Photo by Jeff Nelson.
It might come as a surprise to some that Kankakee Sands has been home to badgers for the last ten years. To date, we’ve only had the pleasure of seeing adult badgers. We eagerly await the day when we will see young badgers, a sure sign that badgers are reproducing here. March and April are the months when young badgers, called kits, are typically born. The litters are small, often just two or three in a litter. The kits will stay in the den with their mother for only a few months. By June or July, the kits will leave their mother to begin the solitary life of a badger.
The American badger (Taxidea taxus) is light grey in color when young, but will mature to have silver- grey fur over most of their body. Both the young and the adults have a distinct facial pattern. A narrow white stripe runs from their nose, over the top of their head, and is flanked by two black stipes. Their cheeks are white, and just in front of their ears, they have black patches, or “badges.”
Adult badgers are approximately two to three feet in length, with short legs and a stocky build. They typically weigh twenty pounds. However, if food is abundant, they can weigh upwards of forty pounds.
The badger’s body is perfectly adapted to a fossorial, or underground, lifestyle. It has poor vision, but a keen sense of smell. Coupled with long, three-inch claws and strong arms, finding and digging its prey out of hiding is a snap for the badger.
Badgers most often dine on rodents including mice, voles, pocket gophers, rabbits and thirteen-lined ground squirrels. Their diet also includes snakes, eggs of ground nesting birds, and insects. Badgers hunt primarily at night, leaving behind numerous depressions where they have excavated their meal. They cover large areas in order to find enough food to satisfy their huge appetites.
A badger’s territory can be up to 2,000 acres in the summer when they are active. Within this territory, they have multiple burrows and dens where they can seek cover during the day. Badgers prefer open, prairies, grasslands and meadows. They are most commonly found in the northern part of Indiana, where grasslands, pastures and farmland are more prevalent. Though badgers are now reported in 80 of Indiana’s 92 counties, they are still classified as a Species of Special Concern in Indiana and are protected by state law.
In winter, badgers are much less active. They choose one of their burrows in which they can spend the winter. Badgers do not hibernate, but they spend much time in a state of torpor, characterized by reduced metabolism, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature which work to preserve valuable resources. As winter draws to a close, badgers begin to emerge more regularly from their burrows.
The ferocity of the badger is legendary. They are strong, fierce and well-suited for battle. When alarmed the guard hairs on the sides of their body flair to make them appear larger and to feel an attack before contact is made. They have loose skin which allows them to twist and rotate to bite an attacker, even if they are being held by the back of their neck. While formidable, badgers are not known to be a threat to humans. Rather, badgers save their attacks for their dinner and for those animals trying to make dinner of out of the them!
You are mostly likely to see a badger at dusk or dawn as it searches for food. Given its poor eyesight, you can prolong a chance encounter with a badger by remaining motionless; it may not dash away until it smells you.
At Kankakee Sands, we have several known, active badger dens. One den is viewable from the Bison Overlook Area. As you look north from the parking area to the first dune ridge, try to spot the D-shaped hole on the side of the dune. If a mother badger has chosen to raise young in that particular den, there is a good chance of seeing the young as they disperse. If you see them, let us know!
The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands is an 8,400-acre prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana, open every day of the year for public enjoyment. For more information about Kankakee Sands, visitwww.nature.org/KankakeeSands.