All About American Badger Dens (Do They Live Underground?)

American badgers are challenging to spot because they are nocturnal animals that spend their days sleeping. They are also tricky to find because they build their homes underground!

How can you identify a badger den, and how much time do badgers spend underground? Floofmania inspects the homes and home life of these floofy mustelids.

Do American Badgers Live Underground In Burrows?

Badgers are fossorial animals or animals that dig and live underground. Being underground keeps them safe from the weather, predators, and other potential threats.

The species uses dens or “setts” primarily for sleeping and protection. Occasionally, they use them to store their leftover food or trap their prey! Females also use dens when giving birth and raising young cubs. 

Sometimes, American badgers connect their dens and travel underground through tunnels. 

Watch a badger building a tunnel.

Where Do Badgers Build Their Burrows? 

Badgers build their dens in their natural habitat of dry, open grasslands, fields, and pastures. They usually use several simultaneously.

While they typically dig their own burrows, they also use abandoned burrows of other animals, such as coyotes and prairie dogs, when available.

Badgers’ burrowing patterns change depending on the seasons. 

They spend their summers and autumns traveling and ranging more frequently and create 1-3 burrows per day. They typically use these for as little as a day to as long as a week, then abandon them as they continue their ranging. They may return to reuse these burrows later on.

During winter, badgers spend more time underground to protect themselves from the cold, typically only occupying one burrow throughout the entire season.

What Do Badger Dens Look Like? 

Generally speaking, there are two types of badger dens: simpler “daily” dens and more extensive natal dens: 

  • Regular badger dens are typically single-chamber structures, between four to ten feet deep (between one to three meters) and four to six feet wide (between one to two meters).
  • Natal dens are usually deeper and made up of two to four chambers connected by tunnels, with the mother hiding her young in the furthest chambers. The female badger lines these dens with grass in preparation for giving birth.

Badger dens are easily identifiable: They have a single entrance in front of them, usually recognizable by a mound of dirt beside them. These entryways typically measure 6 to 10.5 inches by 7 to 10.5 inches.

Badger Dens vs. Other Animal Dens

How can you tell if the hole you spotted belongs to a badger or another animal?

Entryway SizeDepthOther Notes
Badger Dens6-10.5 inches by 7-10.5 inches4-10 feet deep (1-3 meters) – Typically have mounds of dirt next to entrances.- Natal dens are bigger than “daily” dens.
Fox HolesAbout 4 inches in diameterTypically 3-8 feet, but can sometimes be as deep as 40 feet! – Bones and feathers of prey are littered outside the entrance.
– Ammonia-like smell of fox urine.- Foxes generally prefer to sleep outside. They only sleep in dens when it’s raining, extremely hot, or when they are raising young.
Coyote DensUp to 24 inches (2 feet) in diameter3-50 feet deep (1-15 meters) – Bones and feathers of prey are littered outside the entrance.
– Coyotes typically only use dens for giving birth and raising young, not for daily use.

Fox holes are smaller than badgers’, with the opening usually slightly larger than four inches in diameter. Because they tend to bring food back home, you can typically spot feathers and bones outside fox holes. If you approach close enough, you may also catch the distinct ammonia-like smell of fox urine.

Coyote dens, on the other hand, are bigger than badgers’. Their openings can be twice as large – up to two feet wide. They are also deeper, sometimes up to fifty feet deep! Like foxes, coyote dens are decorated with the bones and feathers of their prey at the entrance.

Don’t forget, though, that animals tend to swap dens, regularly occupying abandoned burrows of others and customizing them to their preferences. A fox hole one week may become a badger in the next, and then a coyote’s after that!

Prairie dogs digging a burrow.

How Many Badgers Live In A Sett?

American badgers are solitary animals that live alone. The only time they seek others of their species is during their mating season, from late summer to early fall.

This behavior is distinctly different from European badgers, who live in groups.

How Long Do Badgers Spend In The Sett?

Though badgers spend a lot of time and are even born underground, they don’t spend all their time there. 

When do they get their first glimpse of the outside world as cubs, and how do they divide their time indoors and outdoors when they get older?

Cubs Live In Their Sett For Five To Six Months.

Baby badgers or “cubs” are born blind underground, in their natal dens. They make their first forays above ground when they turn five to six weeks old to experience fresh air and see their first sunsets and sunrises.

They will eventually permanently leave their den at five to six months old to begin their own lives.

Adults Spend Half Their Time In The Sett.

Adult American badgers spend roughly half their time above ground and the other half underground in their setts when they sleep

An exception is when they become less active in the winter and can spend days, if not weeks, holed up in their dens. They do not hibernate but go in and out of torpor and generally stay rested and cozy, occasionally eating.

Do Badgers Poop Inside Their Dens?

Badgers dig shallow pits called latrines which essentially act as their toilet bowl. They construct these close to their dens for easy access but never inside their burrows.

Watch a badger digging a burrow.

Can You Relocate A Badger Sett?

Aggressive expansion of urbanization and farmland has led to the shrinking of badgers’ natural habitat. It has also led to the rise of the need to relocate animals such as badgers to ready the land for construction.

As part of conservation efforts in England and Wales and a little in Scotland, it is illegal to injure, hunt, and disturb European badgers in their setts. Moving them for construction is possible, but businesses must procure special permits and licenses.

On the other hand, the American badger still carries a conservation status of “Species of Least Concern.” This means that no existing federal law prohibits one from simply moving an American badger sett.

However, some areas in North America are beginning to worry. California has listed the American badger as a species of “special concern,” while Ontario, Canada, has listed the Jacksoni American badger subspecies as Endangered. The state of Wisconsin already requires a permit before relocating any badger sett.

Hopefully, before it is too late, nationwide legislation can be passed protecting this species, just like its cousin has across the pond.

A pair of European badgers.

Author: Bernice Go

Bernice Go is a violinist and orchestra manager by profession but a writer by hobby. She enjoys writing about various topics, from music to animals to self-development. When she isn’t playing the violin or writing, she loves reading, traveling, playing video games, and savoring a good cup of coffee.

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