Curious Badger Behaviour

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about my local badgers, mainly because they are less active in winter. But now Spring is definitely here, and so are the badgers, so here is a fully badger post! Hope you enjoy – there’s a lot of videos…

On Thursday night, the badgers seemed intent on some mass excavation outside their hole for no apparent reason. When I arrived to collect my trail camera, the earth outside the entrance hole had gone from being flat as a pancake to as ploughed as a farmer’s field.
I reviewed the footage and saw 64 different clips of badgers digging. Individually each clip was interesting, and I will show you some of the particularly good ones beneath, but overall it was just disjointed and apparently random digging.
So then I tried combining all of the clips and speeding them up…

The bit at the end was one of the first videos, to illustrate how much they had dug in that one night.

It is easy to see how centuries of this sort of activity, with badgers using the same setts for generations, could change the immediate landscape quite dramatically.


This video demonstrates one of the methods by which the badger clears loose soil. I can’t seem to find any information on the internet about this ‘hop-clear’ behaviour, but it is pretty obvious what they are doing, so I don’t think it is needed. The badger seems to be hugging a large mound of loose soil to its chest and shuffling backwards, working a bit like a broom. As well as being entertaining to watch, it seems a very effective method.

The other form of digging is using paws like a dog to claw back earth. This badger was working away very enthusiastically, and clumps of mud were being sprayed everywhere!

But why are the badgers turfing up the soil?
Well, as you might have noticed, the badgers seem to be starting at the hole and working in straight lines away from it. I have tried to circulate this on social media, and several ideas have been raised as to what they are doing.
Here are some of the theories:

1) They are trying to disguise a scent they do not like
The badger’s main sense is its smell – they are thought to have a sense of smell 700-800 times better than ours, which is frankly uncomprehendable (more on this later).
It has been suggested that this turning over of the soil might be an effort to get rid of the scent of something that they did not like, perhaps a ‘foreign’ badger from a different clan or a fox.
I have several pieces of evidence to back this up. Firstly, I recorded an unwanted trespasser poking its nose down the badger hole that very day before the badgers started digging. Here is the guilty party:


Secondly, the badgers also appeared to be urinating and possibly defecating in the soil right outside the hole, which is most unlike the normally hygienic creatures that I have seen previously. They tend to use their latrines to mark their territories, so this may also be a desperate action to mark out the area as theirs.

 

2) They have cubs
An alternative theory for the reason they were urinating so close to the sett is that they have cubs, and so want to spend less time further away from the sett. After all, it is cub time of year!

You have to look very carefully to see the urination in the footage, and  have the video set to its highest quality. If you can’t, I’m afraid you’ll just have to take my word for it!

3)They are simply having a spring clean!
Badgers are very hygienic animals, and clean out their bedding regularly to reduce their suffering from parasites.
They can often be seen carrying bedding in and out of the sett, and clearing paths to and from the entrance holes while doing this.
In my opinion, the videos showed the digging to be too large-scale to be a simple clean, but who knows?

Other videos of interest…


Here you can see the badgers ‘musking’.
Notice one badger appears to casually sling its leg over the end of the other? Although this would just be a bit strange in human society, it is a regular behaviour among badgers.
Badgers have glands under their tails that secrete a smelly liquid called musk. They rub this over each other in the way shown in the video. By sharing scents in this way, each badger will end up with a scent unique to their clan. Badgers can use it therefore to distinguish between their family and invaders from other setts – as badgers are very territorial animals, this is really important to them.
As well as marking each other, badgers use musk to mark out their trails. Badgers navigate mostly by scent, and musking trails allows them to quickly and easily find their way to and from the sett.


Listen carefully, and you can hear a female tawny owl calling in the background. You can’t see it, unfortunately, but it  certainly is there. The badger seems a little alarmed by something; I’m not sure if it is the sound of the owl or the plane (both of which it should be used to) or whether it is something completely different.
Either way, it’s nice to get some cross-species interactions.

FINALLY (I promise) to round this post off, I went for my first badger walk of the year last week, and was not disappointed! 4 badgers in total, one coming only a few metres away!

Their cubs will be coming out soon, and I really hope I will get some nice footage to show you over the next few weeks of them emerging for the first time!

BBC Wildlife Blog Post of the Week! 🙂

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