Mon 11 May 2009
My thrill at seeing a badger close to my cabin a couple of weeks ago was renewed Sunday when I saw two. A mother badger (known as a “sow”), along with her cub (sometimes known as a “kit”), was sunning herself on the mound of dirt around their burrow (known as a “sett”).
Adult badgers are similar to raccoons in length and weight but are noticeably shorter. Although badgers excavated a couple of setts in my pasture earlier this spring, the mound seen here is on the adjoining Giacomini family land. I’ve now shown this family to three of my neighbors, all of whom were surprised to learn there were badgers denning nearby.
Badgers live in burrows up to 30 feet long and 10 feet deep, for they are remarkably efficient diggers thanks to long claws and short, strong legs. Although they can run up to 17 or 18 mph for short distances, they generally hunt by digging fast enough to pursue rodents into their burrows.
It is not uncommon for badgers to take over the burrows of prey they’ve eaten, so the overabundance of gophers on this hill could explain all the setts.
Badgers belong to the Mustelidae family, which also includes wolverines, otters, and weasels. Like skunks, which once were considered part of that family, badgers have perineal glands that emit quite a stench. What with the stench, the claws, and extremely strong jaws, adult badgers can hold their own against any potential attackers — including bears and coyotes — although they’d rather hide.
And while coyotes and badgers have been observed fighting over prey, they have also been observed “hunting together in a cooperative fashion,” Wikipedia reports, citing a 1950 article in The Journal of Mammalogy.
Although badgers are hunted in some parts of the United States and the rest of the world, in this state, the California Department of Fish and Game has protected them as a “species of special concern” for more than 30 years.
I’ve see badgers for sale as food in a Guangzhou, China, marketplace. And badgers were once a staple of the Native American, as well as colonial, diet. Even today they’re commonly eaten in France, Russia, and other European countries, as well as China.
Around here, however, the most-common form of badger consumption is as shaving brushes.
The badger’s stiff bristles have long been considered ideal for both shaving and paint brushes. These days most of the hair is imported from China.
“Badgers mate in late summer,” notes the Parks Canada website. “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. [ N.B. These dates apply in Canada, and judging from the size of the cub I saw, births may be somewhat earlier in West Marin.] They live off their mother’s milk until August when they strike off to establish their own home range.”
Leaving home is a hair-raising transition for young badgers as they learn how to fend for themselves and not become somebody’s food or shaving brush. Many don’t survive.