The American Badger, a relative of minks, martens and wolverines, is a fearsome predator of ground dwelling animals.
With the onset of winter, some animals become more visible and others disappear for the season. American badgers are one of those that pull a disappearing act, migrating into underground burrows to await spring when food is once again abundant and days are pleasantly warm.
Although badgers are common throughout much of the West, seeing a badger is uncommon for me and is an event worth noting in a journal. I don’t like knowing that for three or four months, seeing a badger is next to impossible unless I head to more southern climes, so I decided to do the next best thing and learn a bit more about them.
As members of the mustelid family which includes weasels, skunks, otters, wolverines, martens and mink, badgers are carnivores, hunters of the first order. Like other members of the family, badgers are short-legged. Badgers though are squat, wide, short-necked and powerfully built, not long and lean like minks, marten and weasels. Their head and body are about 20-22 inches long with a broad six-inch-long tail. A badger’s face is distinctly marked with a white stripe from nose to the top of the head, white cheeks and black spots in front of the ears. Though uncommon, a really big badger may tip the scales at 30 pounds and they are often mistaken for wolverines.
As I write this, a bleached badger skull sits in front of me. The bone is thick and heavy, the canines over half an inch long from gumline to tip. There are large ridges and hollows that accommodate thick muscle, giving the badger very powerful jaws. The fox skull next to it is almost dainty in comparison.
American badgers sport the scientific name of Taxidea taxus, which, in Latin sort of means, “like the European badger” which colonists thought it looked like. However, unlike the highly communal European badger, the American badger is mostly a solitary animal except during family time.
Much like bears, badgers mate in early fall but implantation of the fertilized egg is delayed for up to six months. Once implantation occurs, the female gives birth about six weeks later. By then, the males have long since moved on and the female raises the young by herself. Within 12 weeks, the youngsters begin to disperse, looking for territories of their own.
Like many predators, badgers will eat what they can get, but they specialize in hunting ground dwelling animals like ground squirrels, voles, mice and pocket gophers. With their short legs and large claws, they can dig possibly better than any other mammal. They are intelligent hunters as well. Knowing that ground squirrels often have multiple escape routes in their burrows, they will often block these additional exits with dirt, rocks or even wood before digging out the main tunnel, hoping to corner the squirrels against a dead end.
Badgers can be found from Ohio to California and from the Northwest Territories in Canada to central Mexico. Their density though, depends on food supply. Where food is abundant, home ranges for both males and females may be as small as 1.2 square miles, while in areas where prey is scarce, male home ranges may exceed 200 square miles.
Each badger may dig up to 1,700 burrows a year in search of prey and in creating their own living quarters. All that digging creates homes for burrowing owls, snakes, rabbits and other species. The tillage of the soil greatly influences what plants will grow and improves water infiltration making badgers ecological keystone animals worthy of respect.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho