The Eurasian Badger (Meles meles) is a shy nocturnal mammal; it is a member of the family Mustelidae. They are opportunistic omnivores who manage to survive on what their environment offers them; more on that later, here’s a picture:
Adult badgers typically weigh 10 or 11 kg and are 75 to 90cm long with a moderate bushy tail of about 20cm. Their distinctive black & white face is easily recognised but sadly the only place that many people will see these beautiful creatures is dead at the side of the road, where many thousands are killed each year.
The UK has an estimated badger population of > 250,000. Badgers live in communal groups of up to 14 but more typically 7 or so. There is a dominant male (boar) who will protect the territory if necessary and one perhaps two breeding females (sows). The size of the territory depends upon the abundance of food but is typically ~200 acres. Badger dispersion is relatively low and contact between neighbouring groups is often low; the Badgers preferring to mark their territory with latrines and avoiding conflict where possible (conflict between rival boars can be quite violent). Preferred ground is woodland & permanent pasture with an abundance of earthworms, their main dietary component. Badgers do not hibernate but their activity levels may fall greatly in times of cold & hardship, at which point 2 or 3 may share a sleeping chamber for warmth.
The picture below of a badger about to squeeze under a fence line, clearly shows its bushy tail:
Badgers have an extremely varied diet that follows availability in the different seasons. As previously noted, earthworms provide the bulk of their diet, this is why they pull up grass turf & dig through droppings. A Badger may consume as many as 200 earthworms in one night, indeed earthworms are thought to make up 50% of their diet. Other favourite foods include insects, beetles, berries, roots and nuts; these probably account for a further 40% of the Badger’s diet. If the opportunity arises a Badger may take small animals such as frogs or occasionally a rabbit, rats & hedgehogs may also be taken; these small creatures probably make up the final 10% of Brock’s diet. Other than man, badgers have no natural predators however wolves & bears may kill them in competition. Whilst many are killed on our roads, the main threats to the badger are urbanisation, intensive agriculture & persecution by humans. Badgers live in underground tunnels called ‘setts’ which may be over 100 years old. Human disturbance of a sett can be disastrous.
Setts are built up by successive generations of badgers. The main sett will be occupied all year around and consist of many meters of tunnels. Deep in the sett will be the breeding chamber where a sow will have her cubs. The chamber will be lined with bedding materials such as dry leaves or grass. It is often possible to see piles of old bedding outside the main sett entrance. The sett will also contain other sleeping chambers where the other community members can rest. Other subsidiary setts may be built around the territory and are most likely to be used when the sow has young cubs & wants peace in the main sett. In an old sett the main area can become quite complex & extensive; GPS readings from our local sett show that from bottom left to top right the sett covers some 57,000 sq. feet of surface. The 425ft length also covers quite a change in elevation, as the GPS profile below shows:
If possible badgers prefer to avoid heavy wet clay soils that are not easy to dig in or dry to lie in. A sloped, free draining woodland edge site with easy access to the forage of both grassland & woodland, is probably a Badger family’s ideal real estate.
Having mated in spring the sow delays implantation of the embryo for around 9 months. The actual gestation period is a short one of only 7 weeks and the young cubs are born in early spring. The cubs are born blind, often in a litter size of about 3. They are initially dependant upon the sow’s milk. After 6 weeks the cubs’ eyes are open and at 8 weeks they start to venture out from the sett. These first ventures are often in April / May. By 4 months old the cubs will have their full set of teeth and be foraging for themselves. It will take a year for the cubs to reach full maturity and less than half of them will make it.
If you’d like to watch badgers yourself, probably the easiest way is to join your local Badger group, there are many across the UK. You may also be lucky and have badgers that visit your garden to look for scraps; if so, a few peanuts will encourage them no end and you may soon be able to watch them from your house.
Many people miss the signs of local badger activity, here are a few things to look out for:
- Discarded Bedding
- 5 toed footprints on worn paths
- Dung heaps & latrines
- Spoil heaps outside setts
- Badger hair on fence lines
Below are pictures of a spoil heap and discarded bedding, click either one for a larger view:
Good luck with your watching; Badgers really are beautiful & fascinating creatures.