Is it normal to see a beaver in downtown St. Paul?

31 March 2022

On Wednesday afternoon, a beaver sauntered down the sidewalks of Lowertown St. Paul, its webbed feet slapping on the cold, wet concrete as it ambled north up Sibley Street.

It wasn’t the first time a wild animal has hit the town in St. Paul: four years ago, a raccoon scaled a St. Paul high-rise, captivating audiences. In 2020, a black bear was spotted in the Union Depot parking garage.

This beaver’s jaunt captured the imagination of the public too, caught on video by my fiancé and posted to Twitter.

Is this a normal Lowertown thing?

— Greta Kaul (@gretakaul) March 30, 2022

Some speculated the beaver was on its way to testify on the bill, heard in the legislature this week, to make the now-extinct giant beaver Minnesota’s state fossil.

Another joked it was on its way to Gopher Bar to settle a debt.

“Must have heard our baseball bats arrived today,” the St. Paul Saints tweeted.

Jokes aside, you just don’t see a beaver every day, especially not one traipsing around St. Paul, and many responded to the video with concern about the beaver’s health and welfare.

“Whether to be worried is kind of one of those yes and nos,” said John Erb, a research biologist with the DNR in Grand Rapids.

The beaver appeared to be healthy, Erb said.

As for why it was downtown, it’s likely it just had cabin fever and got turned around.

In the springtime especially, beavers that live in areas where water freezes over often leave their lodges once the ice is out, either for food or new habitat.

It’s normal for multiple generations of beavers to live in the same lodge — the parents, the yearlings, or babies from last year, and then the new babies this year. But sometimes the juvenile beavers strike off on their own.

“They’ve been locked under the ice most of the winter, they are kind of antsy to get out,” Erb said. “They’ll come out and begin the dispersal process.”

Assuming it’s not sick, the biggest potential danger to a beaver wandering around an urban space like Lowertown is probably cars. It’s not uncommon along the North Shore and in the Grand Rapids area to see beavers by the side of the road that were hit by cars.

And as cute as they can look, beavers are not necessarily animals people — or their dogs – want to mess with.

“As docile as it may look, [beavers] can be aggressive when cornered,” Erb said.

He recalled trying to shoo a beaver off the side of the road near Grand Rapids a few years ago. As he started to move toward it, it charged him and tore his pantleg.

“They’re surprisingly fast on land even though they don’t look it,” he said.

As for what happened to this beaver, Suzanne Donovan, a spokesperson for St. Paul’s Department of Safety and Inspections, said Animal Control got several calls about the beaver, starting around 3:20 p.m.

It was first spotted around 241 Kellogg Boulevard East, before roaming to Fourth Street, Mears Park and then in traffic in the area of Broadway and 7th Street West.

An officer wasn’t able to find the beaver. Donovan said Animal Control’s policy is to relocate healthy wildlife to a safe area.

“Staff told me the calls they took yesterday were about one healthy looking beaver (and the pictures we saw tweeted certainly confirm that),” Donovan wrote in an email. She said Animal Control does not get beaver calls often, particularly in the downtown area.

Erb said that in his assessment of the video, the animal just looks a little lost. “I sometimes like to joke in these examples that I know how the beaver was feeling, because sometimes I find myself in the city going ‘How do I get out of here?’” he said.

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