October. The muskrat begins with a large platform made of mud piled with small aquatic plants...sticks and leaves, all mixed with more mud. When the pile is about two feet high, the muskrat excavates it from the inside, hollowing it out until a chamber large enough to house a family is formed.

He also describes a muskrat feeding station. These are built in a similar fashion but are smaller than the lodges. They provide a safe place for the muskrat to forage for food away from the lodge. Muskrat are mainly herbivores, but will eat things like clams, fish, snails and mussels. The muskrat at the top of the post was photographed by my father as it ate plants at the edge of the Grand River.

These tracks were left in the soft mud at the edge of the river. I cannot say with certainty that they are from a muskrat, but I would say it would be a good guess. I would have to ask why there are just one set of prints present.
Seeing birds and animals is pleasurable, but learning to interpret their sounds, habits and trails can be even more interesting and rewarding.

Winterwoman at A Passion for Nature has sent me a link to a photo of muskrat scat. The book I mentioned has plenty of scat photos as well.


  1. I had no idea muskrats built lodges too. I have read Natural Notes 3 and her observations in a pond of a beaver lodge.
    Now, you discover a muskrat lodge! All this wonderful life teeming around us.

  2. Ruth, thanks for sharing that. I learned all about Muskrats in Maryland after I had to spend $800 to replace parts of a pond liner they chewed through. I saw a large mound of mud and grass on the side of the pond rock (the lodge) but I didn't make the connection quick enough. Then I saw glimpses of them navigating through the waterfall rocks while at the same time I watched the pond lose three inches of water a day. Lovely.

  3. Now that is interesting! I knew that they built lodges but find it kinda' sweet that they build 'feeding' platforms too. I guess that's analogous to an unattached garage - they've got an unattached dining room :0D

  4. -I like to fish too but I have become more interested in birding.
    I take a spring fishing trip with "the guys" every year.
    The last 2 years,I've convinced them to go to a spot that is also good for birding.

  5. Anonymous9:39 pm GMT-4

    Such a wonderful post on Muskrats! They are great little mammals and I love watching them! They have such attitudes and can really put on a show for us!

  6. Poor Mary knows all about muskrats! I've seen their lodges, but never the tenants themselves. I've seen that book also, and may just buy it one of these days!

  7. KGMom- This was new information for me as well. Muskrats are not as destructive as beavers can be, especially in a city.

    Mary- Oh dear! I had no idea they would come into your yard. All the ones I have seen have been on the big river.

    Cathy- They are neater and more organized than some people I have met! I would love to see them in action when building these things.

    Larry- My husband's spring fishing trip is in 2 weeks but the lake isn't even open yet. The ice has to be off for a week before the early lake trout come up. He may have to look for birds instead of fish!

    Mon@rch- I love to watch them in the water. They don't seem to mind an audience.

    Laura- I have seen several muskrats this year on this river. I think the book is worth buying, but I will try to get by with a library copy. I may have to put an addition my house for books if I buy many more.

  8. I have that book on my bookshelf and love it. I think I'll get it out for a re-read!

  9. Just fascinating Ruth! I don't think I've ever seen a muskrat and their homes are really a work of art.

  10. Anonymous2:06 am GMT-4

    Nice post on muskrats! I also like the Stokes guide to animal tracking.

    And, being a gross naturalist, I can't resist directing you to muskrat scat:

  11. Lynne-Sounds like you have a good personal library. I am sure you could find plenty of andimal signs at Hasty Brook!

    Jayne- I too find it a work of art, and done without tools.

    Winterwoman- scat! lol! I wondered whether to post a scat picture. The book I mentioned has plenty of photos and it is likely one of the best ways to track animals. Thanks for the link. I will add it to the post.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.