Barry Kent MacKayArt by Barry Kent MacKay
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In this section are copies of original works of art. All of them are dedicated to helping us live according to unconditional love and compassion, which is the foundation of our peaceful means of bringing true and lasting peace to all of God's creatures, whether they are human beings or other animals.

Canadian Beaver (Castor canadensis)


Barry Kent MacKay beaver painting
(Artwork - 090)
Canadian Beaver
(Castor canadensis)

I finished this painting a couple of weeks ago. It was roughed out in acrylics, on stretched canvas, and then painted over in oils.

It is really more of a study than a painting, and I donated the original to an animal protection and environmental organization. It is done in a “broader” manner, with little attention to detail, than is typical of my more finished work, but it’s fun to paint in oils and they provide all manner of options, more so than the acrylics I usually employ.

I have always been fascinated by these animals; they range throughout most of North America, south of the tundra, and as far south as Mexico. There is something like 24 different subspecies, meaning a lot of variation across that wide range.

They are very closely related to the Eurasian Beaver, (Castor fiber) which they quite closely resemble, but the Eurasian species has a very small range, mostly northern Europe and northwestern Asia.

The beaver is famous for building dams of sticks and branches, mud and other vegetation, that can create ponds, and help control water flow. This, in turn, creates habitat. Flooded trees die and are often used by goldeneyes, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers or Wood Ducks for nesting…these all being “hole-nesting” species that like to be near water.

Great Blue Herons may also access such ponds, and recent research has identified beaver ponds as being very important to wild-nesting Trumpeter Swans, who seem to prefer the smaller ponds to large lakes, and, in boreal forests in the east (Ontario and Quebec) you often find that American Black Ducks or Canada Geese will not only use beaver ponds, it is not unusual for them to nest on top of the beaver lodges.

The lodges are great mounds of sticks and branches with an open area inside for the beaver to live in, and give birth.Entrances are underwater, and the branches thin out at the top to allow ventilation. They are incredibly sturdy, as are the dams. Not all beavers build dams or lodges, some living beside suitable waterways, and burrowing into river banks. The much smaller Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) is vaguely similar to the beaver but has a narrow, slender tail, not the broad, flat tail of the beaver, and makes smaller, less sturdy lodges. It is far more common and widely distributed and I hope to paint it one day, too.

The beavers of my region, southern Ontario, were rare when I was young, having been trapped so much for the fur trade, when beaver pelts were quite valuable.Fortunately they have recovered and are again now found in many places where they have been wiped out, not always to their benefit.We have had to fish out disoriented young beavers that got into the sludge and oil that accumulates along the Toronto waterfront.And since they also can gnaw through trees, to fell them for food and building material, some people oppose their presence on their property or on parklands. Fortunately beaver usually use fast-growing, common tree species, and it is not difficult to protect a tree that is valued, wrapping it in sturdy mesh working best. Dams can also cause water to back up and flood roads and other such areas. This can be a special problem in areas where the destruction of so many beaver coincided with bad road planning, so that when the beaver returned the roads could be seen to be in potential flood zones.

On the other hand, new research has shown that beaver dams work well to actually prevent flooding, especially in the prairie provinces. Global climate change has led to vast increases in a species of insect called the Mountain Pine Beetle, in western North America (see current issue of National Geographic Magazine) with vast swaths of forest killed very quickly, which, along with increased melting of glaciers and snow packs, will enhance flooding, making beavers all the more valuable (they tend to utilize broadleaf trees, not the evergreens).

The net result has been some effort to move beavers from where they are not wanted to where they serve valued ecological functions. See  Beavers Put to Work Restoring streams, Improving Salmon Habitat in Washington.

Altogether a complex, beautiful and fascinating mammal.

I hope, some day, to do a full painting of the beaver, not a bird, but still I think very attractive as a subject.

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Copyright © Barry Kent MacKay
Barry describes himself as a Canadian artist/writer/naturalist.
See his website: http://barrykentmackay.ca/

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