by Tom Mackin
Diablo Trust Wildlife Chair
When we look at the Diablo Trust lands south of I-40 in north-central Arizona, we think of the more commonly seen wildlife of the open grasslands, canyons, piñon-juniper woodlands, and ponderosa pine forests, namely pronghorn, mule deer, elk, and even bison, but there are numerous other species and I’d like to briefly share some information about a less common mammal, the American badger (Taxidea taxus).
My earliest encounters with this interesting, primarily nocturnal species occurred almost 20 years ago when I had an early archery elk tag in Game Management Unit 5B and we were hunting near Chavez Pass. Deciding that we would be more comfortable sleeping in our own beds in Flagstaff instead of roughing it in a tent and sleeping bag meant that each morning we would be driving I-40 to the Meteor Crater off-ramp and heading south in pre-dawn darkness. It was during these early morning drives, as well as the after dark return trip, that I was able to catch numerous glimpses of these elusive burrowing creatures.
I said glimpses because their mottled brown and black hides and short, stubby but powerful legs kept them close to the ground in several of the more common open grasslands we would pass through each day. While my hunting partner grew up in Flagstaff he was not too familiar with this species either, and so I wanted to learn more, looking at field guides and reading available literature at the library. What I found was interesting and with that knowledge I was able to have additional encounters at other locations and now I frequently see badgers almost every year I’m afield.
Badgers prefer open grasslands, lightly wooded areas, some canyon locations, and other sites where they can burrow down into the sandy or not too rocky soil to excavate a burrow that may be 3-4 foot deep and 8-10 foot long, often with several openings. As previously mentioned, these primarily nocturnal animals like to rest and sleep during the day and so these burrows provide insulated, sheltered living quarters for both males and females, especially when the females have recently given birth.
Badgers are pretty much loners most of the year, and they’re not very territorial and are definitely not social creatures like prairie dogs so finding groups of badgers together just doesn’t happen. Most interaction occurs in late summer or early fall when the males are seeking out receptive females for breeding.
If successful, the females go through delayed implantation and the embryo development is active for only about 6 weeks of the total 7 month gestation period. The 1-5 young are born between March and April and remain in the burrow until their eyes open in about 4 weeks and they’re fully weaned in 6-8 weeks. They’ll remain with the mother until early fall at which time they’ll disperse on their own.
Badgers are omnivores, eating lizards, grasses, small birds, eggs as well as many small mammals like gophers, mice, and even rabbits. This diet will enable badgers to grow 24-30 inches long and weighing up to 20 pounds, with the males being the larger of the two. In our area, badgers do not hibernate over the winter but they go into cycles of torpor that can last for over a day, and they will emerge from the burrows to forage when temperatures are above freezing.
They’ll forage on their home range, which can be several thousand acres, depending on prey and often these ranges will overlap.
Abandoned badger burrows are often utilized by other animals including skunks, foxes and burrowing owls. With their large front claws for digging, badgers are feisty fighters but they will be preyed upon by eagles, bobcats, mountain lions and even wolves and bears that may be present. With the settlement of the West, badgers were frequently shot on sight as another pest, responsible for creating hazards for horses and livestock. They were also trapped extensively for their fur, which was used for shaving brushes and paint brushes, but the market for these uses has significantly declined. In Arizona badgers are considered a fur-bearing game animal, with an open season August through March. A hunting license is required to take these animals.
In closing, due to their nocturnal habits and rural lifestyle, seeing a badger in the wild is a rare occurrence and is a special occasion.