Badgers are one of the UK’s most well-loved and fondly thought of mammals. They are elusive and nocturnal, making them a mysterious addition to the British wildlife landscape. As members of the mustelid family, European badgers don’t just live in the UK, but they can be found in the Middle East as well. Other species of badger can be found in the United States, Africa, and Canada. Read on to discover all you need to know about these wonderful creatures.
Badgers can grow up to one metre in length and have distinctive black, white and grey markings. If a badger were to get in a scrap with another animal, the badger has evolved a loose skin making them hard to grip onto. This makes them bold and brave.
Depending on where they live and the time of year, badgers can weigh anything between eight and twelve kilograms. During autumn, they try to put on weight to help them to survive the harsher winter months. Fattening up for the winter means that they can spend more time underground in their setts, remaining inactive and feeding less.
What Do Badgers Eat?
Badgers are expert foragers and are very much omnivores. Their favourite grub is the humble earthworm. These make up over eighty per cent of a badger’s diet. In a single night when out hunting, they can eat hundreds alongside slugs and other insects. With sharp claws, badgers are also adept at digging, meaning that they can delve deeper into the soil to forage for the worms that have ventured underground. Badgers are also the main predator of hedgehogs in the UK. While they don’t eat too many of them, they will resort to hunting smaller mammals like hedgehogs and voles if food becomes scarce.
As well as earthworms, fruit plays an important part in a badger’s diet. They enjoy apples, pears, and elderberries. If you are on the hunt for a badger sett, look for an elder bush. To ensure they don’t have to venture far for a nutritious snack, badgers will often build their setts here.
Where Do Badgers Live?
Badgers adore a woodland habitat and can also be seen over open countryside when they venture out hunting in the early morning. While they can be found all over the UK, the south of the country is where they are seen in the highest concentrations. Food is more plentiful and greener spaces make for a more appealing habitat for badgers.
A badger’s home is called a sett. These incredible lairs are intricate in design involving planning and teamwork on the part of the badger families. A network of tunnels, burrows, and passageways that are built underground make up a badger sett. There is often a major central sett followed by a network of smaller satellite setts. In the shelter of forest and woodland, badgers create their setts to raise their young in, shelter from the elements, and to use as bases when out foraging. It is not unheard of for badgers to encroach on more urban environments when food becomes scarce. While not as common as the city-dwelling fox, badgers have been known to rifle through bins in the search for scraps.
Badgers should be left undisturbed and setts should never be encroached upon. Badgers are very wary of humans and cannot be domesticated in any way. If you are keen to observe badgers, do so from a distance. Locate a sett next to an elder bush and simply wait for the badgers to emerge at dusk. It is against the law to disturb a sett so be respectful of your local wildlife. Try and stay downwind so the badgers cannot smell your scent, giving you the best chance to spy the beautiful black and white mammals.
If you are in the mood to go tracking, look out for scat or badger poo. Badgers will often defecate in a set area, much like a public bathroom! These largely communal areas can be recognised by lots of holes in the ground full of deposited badger poo. If you don’t fancy looking for scat, look for badger footprints instead. Their kidney-shaped paw pads have five long finger-like toes pointing upwards, making them very distinctive. Follow the footprints slowly and you may stumble upon a sett.
Many people still regard badgers as vermin. While they can have an impact on farmers’ crops and land, badger culls are no longer allowed without special legislation being passed. Bovine tuberculosis is spread by badgers meaning that cattle across the UK can become infected. This is the only reason a badger cull is ever enforced and it tends to be a last resort. While population numbers are high, badgers tend to remain shy and isolated creatures, keeping themselves to themselves. They do not seek out attention and will attack if threatened.
Sadly, badgers are hit by cars all too often and illegal badger culls are still performed. This has an impact on population numbers. While fully protected by the law, badgers are still monitored by conservation and wildlife charities.
The honey badger is not very badger-like at all and resembles a weasel or stoat more closely. It has a thicker skin than its European relative making it more resilient in a fight. It has no predators and enjoys a more carnivorous diet than other types of badger.
Honey badgers are not located in the UK and are mainly seen in Africa. Being nearly seventy centimetres long, they are much smaller than their European counterparts. The honey badger is also more solitary and doesn’t live in families. They hunt alone or in pairs, eating insects, toads, newts, frogs, and rodents. They have even been known to attack sheep and goats, making them a nuisance to farmers in the African subcontinent.
Honey badgers still create setts, but they are less far-reaching and intricate with only one entry point. At the end of their burrows are nesting chambers to raise their young. Hardy and brave, the honey badger has been known to defend itself from hyenas and lions with skill and dexterity.
The American badger looks more like the European badger with a familiar muzzle, but it has a much shaggier and greyer coat. It is found across the United States and as far north as British Columbia in Canada and as far south as northern Mexico.
Not as large as the European badger, but just as fierce and strong, the American badger enjoys a diet of squirrels, moles, marmots, and voles. Earthworms just don’t cut it for the American badger! While they do enjoy some plant-based grub, such as peas and green beans, they relish any opportunity to catch living prey.
They are nocturnal like other badger species but have been known to venture out hunting when there are no human neighbours. Wide-open grasslands are their habitat of choice and they can build their setts with no concern for predators. American badgers are intelligent creatures and have been known to work with other animals, such as coyotes, to hunt for food. They will hunt under dark and return to their setts with food. When winter approaches, they eat more to fatten themselves up so they can survive the harsher season underground, venturing out only when the temperature is above freezing.
Badgers have an incredible sense of smell. This is why you should always find a spot downwind of a sett so that the resident mammals can’t catch a whiff of you. If they do, they will remain in their setts until you have gone.
Badgers can also create their own scents which they use to communicate. This could be to strengthen social bonds or it could be to trigger a warning amongst a group of badgers. They will also leave their scent markings in their poo or scat. Communicating through scent makes a badger a quieter mammal than a fox who is renowned for its screeching mating call.
Badgers mate at any time during the year and don’t have a specific mating season. They use their scent glands to create an odour to attract a mate. While only having one litter per year, the litter size could be as large as six cubs. Cubs are born in a special chamber within the sett and will spend their first three months there with their mother. They are kept warm with hay, fern, leaves, or straw. At just four months old, they have learned to create their own scents and display most adult badger behaviours.
Badgers are stalwarts of the British wildlife scene. They have been in the UK for three quarters of a million years. This means that they enjoyed roaming the ancient British woodland with brown bears, boars, and wolves, that have since died out in the wild. The badger remains because it was able to evolve.
The badger is unique in its markings, its behaviours, and its likeability. It is its resilience, manner, and demeanour that have enabled the badger to thrive across the UK, Europe, and beyond.