Friday, August 3, 2007


I've been encouraged to see a few more badgers (Taxidea taxus) in our area recently. These larger members of the Mustelid (weasel) family are an important part of the shrub-steppe ecosystem of the Great Basin (on the western edge of which we live). Their decline in the past several decades is likely due to the intrusion of roads and the resultant direct persecution (especially shooting) by humans.

My inability to find Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia) nesting in our vicinity is probably due to the loss of badgers. Whereas Burrowing Owls can excavate their own burrows in Florida's sandy soil, the western subspecies is dependent on badgers (primarily) and ground squirrels (to a lesser degree) for the burrows in which they will breed and take refuge. Even populations of ground squirrels (which themselves are the frequent targets of shooting, trapping, and poisoning campaigns) likely suffer from a loss of badgers. Predators tend to keep prey populations healthy, while human humters and trappers do not discriminate between healthy and weak individual animals.

While Dawn was studying radio-tagged Ferruginous Hawks (Buteo regalis) south of Boise (for her Master's thesis), she observed some interesting interactions between the hawks and badgers. On several occassions, a hawk, upon seeing a badger working to dig up a ground squirrel, would fly down to land nearby. Though Dawn never saw a hawk catch prey this way, it seemed clear that the hawks were hoping that a squirrel would elude the badger by exiting through another hole, at which point the hawk could make an easy capture.

My own favorite badger encounter was also in southern Idaho (and with Dawn). We had been watching a very large badger moving between burrows, and saw it surprise a much younger badger. The ensuing chase brought the two ever closer to us, until--about 60 yards from us--the smaller one turned to fight. They went at it tooth and nail for most of a minute, but then, apparently, the wind changed and they simultaneously scented us. During the resulting pause, the smaller one made good its escape. This was the only day that season that I hadn't brought my camera with me (though what I really needed was a video camera).

I encountered and photographed the individual pictured above in the pines on the Winema National Forest in southcentral Oregon.

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