Soffen poked at an old half-buried pine cone, searching for the right place to begin. “It’s true,” she acknowledged, picking up the cone in her claws before tossing it at nothing in particular, “that I did whelp some time ago. Two cubs in fact.” Another cone followed the first. “I’ve dug a temporary burrow for myself in Low Meadow, by the edge of the big mud pit. That’s where my cubs are now.”
Boddaert’s Magic – Fire Rock
Female badgers give birth in or around February. There are usually two or three cubs in a litter. However, it is not unusual for a female to have just one cub. Occasionally, litters of four or even five cubs are born.
New-born cubs are just 15 – 16 centimetres long. This includes a tail of three to four centimetres. They may weigh as little as 75 grammes, or as much as 132 grammes. They have a light covering of silvery grey fur. This fur is a little darker on the legs. Sometimes there are very faint stripes on the face. All cubs have stripes on their faces within a few days of being born.
The cubs are blind at first. Their eyes do not open until they are five weeks old. Even then, they cannot see properly for a few more weeks. As they live in a dark, underground chamber, there is not much for them to see anyway!
When they are around 6 to 7 weeks old, the cubs start exploring the tunnels of their sett. At 8 weeks old, they may come up to the sett entrances. However, they do not usually start exploring outside the sett until they are nine to ten weeks old. Even then, they like to stay close to their mother, and they do not go very far from the sett entrances. This will usually be in late April or early May.
Mother badgers suckle their young for about 12 weeks or so. After this, weaning starts – the mothers suckle the cubs less and less. The hungry cubs then have to start finding their own food.
To begin with, the cubs follow their mother when she goes searching for food (foraging). They soon learn what’s good to eat, and how find food for themselves. By the time they are 15 weeks old, the cubs are quite happy to go foraging alone.
Badger cubs are very playful. They often play-fight and chase each other to and fro. They also play a game like ‘King of the Castle’. One cub gets on top of a mound or fallen tree, and the cub or cubs try to push it off the top and take its place.
Those cubs who survive to become adults have a good chance of living for several years. Many will go on to ages of between five and eight years old before they die. Primrose, a female badger at the sett where I watch badgers, lived to be about eight years old. Stripe, a male badger at the same sett, is now about ten years old. If he is really lucky, Stripe may live for another five years. Very few wild badgers live to be 15 though.
Badger cubs are born between January and April. The common months are February and March; early in the south, later in the north. Whether the adults mate in spring or autumn – and they do both – the cubs arrive the following spring. This is because of delayed implantation, already discussed in the case of the roe deer. The time of implantation may vary from badger to badger; the development time of the young is the same in them all.
The female prepares a special lying-in chamber well furnished with moss and grass, and there in spring or summer the young cubs or “earth-pigs,” three or four in number, are born blind and helpless. These are at first a silver-grey colour, but later they become dull brownish-yellow and finally darker blue-grey, when the characteristic black and white stripes appear on the cheeks.
Read more about the lives of badgers – food