The North American Badger is a mid-sized carnivore specialized for a lifestyle of digging. It is seldom seen in BC due to its cryptic colouration, low stature, and secretive nature. Currently, there are four subspecies recognized throughout its range in North America: the subspecies found in the southern interior of BC is Taxidea taxus jeffersonii.
The North American Badger (Taxidea taxus) is among one of the largest members of the weasel family. As mid-sized semifossorial carnivores, they are adapted for digging to obtain food and shelter. Characteristic white and black facial markings include black cheek patches, often referred to as “badges”, and a narrow white stripe that runs from nose to shoulder. Short rounded ears on the side of the badger’s head have stiff hair bristles, which deflect soil away from their openings. The forelimbs and chest are broad and muscled for digging. Long, robust front claws ably dig into hardened soil, while their back feet feature short spoon-like claws used to throw loose soil to the rear. Both front and rear toes are partially webbed for strength and digging efficiency; this webbing, in part, also makes badgers good swimmers.
The top and sides of the body consist of coarse, gray-yellow fur, and varying shades of cream, tan, or white fur cover the underside. The lower legs and feet are black. Long guard hairs on the back and sides, along with a stout and broad neck and body, give the body a flattened appearance. The head is conical and wedge-shaped for thrusting into small animal burrows. Adult badgers in BC usually range in length from 72 to 91 cm, including the short bushy triangular tail, which is typically 10 to 14 cm long. Adult females weigh between 6 and 9 kg, while larger adult males weigh between 9 and 13 kg.
Physiology: Badgers are most active in summer, and least in winter. They are not true hibernators, but spend much of the winter in cycles of torpor characterized by a reduction in heart rate and body temperature. Badgers will accumulate stores of fat in the autumn and early winter when much of their prey hibernates and are thus easier to catch.
The home ranges of both male and female badgers expand during the breeding season, indicating that males and females travel more extensively at that time to find mates. Males have larger home ranges and are likely to overlap with the home ranges of several females. Badgers generally mate in late summer between July and August. After fertilization, delayed implantation occurs, which means the zygote develops to the blastula stage and development is then arrested for several months prior to implantation. Implantation into the uterine wall occurs approximately five weeks before birth. Delayed implantation is thought to be a cold-climate adaptation that allows a southern animal to disperse into cold regions.
Young are born blind, furred, and helpless sometime in late March to early April. Their eyes open at four to six weeks of age. Weaning occurs around mid-May when the young are about half-grown. Juveniles are then taught to hunt around mid-June to early July when they are about two-thirds grown. The number of young reportedly ranges from one to seven; two to three young are common in British Columbia. Some young females born in the spring, mate in late summer or fall with a small percentage conceiving the following spring. However, males do not breed in their first year. Badgers are polygamous forming loose pair bonds in late summer. They are territorial, particularly the females, and males likely fight over a female. Dispersal and breakup of family units usually occurs in autumn when the female stops bringing food to the young badgers.
Badgers are opportunistic carnivores, consuming a variety small to medium sized prey items, usually rodents. In BC their diet consists primarily of Columbian ground squirrels (mistakenly referred to as gophers), marmots, and pocket gophers - other items include muskrats, mice, voles, insects, ground nesting birds and eggs, fish, snakes, amphibians, and some kinds of berries and seeds. They will cache food items in burrows and retrieve them up to several weeks later. Badgers catch most of their prey by digging, but sometimes actively pursue prey above ground. They are known to scavenge carrion.
Predators:Natural predation on badgers is rare, with young animals being most vulnerable. Humans are the badger’s primary predator, typically through trapping and shooting, automobile fatalities, and poisoning. Habitat loss results in indirect mortality and reduced population viability.
Badgers are most active at night, but reports of badgers being active in the day are common. While usually considered solitary animals, much sociality among badgers has been observed, particularly family units in the summer. Adult males do not take part in rearing young but visit the female’s home range often throughout the summer months.
Badgers possess a keen sense of smell and hearing. Although sight is important to a badgers’ way of life, the eyes appear rather small for such a large mammal. Scent communication, particularly via anal secretions and other musk glands, indicate that the badger relies very much on smell.
When disturbed or stressed, the badger will seek out its nearest burrow for protection and will often plug the burrow with loose soil behind itself. Badgers use multiple burrows within their home range and are capable of digging several in a single night. They will frequently reuse burrows for many years. Multiple badgers may use the same burrow in an area over several generations.
