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The European badger, also known as the stock, is a stockly-built
animal with an elongated neck and distinctive head markings. It has
strong, long claw-tipped limbs, the general colour of the back and
sides is silver grey, while its paws are black. The snout and forehead
are white, small, dark ears are white tipped, with large black stripes on
both sides of the head. The badger is found almost in entire Eurasia,
as well as in Jordan, Israel, Syria and Iran. In Europe, its range does
not include northern Scandinavia, Mediterranean isles and the north
of the European part of Russia.
Badgers inhabit various areas, ranging from forests to field and forest mosaics, though it prefers the fertile deciduous forests. It adapts to anthropogenic environmental changes in the agricultural landscape and suburban areas. In Western Europe, it can also be found in cities. It is the largest predator among domestic martens. The badger weighs about 10 kg in the spring. Badgers accumulate fat reserves during the summer and autumn. Their body weight increases then by 60-70% relative to the spring, and sometimes even doubles. The badger is well adapted to digging burrows, known as setts. The winter dens used as places of refuge and breeding feature a complicated structure (many entrances, underground tunnels of considerable length, numerous chamber holes). These are built and passed on from generation to generation. Some setts are known to have been continuously inhabited for decades and even centuries.
In Poland, badgers form colonies (clans) consisting of one or more pairs of adults and their offspring. The colonies vary in size across the country. A typical colony is composed, on the average, of 3.5 to 4.7 individuals. The cubs account for 40-55% of the population. Colonies in western Europe are larger than those in Poland, and they can include from 10 to over 30 individuals.
Clans of badgers live in territories with sizes ranging from several sq kilometres to over 20 sq kilometres.. The territories of clans are separate or only slightly overlap. Within the structure of field and forest mosaic in central Poland, the size of these areas fluctuates seasonally: in the spring they are quite small, in summer and early autumn they increase, as the badgers begin to go beyond the woods and feed on fruit in orchards. Towards the end of autumn, they concentrate their activity in the area around the main burrow.
In natural forests, such as the Białowieża forest, badgers consume earthworms in the spring, and also amphibians in the summer and fall. In areas with field and forest mosaic, their diet is more varied. Whilst earthworms are the main food source in the spring, fruits, cereal and small rodents play a bigger role in the summer.
Outside temperature affects the pattern of both seasonal and daily activity, as well as the duration of badgers staying in their burrows during the winter. Most of the day badgers retire in their dens. Although badgers may be active even when the inhabited area is covered with snow, both a period of activity and diurnal migration are the shortest in winter, and they gradually become longer in March and April to reach a maximum in summer and early autumn. Badgers tend to be active at night, but in the areas sparsely penetrated by people they can wander through their territory even in daylight.
Gestation is prolonged in badgers (lasting 7-15 months) and depends on the date of oestrus and the age of the sows. Main heat occurs in March, followed by the second one at the end of summer. The latter occurs in the young two-year sows mating for the first time and in those which failed to mate earlier. Offspring is born only to one sow in a group on average (2-5 cubs per litter). The cubs in central Poland are born in March. They emerge from the den at the end of May for the first time. In May, June and July badgers leave their shelters well before nightfall, and then their behavior and denning patterns may be observed.
The density of badger population depends on the availability of food and opportunities to hide. In various parts of the country, it varies from 0.2 to over 2.5 individuals per 1 square kilometre of forest on average, depending on the region of the country. In Poland, the population of badgers is estimated at around 70,000 in early spring, to grow up to approximately 120,000 in the summer. In natural conditions, the badger can live up to over 10 years, but the average life expectancy is usually about 2 years.
Skin and fat of badgers are very valuable, but hunters should spare these animals. Even more so, that they are a true asset of our forests, and so many (both in Poland and Western Europe) are killed on roads.
Prof. Jacek Goszczyński, doctorus habilitatus
Department of Forest Zoology and Game Management
Faculty of Forestry Warsaw University of Life Sciences