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Ask The Naturalist: Do Badgers Hibernate?

by on February 22, 2017

The American badger (Taxidea Taxus) appears out in the open on rare occasions. Photo: OR DFW
The famously reclusive American badger (Taxidea Taxus) needs a good reason to surface from its burrow. Photo: OR DFW

Q: Do badgers hibernate during the winter? And if not, when *do* they emerge from their burrows? — Beth, Berkeley

A. The simple answer for American Badger in California is “no”.

The expanded answer is a bit more complicated. According to many researchers, the badgers go into a state of torpor, a period of around 29 hours where deep sleep slows their metabolism and conserves their energy. This may be a winter strategy for these mammals in colder climates.

A badger sighting is usually quite memorable, and often quite surprising. If you see a badger during winter months and during daylight hours, one of three situations is likely occurring:

(1) You’re in a remote enough area where the perceived threat from human encroachment is low. A young adult badger or a mature badger, male or female, may therefore be out foraging for prey during daylight hours.

(2) An adult female may have recently given birth and left her cubs in the burrow complex to forage during the day. She then returns to the burrow at night to provide warmth and safety for her young. Newborn badgers are blind and completely dependent on their mother for at least the first six weeks of life. A pregnant adult female generally gives birth in January or very early February.

(3) A young adult badger transitioning from the juvenile stage at about 1 year of age, in its first winter, may forage during daylight, if it feels safe, as it develops foraging and survival skills.

A factor in all 3 scenarios is availability of prey in the badger’s habitat and home range. This influences a badger’s timing to forage as well as ground area covered to assure adequate nutrition.

— Susan Kirks, Guest Naturalist

Susan is a badger ecologist and naturalist in her 17th year of direct field study and observation of American Badger. Recognized as the leading naturalist in California for the species, Susan’s focus is conservation of native habitat and wildlife connectivity areas to support badger survival. She helped found the nonprofit Paula Lane Action Network, which conserves a 100-year-old American Badger habitat in West Petaluma. Read more about the many years of dedicated effort to save American Badger habitat in Bay Nature.

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Jennifer Sultan on February 25th, 2017 at 5:28 pm

I’ve always felt an affinity with badger because of my name. I have never seen one in the wild
but would love to. My daughter recently moved to Santa Rosa where there is a Badger Road.
I sure hope I can see one some day.

Susan Kirks on March 10th, 2017 at 11:28 am

For Jennifer, I’m giving a presentation, “True Nature of American Badger,” for Madrone Audubon Society on Monday, April 17, at Audubon’s general membership meeting (open to the public and free), 7 pm. It’s at the United Methodist Church, 1551 Montgomery Drive in Santa Rosa – would love to share info with you about badgers then.

Harry & Mary Kenney on March 19th, 2017 at 6:27 pm

My wife & I have seen bangers 3 times behind my home in Jenner Headlands in the past 2 years. We always feel like We have received special ‘medicine’ when we see them. They are very rare to see indeed even though they seem to have many active burrows.I am assuming they are nocturnal hunters. Are they? So cool you ‘specialize’ in studying this awesome being. Thanks. ?

Susan Kirks on March 24th, 2017 at 6:57 pm

For Mary & Harry Kenney, I’m so pleased you’ve been graced with those sightings out in the Sonoma coast area. Generally, badgers are nocturnal hunters, but out in your area, if there is quiet, with no human encroachment, they are sometimes observed during daylight, foraging, or even sunning. It’s great to hear your level of regard for this species. I agree – it is special medicine when there’s a sighting. Time stops, the moment is so present. Thanks for expressing respect for the badger, too.

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