April 2018 - The Badger

 

Occasionally you may see a dead badger on the road, but they are shy nocturnal animals and not normally seen. They have a distinctive appearance, with striped black and white heads, stocky, powerful grey bodies and strong claws for digging. They have small eyes for their size, relying on smell rather than sight for communication, location finding and possibly foraging for food. In addition, being social animals they have an important oral communication system. Badgers live underground in a network of tunnels and chambers known as a sett.  These vary from one entrance, short tunnelled systems, used occasionally by outliers, to vast, ancient, sprawling setts with multiple entrances that can extend for 20 to 100 metres, used by generations of the same family group. In some cases, these family setts can be more than a hundred years old and may have between 5 and 20 occupants. If not big enough, they just create another tunnel and chamber. It is possible as a badger dies, the chamber containing the body is sealed and a new one opened up in the same sett. Setts are usually found in woods, adjacent to fields where the badgers can forage for their favourite food, earthworms (badgers can eat 200 a night).

Although not often seen, badgers do leave signs of their presence; mounds of freshly dug soil around the entrance of their setts; pawprints, broader than they are long with usually four toes showing rather than the five they have; hairs trapped on barbed wire fencing; and their droppings in 'latrines', placed nearby their setts.  

Badgers mate at almost any time throughout the year, but due to their ability to delay implantation, cubs are usually born in February. They only have one litter a year, with one to five cubs, commonly two to three. The cubs are born inside chambers lined with suitable material such as straw, grass, hay, ferns, plus a variety of green plants brought down into the sett by the female badger (sow). The youngsters emerge from the sett in April and by June they are weaned and foraging for themselves.

Badgers are considered to be carnivores, living mainly on earthworms (over 60% of their diet at optimal times). However, they will eat a whole range of other foods including soft fruits, such as strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, and orchard fruits including plums, apples and pears. There have been reports of badgers getting drunk, staggering around, because they have eaten fermenting fallen fruit in autumn. Nuts are an important source of fat to build up the reserves needed for the winter months when they spend long periods of time asleep in their setts. If they do emerge on fine days, they may feed on carrion. They will also feed on new born rabbits and the occasional hedgehog or any other food they may come across.  Really more omnivorous than carnivorous.

They belong to the mustelid family, which includes ferrets and otters

 

lingibson@bawburghvillage.co.uk

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