Understand badger behaviour

Find out everything you need to know about badger social structure, behaviour, identification and breeding. 


Badgers are one of the easiest mammals to watch – their eyesight is poor and if you are downwind, still and silent, it is easy to get close to them. Position yourself near an active sett entrance with a solid object behind you, so you are not silhouetted, or watch them feeding in your garden.

Urban European badger (Meles meles) in London
An urban badger in London. © Damian Kuzdak/Getty

Badger identification

  • Males can generally be distinguished from females by their broader, more domed heads, fuller cheeks and thicker necks.
  • Tails are a less reliable guide – males typically have thinner, whiter tails; females shorter, broader ones.
  • Albino badgers are rare, but erythristic badgers (in which the black is replaced by reddish pigment) are more common.
  • Individual badgers are easily recognised by the width and shape of their facial stripes, scars from fights and how much of their ears are left – the conspicuous white tufts are often lost in skirmishes.
  • Use sketches to compile id guides of your local badgers and keep notes on their individual behaviour.
European Badger (Meles meles) on an evening stroll
European Badger on an evening stroll. © Kristian Bell/Getty

Badger social structure

  • Badgers live in complex social groups, which average about five adults. There is usually a slight preponderance of females because of the higher mortality of males in fights and on roads.
  • Only some females breed. Those that do not are generally smaller and more likely to carry scars on their rumps from fights.
  • Cubs of subordinate sows may be killed soon after birth by dominant sows and left outside the sett.
  • During fights badgers often bite each other’s rumps, tearing off chunks of skin and flesh. Males fight in spring and late summer, when they are mating; females throughout the year.
European badger cubs (Meles meles) foraging in oak woods, Ashdown Forest, Sussex, England
Badger cubs foraging at dusk. © James Warwick/Getty

Badger behaviour

  • Juveniles often play around the sett – particularly leap-frog and king-of-the-castle.
  • There is frequent social grooming, for which badgers use their incisors. They also engage in scent-marking, particularly ‘bum-pressing’, where one badger presses the scent gland under its tail onto another badger, so that the group shares a common odour.
  • In spring and summer, badgers dig out their setts. Setts can be used by many generations of badgers, and why they are extended is not clear – it may be that with more nest chambers, parasites build up less.
  • Bedding collection is common, especially in spring and to a lesser extent after harvest time, when there is straw and hay debris in the fields.
European badger (Meles meles) in woodland
European badger in woodland. © Damian Kuzdak/Getty

Badger mating and breeding

  • Mating occurs mainly in early spring and late summer, often close to setts or in sett entrances.
  • Delayed implantation occurs – blastocysts (very early embryos) implant in late December or early January, and the peak birthing period is early February. The typical litter size is 2 or 3.
  • Newborn cubs emerge after 8 to 10 weeks, usually in late April or early May, and have silky, grey fur. Their behaviour is cautious until late May.