Understand badger behaviour

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

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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.

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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.
 
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.
 
Social 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.
 
Breeding
 
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  • 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.