Because their burrows are conspicuous, badgers (Taxidea taxus) are relatively easy to track when you’re in their preferred habitat. They like open landscape, such as prairie, desert scrub, and savanna, with loose, sandy soil. They range throughout the west and mid-western US, down into Mexico, and up into western Canada. So, as a New Englander, I was unfamiliar with this species until a recent camera trapping adventure in Wisconsin. With a lot of determination and several days dedicated to tracking, I was able to find many dens and some decent tracks. I learned quite a bit about this medium sized mustelid, which I share below. Hopefully these tips on tracking badgers will inspire others to get outdoors and learn more about about the species.
Tracking Badgers in Wisconsin
Finding badger burrows: the easiest part of tracking badgers
In search of good spots for trail cameras, I studied maps and field guides, and sought the advice of a Wisconsin wildlife photographer. I headed out to some promising locations in search of the characteristic 6-11 inch diameter holes with 3 foot wide throw mounds. That is what a badger burrow looks like, and because badgers often create a new den every night (except when raising young in spring or when torpid in winter), dens are abundant and easy to find in good habitat.
A slope with friable, sandy soil in an open landscape is ideal burrowing habitat, and when a badger finds such an area, it usually takes full advantage of it, excavating many dens in close proximity. Because it digs a new burrow each night, most (more than 90%) of the dens present at any given time are unoccupied.
But it’s usually easy to distinguish an abandoned from an occupied burrow. Throw mounds of abandoned dens are crusted over and may be partially re-vegetated. But the throw mounds of active dens appear loose and freshly dug, and often have badger tracks on them.
Badger tracks have 5 toes, with the inner toe (toe #1) being the smallest. There is a large, wide heel pad. There is no fur on the bottom of the foot, so toe and heel pads can be crisp. Front and hind feet look alike, but front feet are slightly larger and have much longer claws, an adaptation for digging.
Front tracks of an adult badger average about 2 inches in width, while hind tracks average about 1 and 3/4 inches wide. Some tracking books say that claws reliably register, but I have not found this be be the case. I think that’s because most of the tracks I found were on mounds outside of active dens, and were partially obscured by soil that had been excavated after the tracks were made. Claws probably register reliably on smooth, undisturbed substrate.
On the front foot, there is an additional small heel pad behind the large pad, but it usually does not register.
Badger scent marking
Badgers scent mark frequently, but not with scat, which is usually left in the burrow. Instead, they deposit secretions from their abdominal and/or anal glands by dragging their bellies on the ground. In soft substrate (as in a freshly excavated throw mound), the dragging can leave a trough. In more compacted substrate, there may be nothing more than tracks and faint impressions of dragging fur.
So, returning to the mission of my Wisconsin badger tracking adventure, I found a few good spots for trail cameras. The greatest challenge was mounting the cameras inconspicuously in an open landscape. After I retrieve the cameras this fall, I’ll describe the camera placement and show off the photos…if I get any.
Special thanks to Wisconsin wildlife photographer Shane Rucker for suggesting some badger rich spots!