Elusive badgers a rare sight to see in Saukville

Couple get an unforgettable look at seldom-seen subterranean-dwelling state animal close to home

A FAMILY OF badgers — three juveniles and their nervous mother behind them in the grass — were photographed by Matt Ebbert on Cold Spring Road near his North Dries Street house on Saukville’s north side last week. The rarely seen animals checked out his car, growled a bit, then ran back into the tall grass, he said. Photo by Matt Ebbert
Ozaukee Press Staff

Matt Ebbert and his wife Karen were driving on Cold Spring Road near their home on North Dries Street on Saukville’s north side last week when they caught a glimpse of them.

“My wife said, ‘Watch out for the raccoons,’” Matt said. “I said, ‘Those aren’t raccoons.’”

The couple stopped to get a closer look and watched in amazement as three juvenile badgers and their nervous mother ran up and down the ditch line checking out their car.

“At one point they were all growling at us until the mother had enough and ran back into the woods with the little ones following,” Matt said. 

It was the first time he had seen a badger, and surprisingly it was almost right in his back yard.

“As an avid outdoorsman, that was a pretty cool thing to see knowing how rare they are,” he said. 

The truth is, said David Sample, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources ecologist, the badger is not all that rare, although sightings of these nocturnal animals that spend much of their lives underground are.

“The assumption had been that the badger was not very common in Wisconsin but that it wasn’t in trouble either,” Sample, who was one of the architects of a nearly three-year student study of badgers that began in 2011, said. “Happily we found statewide distribution of the badger. They were seen in all but five counties, and we believe they are in those counties as well but just weren’t seen.”

But here’s the mystery — in a state that adopted the badger as its official animal, and where this feisty creature is the mascot of its flagship university, relatively little is known about its population.

“Believe it or not, the badger just isn’t a very well-studied animal,” Sample said. “Since 1992, there have been 2,200 studies throughout the nation of red fox, 2,200 studies of white-tailed deer, 800 of coyotes and just 20 on badgers. There have been more studies done on flying squirrels than badgers.”

Perhaps that’s because these subterranean dwellers, who even hunt underground, are not that easy to study.

One of the most likely times to see badgers is when the Ebberts did — in the spring when mothers are still caring for their offspring — and typically it’s the only time when the animals are seen in groups, Sample said.

“The first badgers I saw were a group of three or four, and they were probably immature,” he said. “Older badgers are solitary creatures.”

Males and females are together just long enough to mate. Female badgers raise their young on their own from the time they are born in early spring until summer. Then the youngsters are on their own.

With 2-inch claws and broad, strong shoulders, the badger is built to dig. Some badger tunnels are more than 12 feet deep and up to 50 feet long.

“There are some amazing stories about badgers, like one that buried a dead cow,” Sample said. “There are other stories about how they will just disappear almost before your eyes by tunneling into the ground.

“We found an area where a badger had moved a 20-pound rock to dig a tunnel.”

In Wisconsin, badgers, which range from 12 to 19 pounds in spring and can weigh more than 25 pounds in fall, are most common in the central and southern parts of the state. But they aren’t picky about their surroundings, as long as there is food nearby.

With good hearing and a keen sense of smell, badgers are expert subterranean hunters that burrow into the dens of prey such as ground squirrels and woodchucks. Above ground, they’ll eat insects, birds and eggs.

Badgers have the reputation of being feisty if not fierce and have few natural predators, Sample said.

“They are pretty well-suited to taking care of themselves,” he said.

But confronted by a larger animal or human, the badger is far more likely to dig an escape route than it is to fight, although don’t underestimate its will to defend itself, Sample said. 

“Cornering a badger or sticking your hand into its den would definitely not be a good idea,” he said. 

During their study, Sample said, researchers trapped badgers and implanted radio transmitters under their skin to track their movements. That’s when they discovered badgers have the scars to prove their toughness.

“Male badgers appear to do a lot of fighting,” he said. “We had to shave some of their fur off, and when we saw their skin it looked like they had been through war.”

That this tough, elusive animal — and not just one but four of them — made a cameo appearance for the Ebberts was something special, Matt said. 

“We were just in the right place at the right time,” he said.


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login