Badgers in BC have significantly larger home ranges than previous studies reported in the United States. A recent study in the Cariboo region of BC found that adult female home ranges can be up to 100 km2, but average 32km2, while adult male home ranges can be up to 2200 km2, but average 358 km2 (100% MCP). At the northern periphery of their range in BC, high quality badger habitats are patchy and disjunct. Adult females are able to maintain a home range by linking up these patches for foraging and raising young. Resident adult males have to travel extensively to link up several females home ranges in order to successfully mate. These long distance movements of males seeking females during mating season expose them to an increased risk of mortality by vehicle collisions, as they must cross multiple roads.
Sources: Long and Killingley (1983); jeffersonii Badger Recovery Team (2008)
Grasslands and dry open forests associated with suitable soils for digging burrows. Badgers will use mid-elevation and alpine areas where open habitats that contain prey and suitable burrowing soils exist. Badgers are frequently found in human-altered landscapes, such as gravel pits, golf courses, agricultural fields, forest-harvesting blocks, along highways, and ranchlands where disturbed soils offer ease of digging. These habitats are also associated with linear features, such as roads and trails that offer the short-legged badger convenient travel corridors.
The North American badger is generally found south of the tundra’s frozen soils and boreal forest in Canada and runs west from the shores of the Pacific Ocean through the mountains and prairies of the interior, ranging into Ohio and southern Ontario. Badgers are found as far south as central Mexico. The jeffersonii subspecies of badger occurs in grassland and dry open forests in the southern interior of British Columbia.
Distribution in British Columbia
Badgers are most commonly found in the Cariboo, Thompson, Okanagan, and East Kootenay regions of BC.
Source: Long and Killingley (1983); Apps et al. (2002)
There are four recognized subspecies of Taxidea taxus in North America. They are T. t. jeffersonii, T.t. taxus, T.T. jacksoni, and T.t. berlandieri. The Rocky Mountain chain follows the boundary line for jeffersonii (west of the Rockies) which intergrades with taxus on the Great Plains to the east. The Grand Canyon separates jeffersonii to the north from berlandieri (south to Mexico). The subspecies jacksoni is endemic to the Great Lakes forest-meadow habitats and sandy jackpine barrens. There seems to be no barrier on the Great Plains separating northern berlandieri from southern taxus, and therefore intergradation is seen in a wide zone from Nebraska into Texas.
Source: Long and Killingley (1983); Kyle et al. (2004)
Many landowners consider badgers beneficial in reducing rodent populations, such as ground squirrels.
Badger burrows provide shelter for other species, including rare ones such as the burrowing owl and Great Basin gopher snake in BC.
This grassland carnivore’s digging activity aids in soil development and improves plant productivity and diversity.
Vehicle-badger collisions have been identified as the main mortality factor for badgers in BC.
Current population estimate of badgers in BC is thought to range between 230-600 individuals.
Apps, C. D., N. J. Newhouse, and T. A. Kinley. 2002. Habitat associations of American badgers in southeastern British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Zoology 80:1228-1239.
British Columbia Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection. 2004. Badger (Taxidea taxus jeffersonii) Species Accounts In: Accounts and Measures for Managing Identified Wildlife. British Columbia Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, Victoria.
Hoodicoff, C. S. 2003. Ecology of the badger (Taxidea taxus jeffersonii in the Thompson region of British Columbia: Implications for conservation. M.Sc. Thesis, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
jeffersonii Badger Recovery Team. 2008. Recovery Strategy for the Badger (Taxidea taxus) in British Columbia. Ministry of Environment, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Kinley, T. A., and N. J. Newhouse. 2008. Ecology and translocation-aided recovery of an endangered badger population. Journal of Wildlife Management 72:113-122.
Kyle, C. J., R. D. Weir, N. J. Newhouse, H. Davis, and C. Strobeck. 2004. Genetic structure of sensitive and endangered northwestern badger populations (Taxidea taxus taxus and T.t. jeffersonii. Journal of Mammalogy 85:633-639.
Long, C., and C. Killingley. 1983. The Badgers of the World. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas.
Michener, G. 2000. Caching of Richardson's ground squirrels by North American badgers. Journal of Mammalogy 81:1106-1117.
Weir, R. D., H. Davis, and D. V. Gayton. 2004. Survey of badger burrow damage to machinery and livestock. Artemis Wildlife Consultants, Armstrong, British Columbia and FORREX, Nelson, British Columbia, Canada. Prepared for BC Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC:
Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab
for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British
Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed:
2022-01-18 11:10:41 PM]
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