Known for their wedge-shaped bodies and adorable appearance, badgers are omnivorous mammals that live in many ecosystems. They are generally found in dry and open grasslands. However, their adaptable nature enables badgers to survive in woods, moorlands, quarries, and sea cliffs. Like all animals living in temperate and cold climate areas, badgers have to deal with cold temperatures when the winter comes. How do they do that? Do badgers migrate or hibernate?
Do Badgers Hibernate?
Badgers do not hibernate, but their activity is irregular throughout the winter. On warmer days, badgers are active and seek food. On the colder days, they generally curl up in dens or burrows where they can sleep for hours on end. For some badger species, February also marks the beginning of their mating season.
Although badgers don’t hibernate, they reduce their activity level considerably in the cold weather.
European badgers generally live in groups called clans, but clan members do not necessarily cooperate with one another except for defending their territory. Individuals generally have their own burrows or dens and forage for food on their own. However, the clan claims and protects a territory from intruders.
American badgers are generally solitary and only live in small family groups after giving birth. These groups consist of a female and her cubs. American badgers are polygamous and the males are not involved in raising the young.
By contrast, European badger males are monogamous. The females are polygamous, with each of the mates protecting her from predators but without restricting the access of other males to their mate for breeding purposes. The social structure of the European badgers is likely the result of this breeding behavior, even though the males are still not involved in raising the young.
Whether they live in clans or remain solitary, badgers retreat to a den or burrow and go into a state of torpor when the winter temperatures drop below freezing levels. They slow down their metabolism and heart rate and can sleep for several days at a time. However, they will wake if disturbed.
On warmer winter days, the badgers become active again and start searching for food.
All badgers are omnivorous, but the foraging preference changes with the species.
For instance, American badgers mostly prey on small mammals, marmots, and voles. The Eurasian badger prefers eating insects, birds, lizards, but also nuts and seeds. Honey badgers consume honey, porcupines, and even venomous snakes.
Because of these differences, some badgers may find it harder to find food in winter, and that’s why some species spend more time in torpor than others.
Do Badgers Migrate?
Badgers do not migrate. They are territorial animals with home ranges varying in size from about one to three square miles. Each badger has several dens or burrows (called setts) across the home range and generally retreats to one of them in winter.
The territory range of solitary badgers is generally smaller than that of clans. Solitary badgers choose a preferred sett for the winter, where they remain in a state of torpor when the temperatures are low or emerge from on the warmer days.
Badger clans may or may not share a sett. Females are more likely to spend winters in groups compared to males. However, European badger pairs may share the same sett in late winter, during the mating season that peaks in early February.
American badgers don’t breed in winter, but they delay implantation until late December or early January. European badgers mating in spring can also delay implantation until winter. They do this so that they can give birth at the beginning of spring. This gives cubs enough time to grow until the next winter arrives.
How Does A Badger Survive In The Winter?
Badgers live in areas where winters can get very cold. If they don’t hibernate or migrate, how do they survive? There are three main mechanisms:
Like all animals living in temperate and cold climate areas, badgers prepare for winter by shedding their summer coats and growing thicker winter coats.
A badger’s winter coat is double-layered and much fluffier than its sleek summer fur. The extra volume the thick coat adds makes badgers look shorter and gives them a barrel-like appearance. Like most mammals that grow a winter coat, badgers have a short and fluffy underfur that traps residual air.
Another adaptation is the badgers’ ability to slow down their metabolism and lower their temperature to minimize heat loss.
In the coldest periods, badgers can also go into a state of torpor that allows them to further lower their heart rates and temperature. Torpor is similar to hibernation, allowing badgers to sleep for several days at a time. However, unlike hibernators, badgers still have to feed during winter and will leave their dens to search for food.
Torpor enables badgers to survive winter. However, they reduce their overall activity even during the periods in which they remain active.
In the warm season, badgers move from one den to another in pursuit of prey but also for sleeping. A badger has multiple dens, sometimes enough of them to allow it to never use the same den more than once a month. However, badgers limit the distances they travel in winter, and they will rarely use more than two dens in the entire cold season.
Females are more likely to use more dens than males, especially if they give birth while the temperatures are still cold. However, it is extremely rare to see a badger using three or more dens during winter.
Not only do badgers limit the number of dens they use, but they also minimize their home range. A smaller territory makes it easier to survive the harsh weather.
Change In Foraging Patterns
In addition to activity reduction and anatomical adaptations, badgers also change their foraging habits. This is more out of necessity than choice because most of the animals that badgers prey on during summer are hibernating or migrating in winter.
European badgers tend to shift their diets completely, from an almost exclusively meat-based diet in summer to plants, seeds, nuts, and berries in winter. Badgers living in rural areas, near orchards or farms, may also feed on crops like wheat, sweetcorn, and sometimes apples.
American badgers have more carnivorous tendencies compared to their European cousins but will still take advantage of crops, fruits, or berries they might come across.
When the opportunity presents itself, badgers will still hunt mice and other small rodents, rabbits, and birds. Starved badgers may also become scavengers and take advantage of animal carcasses or carrion they may come across.
Badgers are also known to feed on wet pet food, mealworm, raw peanuts and Brazil nuts, and specially-formulated badger food.
Not only do badgers adapt their dietary habits, but they also shift the way they look for food.
During summer, badgers are mostly nocturnal animals. However, they tend to come out of the dens and search for food during the day throughout the winter. In this way, they can take advantage of the warmer temperatures and prevent unnecessary heat loss.
Part of the weasel family, badgers are key players in keeping the rodent population under control in areas where they live. They don’t hibernate and don’t migrate, but a reduction of prey availability could make winters challenging for them. Thus, if you want to help the badgers in your area survive harsh weather, you could leave out wet cat or dog food, mealworms, or some specially-formulated badger food.