A pair of great tits is checking out the nest-box and a cock chaffinch is flinging out his song from our garden oak. This is the point in the year when I always think with anticipatory pleasure of badgers! Late February is when the cubs are born and will now be tucked cosily the nest chamber, eyes tight shut and skin sparsely covered in thin silky fur. The sow will have gathered fresh bedding for them. Indeed, a heap of old bracken or ferns at the entrance to a burrow is an indication of a new litter inside.
Badgers can mate at any time of year but the fertilised egg is not implanted in the womb until mid-winter, after which it starts to develop. All cubs are born late February/early March, kept firmly underground for a couple of months and, at last, plump and very lively, are allowed out to play around the sett. By the time they are weaned, food – worms, grubs, nests of young rabbits – is plentiful. The very best time for Badger watching is May when the cubs are at their most rumbustious and the surrounding vegetation has not yet grown to hide their antics.
Some of the setts I know have probably been home to generations of badgers over a century or more. Since badgers are great home improvers and expert diggers, these setts are very extensive – great networks of tunnels and chambers – much more accommodation than the clan actually need. In fact, there are often squatters. I’ve seen rabbits using some of the entrances and, on two occasions, a fox family was also in residence. One year a vixen had moved into a kind of annex at one end of the sett and the badgers continued their normal family life in the main part. On the other occasion, a large woodland sett had been virtually taken over by two vixens, probably either sisters or mother and daughter, who were bringing up a joint family of at least eleven cubs. It was impossible to count them as they chased and raced in and out of the various entrances. Only one badger hung on at the very fringes of the activity – rather a morose individual, I felt, and no wonder!
There are reports of badger and fox cubs playing together, something I’d love to see. Perhaps this year I’ll be lucky!