The Badger - A Species at Risk
American badger, jeffersonii subspecies© R. Klafki
Badgers belong to the weasel family and are related to mink, marten and wolverine. The species that occurs in Canada is the American badger ( Taxidea taxus ). Badgers are seldom seen, being nocturnal and secretive by nature. They spend most of their time asleep underground. The badger is one of the few carnivores that burrows after and eats other burrowing animals. It has many interesting features that adapt it to life as nature's digging machine'.
The badger is a low-slung animal with short powerful bowed legs. Its flattened body enables it to slip easily into its burrow. Its forefeet are armed with long sharp claws for digging, while the hind claws are short and act as shovels to scoop away dirt. The badger is gray to brown in colour with a white stripe running from its shoulder to the tip of its nose. Two distinctive black badges' on either side of its face give the badger its name. Males are larger than females, weighing up to 14 kilograms. A running badger appears to flow along the ground, but its usual pace is a leisurely waddle.
Range and population
In North America, there are four subspecies of badger. The subspecies jeffersonii is the one found in British Columbia. It lives in the interior valleys of the province. Badgers are rare in British Columbia. In the late 1800s, they were much more numerous but recent studies now indicate a population of fewer than 200 animals. Badgers are difficult to count as they are nocturnal, have large home ranges and there is no direct connection between the number of burrows in an area and the population size.
Map: Range of the four American badger subspecies in North America© N. Newhouse and T. Kinley
Map: American badger jeffersonii subspecies range in British Columbia© N. Newhouse and T. Kinley
Badgers live in grasslands and open-canopied forests. They need soil that is suitable for burrowing and enough small mammals to prey on. In British Columbia, badgers have large home ranges, from 2 to 500 square kilometers, depending on the region and the amount of suitable habitat.
Badgers live in burrows up to 9 metres long and 3 metres deep. The burrow entrance is about 30 cm wide and 20 cm tall and has a large mound of earth on the doorstep. A badger will sometimes take over and enlarge the burrow of an animal it has eaten. Burrows play a key role in badger ecology as they are used for daytime resting, winter sleeping (badgers are not true hibernators), food storage, raising young and as headquarters for hunting forays. Each badger uses many burrows within its home range.
Badger at entrance to burrow© R. Klafki
The badger is adapted to catch small burrowing mammals. It often digs test holes and sniffs for the animal then digs it out and eats it. British Columbia badgers mostly dine on ground squirrels, marmots and pocket gophers but also take other small mammals, birds, fish, insects and even the odd rattlesnake.
Columbian Mountain ground squirrel© Parks Canada / H. Fuhrer
Badgers mate in late summer. However, the fertilized egg does not implant into the uterus and begin to develop until February. This delayed implantation' means that breeding can occur in the summer when the adults are most active, and young are born in the spring when food is abundant. Two to five furry blind kits are born around April. They live off their mother's milk until August when they strike off to establish their own home range. This is a risky time for the young badgers and few survive. Badgers can live up to 14 years in the wild.
The badger has few natural predators cougars or coyotes will sometimes tackle a badger and eagles have been known to carry off young. Despite its reputation as a fierce fighter, if threatened, a badger's first response is to hide. It can dig itself into a hole in minutes, throwing dirt into its attacker's face.
Living with badgers
The main threat to badgers are humans and their activities. In British Columbia, the valley bottoms that badgers favour are rapidly being altered by urban development, intensive agriculture and transportation corridors. Badger numbers are very low. On-going studies are trying to learn more about badger needs and what we can do to restore populations. Hopefully we can learn to coexist with this unique grassland predator.