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WOODCHESTER PARK
BADGER RESEARCH


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Eurasian badger (Meles meles) ecology: DIET

Badger foraging for earthworms © John Davis

Over the past two decades, the feeding habits of the Eurasian badger have been variously described as opportunistic, generalist, omnivorous, and specialist. On examination of a badger's dentition, one may be forgiven for thinking that they are carnivorous, as the incisors, canines and premolars are characteristic of a meat eater. However, the molars are flattened and broad, resembling those found in most herbivores, and it is these characteristics which reflect the true nature of the badger's diet. Badgers can be most accurately described as omnivores, consuming a wide range of animals and plants.

Where the term specialist is used to describe badger diet, it usually refers to frequent observations of a strong preference for earthworms relative to other available food items. This is particularly true for badgers in Britain at certain times of the year. However, the diet of badgers varies widely throughout their range, and it would be inaccurate to refer to them simply as 'earthworm specialists'.

The European badger is generally a forager rather than a hunter, and this behaviour is reflected in its diet, with the more active mammals and adult birds occurring infrequently. Most foraging is carried out at night, and badgers rely on their strong sense of smell and hearing to locate food items. Badgers are highly opportunistic when it comes to their dietary intake and when their primary food source is unobtainable they will exploit whatever alternatives are available.

Main food categories

Earthworms are thought to be the most significant single item of food in the South West of England, and earthworm abundance has been described as an important factor in determining the distribution and density of badgers. A successful worming night is usually warm and damp, when badgers may be seen walking slowly through pasture fields with their snouts close to the ground, searching for earthworms feeding on the surface.

Arthropods
such as dung beetles, wasps, bumblebees, caterpillars, moths and a wide variety of insect larvae are taken regularly. Badgers appear to be fond of wasp nests, displaying great excitement on discovering one, which is then rapidly dug up and consumed.

Mammals are taken less frequently, but may still be an important food source, especially during spring and summer. Voles, mice, rats, moles, hedgehogs, and rabbits are the species most commonly taken. Occasionally larger animals, such as deer appear in the diet, but these are almost certainly the result of scavenging carrion.
Hedgehog ©Richard Yarnell

Bird eggs and nestlings, especially ground nesting species may be at risk from badger predation, and there are even reports of badgers rushing roosting waders and wildfowl, although these are rare events.

Reptiles, and amphibians
are occasionally taken by badgers, depending on availability, and there is even a report of a badger flipping fish from a river.

Cereals
may play a more important role than some animal prey, with oats being preferred to other cereals, but wheat, maize and barley are also regularly eaten when ripe.

Fruits
and seeds that are available in the late summer and autumn can be important for building up fat supplies for the winter. Wild sources include acorns, pig nuts, blackberries, elderberries and raspberries, but windfalls of fruit from cultivated orchards are also readily taken if available.
Skylark nest and eggs©Tim Hounsome



The data displayed in this chart was obtained from Neal and Cheeseman (1996). The values represent the percentage of badger droppings from which each food item was recovered and do not reflect the relative nutritional importance of food items.

Summary

The badger is a foraging omnivore that will exploit a wide range of food items. The badger's diet may vary throughout it's geographic range, and according to season, food abundance, climate, and habitat. Although badgers may concentrate on certain food sources that are abundant at a particular place and/or time, they can readily adapt their feeding habits to exploit alternative and novel resources. This adaptability is no doubt an important factor in the badgers wide distribution throughout Eurasia.


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