YAKIMA, Wash. — In early August, Yakima homeowners near W. 80th Avenue noticed a badger, a large member of the weasel family, in their yard. It was shuffling around the garden until the dogs caught sight of it, whereupon the frightened beast dashed down an open door to their basement with the dogs in noisy pursuit. It took refuge behind a toilet and prodding with a broom handle only elicited angry hissing. The beast would not budge. Their solution? Open a door to the outside and head to the movies! Returning home the badger was gone with no damage to their home, either physical or olfactory. As badgers have anal scent glands like skunks, thankfully the cornered critter didn’t discharge its foul stuff. All’s well that ends well!
How to spot one: Here’s one pretty distinctive critter, about two feet long overall with a heavy-bodied, though distinctly flattened shape, short-legged, yellowish-gray, with a white strip starting from its nose back over the top of its head. It sports white cheeks and a black spot in front of its ear. Its front claws are very long.
Where to look: Big expanses of shrub-steppe are its favored haunts. Locally, the Yakima Training Center is a prime area as are foothills of the Cascade Range below the forest belt. Snow Mountain Ranch, a Cowiche Canyon Conservancy preserve, has had recent sightings, and the 80th Avenue animal might have wandered into town from this protected area of shrub-steppe. Elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, eastern Oregon has many thousands of square miles of suitable habitat; eastern Washington much less so, a result of the massive conversion of shrub-steppe to agriculture. Historically, badgers were common on the Great Plains, from Canada south into central Mexico.
Chow time: Its primary prey are rodents such as ground squirrels, prairie dogs, mice and voles. They prey also on ground nesting birds, and some insects. It is a fantastic digger using its extremely long front claws to excavate the burrows of its prey. It has developed a unique hunting strategy by digging into the back entrance of its preys’ burrow, enlarging it to within a foot of the front entrance to fit its larger body. The rear entrance is plugged with dirt. The badger then waits just a foot or so inside the front entrance for its prey to enter into the burrow and its waiting jaws.
Home life: Badgers dig out their own burrows, or usurp and enlarge those of ground squirrels or prairie dogs. These may be as long as 30 feet and up to 10 feet deep. Their location is distinctive on account of a big mound of dirt marking the entrance, which is usually wider than tall, thus mimicking their flattened shape. Bulky nests of grasses are constructed in an enlarged chamber at the end of the burrow. Badgers are solitary animals except during the mating season, which is from late summer into fall. Like all weasels, implantation of the embryo is delayed until about late winter. Two to five young are born in April or May. Although they are weaned when about half-grown, the mother brings food until they are about two-thirds grown.
The virtual disappearance of prairie dogs, once extraordinarily abundant over much of the Great Plains prairies, is one reason for the huge reduction in the number of badgers.
• Wildlife Moment, focusing on native wildlife, typically runs in Outdoors on the first Thursday of the month, with the cooperation of the Yakima Valley Aububon Society.