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Badger Emergence / Badger Times of Emergence

The first badger emergence of the evening invariably provides a magical moment for watchers at the sett, a moment to lift the spirits no matter how many times it has previously been witnessed.

Yes, that first glimpse of an enquiring black and white face at a sett entrance, usually seen as the light fades, offers joyous confirmation that the watchers' evening will be fruitful and imparts a huge sense of relief that the field-craft skills employed to obtain a view have paid off.

But perhaps most importantly, that first sighting promises further enthralling, though often all too brief, experiences shared with one of the UK's largest but most secretive mammals.

Frequently a single badger - the advance guard - will appear first in the sett entrance. Only the head will be visible as Brock sniffs the air, listens intently and looks around, ever alert to the potential dangers that lurk outside the safety of its underground warren of tunnels. Regardless of the outcome of these investigations, the badger will often go back underground for a while and, if danger was sensed, might not re-emergence for quite some time. But if all is well, the animal is likely to quickly reappear, maybe but not always followed by other members of the clan.

(1) Badger emergence and bedding sequence - 9.52 minutes

The sow is first to emerge, well before dusk. She's hesitant, not completely sure whether it's safe to come out. Twenty-five minutes later, three cubs follow her. One of the cubs nervously heads back towards the sett entrance, sniffs the air but finds no real cause for alarm.

Minutes later, bedding is taken underground, carried in traditional fashion, clasped against the chest using the front legs as the animal backs into the sett. And then most unusually, the sow takes in more bedding, this time carried in her mouth and left at the tunnel entrance, maybe for a cub to take fully underground.

A roe buck nonchalantly passes by in the background, but no badgers are visible at this time although the three cubs eventually re-appear. They don't stray far from the sett and one even contributes to the bedding store by taking in a few leaves.

All soon dash underground despite there being no obvious cause for alarm but their senses, ever attuned to identify danger, clearly picked up something. Maybe the roe buck remained nearby and was heard in the undergrowth. But whatever it was that prompted flight is soon forgotten by one cub that resumes bedding duties. The sow, meanwhile, is nowhere to be seen - she has left them to look after themselves.

A grey squirrel calls whilst song thrush, blackbird and robin sing.

(2) Badger emergence - 2.00 minutes

A sow and a single cub emerge whilst it's still very light but are immediately spooked by something and dash back underground. They quite quickly re-appear and feed on peanuts put down for them. The cub is nervous, though, and again briefly goes underground. A second cub late in the video tentatively appears in the tunnel entrance.

Time of first emergence

The time of first emergence varies seasonally.

From March until October, it can be largely correlated with day-length. More specifically, in March and much of April, first emergence is often soon after dark, whilst from mid-April until late-June, the initial appearance is frequently quite soon after sunset. Then from late-June until the end of August, when the hours of darkness are more limited, emergence may frequently be before sunset; whilst in September, the first badgers are far less likely to be seen before sunset, and in October will almost certainly not appear until after dark.

But from November through to February, when first emergence is almost always after dark - sometimes significantly so - day-length is not so much of a critical factor in influencing emergence times.

Not all setts are equal, though, as the exact time of first emergence is affected by a number of other factors that can be categorised as light and shade, disturbance, weather, food and the presence, or otherwise, of cubs. And then, of course, individual badgers have their own idiosyncrasies - certainly, some seem to like a lie-in for not all sett occupants will necessarily emerge at the same time whilst some, on occasion, may not emerge at all.

(3) Badger Emergence - 4.40 minutes

A sow and her three cubs have been out for a while, feeding on peanuts. Distant gunshots are heard - I hope that neither fox nor deer are the targets: here in the protected lands of the New Forest it certainly will not be badgers that the shooters are after. All the badgers look up, ever-alert, one cub dashes underground whilst another makes to do the same but changes its mind.

The cub that went underground quickly re-emerges and all continue to forage. It's nearly 9.00pm and a song thrush is now the most prominent member of the dusk chorus.

The sow, comfortable in her surroundings, takes a brief 'above ground' nap, whilst the cubs continue to forage. All eventually go briefly underground before re-emerging close to the sow - she can't resist ever-so-briefly grooming two as the pass by. A cub takes in a cargo of leaves and still the sow relaxes.

