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General Biology, Reproduction, and Behavior
Badgers are stocky, medium sized mammals with a broad head, a short, thick neck, short legs and a short, bushy tail. The badger has stout and muscular front legs with long claws. It is silver-gray in color, has long guard hairs, a black patch on each cheek, black feet, and a white stripe extending from its nose over the top of its head.
Badgers weigh between 10-20 pounds but have been found to weigh up to 30 pounds in some instances.
Badgers are members of the weasel family and have the musky odor characteristic of this family. They are especially adapted for burrowing, with strong front legs equipped with long, well developed claws. Their digging capability is used to pursue and capture ground-dwelling prey. Typical burrows dug in pursuit of prey are shallow and about 1 foot in diameter. A female badger will dig a deeper burrow with an enlarged chamber below the surface in which to give birth. Dens usually have a single, often elliptical entrance, typically marked by a mound of soil in the front.
Badgers have a ferocious appearance when confronted, and often make short charges at an intruder. They may hiss, growl, or snarl when fighting or cornered. Their quick movements, loose hide, muscular body, and tendency to retreat quickly into a den provide protection from most predators. Larger predators such as mountain lions, bears and wolves will kill adult badgers. Coyotes and eagles will take young badgers.
Badgers are active at night, remaining in dens during daylight hours, but are often seen at dawn or dusk. During winter they may remain inactive in their burrows for up to a months, although they are not true hibernators. Male badgers are solitary except during the mating season, and females are solitary except when mating or rearing young. Densities of badgers are reported to be about 1 per square mile although densities as high as 5 to 15 badgers per square mile have been reported. An adult males home range may be as large as 2.5 square miles; the home range of adult females is typically about half that size. Badgers may use as little as 10% of their range during the winter.
Badgers breed in summer and early fall, but have delayed implantation, with active gestation beginning around February. Some yearling females may breed, but yearling males do not. As many as 5 young, but usually 2 or 3, are born in early spring. Young nurse for 5 to 6 weeks, and they may remain with the female until midsummer. Most young disperse from their mother’s range and may move up to 32 miles. Badgers may live up to 14 years in the wild; a badger in a zoo lived to be 15 1/2 years of age.
Damage and Damage Identification
Most damage caused by badgers results from their digging in pursuit of prey. Open burrows create a hazard to livestock and horseback riders. Badger diggings in crop fields may slow harvesting or cause damage to machinery. Digging can also damage earthen dams or dikes and irrigation canals, resulting in flooding and the loss of irrigation water. Diggins on the shoulders of roads can lead to erosion and the collapse of road surfaces. In late summer and fall, watch for signs of digging that indicate that young badgers have moved into the area.
Badgers will occasionally prey on livestock or poultry, gaining access to protected animals by digging under fences or through the floor of a poultry house. Tracks can indicate the presence of badgers, but to the novice, badger tracks may appear similar to coyote tracks. Claw marks are father from the toe pad in badger tracks, however, and the front tracks have a pigeon toed appearance.
Badgers usually consume all of a prairie dog except the head and the fur along the back. This characteristic probably holds true for much of their prey; however, signs of digging near the remains of prey are the best evidence of predation by a badger. Because badgers will kill black footed ferrets, their presence is of concern in reintroduction programs for this endangered species.