Muskrat Housekeeping

On warm summer evenings Leonard and I enjoy setting up chairs near a site where we might be able to observe wildlife. It is so pleasant to sit as the sun sets and see what animals and birds appear. A couple nights ago we were rewarded with two unusual birds and a muskrat collecting grasses and cattails while watching a small pond between the North and South Elkins Barns at Ash Creek Wildlife Area near Lookout CA (Modoc County).

Although we did not see a large mound of matted vegetation, a sure sign of muskrat activity, there were floating blades of sedges and cattails cut to convenient lengths for handling by muskrats and areas along the edge of the pond denuded of cattail blades, suggesting the presence of muskrats.

In addition to building mound shelters, muskrats (Ondatra zibethica) burrow an entrance under the water. The burrow then rises to a nest chamber, feeding area or resting zone above the water level. Vegetation is carried into the burrow for eating and building nests.

Leonard and I first heard chewing and the snapping of vegetation deep in the cattails surrounding the pond. Eventually a muskrat appeared carrying a large mouthful of vegetation. It swam across the pond before diving under the water carrying its load and soon emerged to collect another bundle of vegetation. We were both amazed at the large amount of vegetation the muskrat could carry and successfully manipulate. The muskrat continued its housekeeping duties throughout the evening.

Two pictures show the muskrat carrying reed canarygrass. The two muskrats were sitting on a log submerged in Hat Creek near Baum Lake (Lassen County CA).


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