Finally, two of the cubs engage in a brief, half-hearted bout of play before all disappear from sight.

(4) Badger emergence - 2.00 minutes

A sow and her three cubs emerge whilst it's still very light. The cubs seem subdued - the sett entrance was badly disturbed by 'play fighting' a couple of nights earlier and perhaps they are still feeling the effects of being scolded for their misbehaviour.

Song thrush, blackbird and robin inevitably add to the atmosphere of woodland in the spring.

And finally, let's now briefly consider each of the additional factors that influence emergence time.

Light and shade

The greater the amount of light falling on a sett towards the end of the day, the more likely it is that emergence will be delayed; whilst the occupants of setts in lower-light situations will probably emerge earlier than their better-illuminated counterparts.

Factors influencing the amount of light reaching a sett include, for example, tree, vegetation and cloud cover; the extent to which location and / or obstacles - such as intervening trees and hillsides - reduce the sett's exposure to the sunset; and the amount of moonlight hitting the sett.

Disturbance

Clearly, emergence will be delayed by undue disturbance at a sett, whether this is by humans or any other perceived threats to badgers (such as dogs). Regular background noise from traffic, for example, will, however, have little effect.

(Presumably, New Forest badgers learn to ignore the activities of deer and commoners' stock).

Weather

Weather, too, influences the time of first emergence. Badgers, quite understandably, aren't too keen on heavy rain and are likely to stay indoors until it eases, although once out, may tolerate such conditions. Light rain, however, especially if accompanied by humid conditions - great for earthworms - might bring the badgers out earlier.

Particularly cold weather, frost and snow, sometimes inhibits emergence, although badgers do not hibernate for lengthy periods. And counter-intuitively, this type of weather sometimes encourages earlier emergence, for then earthworms and other invertebrate foodstuffs are more readily available than later in the night.

High winds are also unwelcome in the badgers' world, maybe because in those conditions, senses of smell and hearing are impaired; whilst the animals often seem to be frightened by undue noise in the trees.

Food

Food availability, which, as already noted, can be heavily influenced by the seasons and the weather, affects emergence times. When food is in short supply - for example, in summer when the ground is dry and earthworms are hard to find - hunger will encourage the badgers to emerge earlier, whilst in times of plenty, after a previous night of good feeding, emergence might be delayed or indeed cancelled altogether.

Cubs

The presence, or otherwise, of cubs can also have a significant effect on times of first emergence.

When cubs are present, the sow in early spring - from the time of births until around the end of April - is usually first to emerge, sometimes quite early, as she is likely to need to find enough food to maintain her milk supply. Then from May and throughout the summer, cubs typically emerge first, again sometimes quite early - probably, like small children, they get easily bored, and are then desperate to start the evening's foraging, 'play fighting' and exploration.

When no cubs at all are present, emergence is often relatively late.

Further information and a variety of fascinating badger videos

Badgers - a general introduction
Badger field signs - look out for evidence of badger presence in the countryside
Badger watching - a guide to watching badgers
Badger behaviour - an introduction to a series of badger behaviour videos, mostly shot in the New Forest, and lots more information about badgers
Badger's setts - situation, size, tunnelling and excavation (videos)
Emergence from the sett - times of emergence and factors influencing variation (videos)
Grooming and mutual grooming - badgers grooming themselves and each other (videos)
Scent marking - badgers scent marking their nearest and dearest, and also their territory (videos)
Badger bedding - essential comfort for a good day's sleep (videos)
Play fighting amongst the cubs - high jinks by the sett, but also preparation for later life (videos)
Badger fights / badgers fighting - potentially vicious affairs (videos)
Badgers and foxes together - an often uncomfortable relationship (videos)
Disturbance at badger setts - by people, cats, dogs and passing foxes (videos)
Other animals in the sett, and animal passers-by - shared living space, rabbits, mice, deer, ponies and more (videos)

References:
The Natural History of Badgers, Ernest Neal
Badgers: Ernest Neal and Chris Cheeseman
Darkness Is Light Enough: Chris Ferris
Out of the Darkness: Chris Ferris
Eileen Soper's Badgers
Mammals of Britain and Europe: David Macdonald and Priscilla Barrett


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Content produced by Andrew Walmsley
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley