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.
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 mothers’ range and may move up to 32 miles (52 km). Badgers may live up to 14 years in the wild; a badger in a zoo lived to be 15 1/2 years of age.
Dens and Lodges
Typical burrows dug in pursuit of prey are shallow and about 1 foot (30 cm) in diameter. A female badger will dig a deeper burrow (5 to 30 feet long [1.5 to 9 m]) with an enlarged chamber 2 to 3 feet (0.6 to 0.9 m) 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 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 month, 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 (0.4/km2) although densities as high as 5 to 15 badgers per square mile (1.9 to 5.8/km2) have been reported. An adult male’s home range may be as large as 2.5 square miles (6.5 km2); 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 prefer open country with light to moderate cover, such as pastures and rangelands inhabited by burrowing rodents. They are seldom found in areas that have many trees.
Badgers are opportunists, preying on ground-nesting birds and their eggs, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Common dietary items are ground squirrels, pocket gophers, prairie dogs, and other smaller rodents. Occasionally they eat vegetable matter. Metabolism studies indicate that an average badger must eat about two ground squirrels or pocket gophers daily to maintain its weight. Badgers may occasionally kill small lambs and young domestic turkeys, parts of which they often will bury.