The badger hibernation misconception

James McConnell – NatureSpy Wildlife Biologist

The River Tees in February

The River Tees in February

The immediate thought when going to pick any camera trap up from a semi-public area is not whether you’ve actually managed to get any pictures, but rather “I hope no-one’s nicked it”.

As I headed down to the banks of the Tees towards a well-worn riverside path, this thought was prominent.

We’d already had to pull our ‘Otter Cams’ a few days prior due to a man and his dog finding them and having a good nose.

Stepping on to the path, I paused, listened, and scanned. It is always the best time to do so, before any unsuspecting wildlife is alerted to your presence.

The burbling Tees, swelled slightly by the snow melt, muffles all the other sounds.

Eventually, the bird calls start to become more obvious – I pick out a nuthatch’s pleasant song amongst the cadences of the chaffinch, the ‘teacher-teacher’ of the great tit, the drumming of a great-spotted woodpecker.

As I begin to walk along the path, I inadvertently startle a jay high in the tree tops, and its alarm call in turn startles me.

I watch as it decides it would be best to make the short flight to the opposite bank’s tree tops.

There seems to be a buzz about the place, despite the low temperature and lingering snow. A look at the ground provides a clue – germinating plants.

Tongues of wild garlic poke up, still pale green. Snowdrops are in full flower.

Dog’s mercury makes it’s move. A cuckoo pint, or lords-and-ladies, firmly stakes out its position in the undergrowth. Spring is around the corner.

Wild garlic tongues begin to poke up A remaining snowdrop A remaining snowdrop A cuckoo pint, or lords-and-ladies Dog’s mercury begins to show

Despite this sign of natural hope and life, I already know that this is all false promise.

In just a few months, this bank will be carpeted by two seriously evil invaders – himalayan balsam and giant hogweed. These innocent-looking intruders will soon be pushing up from their hibernation.

Which brings me back to why I was here. A few days ago, we’d moved one of the ttter camera traps to a badger sett a short distance away.

Now, I hear you say, ‘its the middle of February; badgers are hibernating!’ In February 2012, NatureSpy captured a video of a badger out in the snow, far from a sett. So do they hibernate or not?

Keeping our distance from the sett so as not to disturb the underground inhabitants, we tentatively set a camera facing the most active-looking hole. But badgers hibernate, so it’s pointless, right?

Badgers camera trap hibernation This badger poses nicely for the camera trap… Badgers camera trap hibernation These badgers could be mating… Badgers camera trap hibernation A quick kick out… Badgers camera trap hibernation This badger heads straight for the camera trap Badgers camera trap hibernation Badgers regularly change the bedding in their sett Badgers camera trap hibernation

Not so. The camera was out for 4 nights, and every night the badgers came out. The camera triggered about 150 times in total. The temperature gauge on the camera shows ±0°C.

What’s more, the badgers were very active – changing bedding, running around, one picture appears to show them mating, and even checking out this small new intruder in their familiar surroundings – our camera trap.

A ltl acorn camera trap badgers

A mud-smeared camera trap

Its mud smeared sensors and subsequent pictures showing just how inquisitive badgers can be.

So while there’s no doubt that badgers aren’t as active during winter, they are certainly still around and certainly don’t hibernate.

In fact, they’re almost the same copulating, bed changing, camera sniffing, hole digging, mud-smearing badgers that they are in the summer.

See more of our badger captures here

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