For information on how to identify badger burrows visit this page.
What does a badger look like?
Badgers are short and stocky animals, with a wide and "flattened" appearance. They are about 60 to 72cm (23 to 30 inches) long from nose to rump, with males being larger than females. On average, a female badger weighs 7kg (15.5 pounds), whereas a large male can weigh up to 11kg (25 pounds). In general they are about the size of a large raccoon, though they often look larger (especially from a distance) due to their heavyset build.
The overall coat colour of a badger is a grizzled grey, which may be mixed with brown, red, black, and even yellow. The chest and neck are white. The badger's face is certainly the most distinctive feature with black and white cheek patches and a white stripe that runs from nose to neck. From the front, it appears that the badger has alternating black and white stripes running from the front. Its relatively large ears are on the sides of its head. Its legs are black, though due to the badger's short stature and often shaggy "skirt" of fur, they aren't always clearly visible.
A badger's adaptations for digging give it a unique and somewhat awkward movement above ground. They are not particularly quick on their feet and tend to "waddle" when running. Their fur can sometimes obscure their feet and give them the impression of "flowing" across the ground. A badger's short tail is not usually noticed, being the same colour as rest of the body and generally held low.
More information on some of the specific features that can be used to identify badgers is found below.
A Badger's unique features
Although badgers have a characteristic appearance, there are many times when identification is not simple. This can be a particular challenge when we are trying to identify animals that have been killed on the road (and scavenged or decomposed) or when trying to identify animals in photographs.In general there are three features you should pay attention to when trying to determine whether you are indeed looking at a badger: Claws, Head, and Tail.
Claws: There isn't an animal in Ontario that comes close to having such proportionally long front claws as a badger – up top 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) long. When these are seen they are unmistakable. Claws might not be seen on a live badger, but on a road-kill they will remain as long as the rest of the skeleton, and are often the best means of identification. Keep in mind, that only the front claws are this long; the hind claws are similar in size to other similar sized mammals.
Head: The black and white markings on a badger's head are very distinctive. Most unique is the white stripe running lengthwise from the nose to the back of the neck. There are also conspicuous black and white patches on each cheek (they appear as stripes when looking at the badger directly from the front). A badger also has large ears for its size, and they are positioned on the side of the head, rather than the top of the head like most other Ontario mammals.
Tail: A badger actually has a fairly long tail. But because it is the same colour as the rest of the body, and often held closely to the body, it isn't always very conspicuous. However, the presence of a furry tail that is the same colour as the rest of the body can still help to eliminate other options, such as raccoons or opossums.
Commonly mistaken animals
The mammals most often confused with badgers are raccoons, groundhogs, opossums, and even skunks. The differences may seem obvious at first glance, but there can be many similarities between these that can make identification surprisingly confusing at times. All of these other animals are far more likely to be seen and far more likely to be living in towns and cities.
Groundhogs actually have a very similar body shape to a badger (wide and stout, with short legs). They also share a relatively short and furry (not naked) tail that is the same colour as the body. However, groundhogs are generally a solid brown (not grizzled like the badger), and have no distinct markings on their face. They are also about half the size. Groundhogs live in burrows that can resemble those of badgers (badgers actually eat groundhogs, and will often dig them out of their burrows). Groundhogs are herbivores, so if you saw the animal eating flowers or plants, it was probably not a badger.
The opossum is a relative newcomer to Ontario, having migrated north from the US over the last several decades. Its most distinctive feature is its naked, rat-like tail. The opossum's body is generally a light grey overall. It has a white face with dark ears and eyes. Like a badger, it has dark legs, but its feet are small and very hand-like. Generally speaking they are much smaller than badgers.
The raccoon is the only Ontario mammal with a striped tail, and this usually remains visible even on road-killed raccoons for weeks. The mask-like markings on a raccoon's face run horizontally across the face, rather than lengthwise from the nose to the neck as on the badger. There is little mistaking this on a live animal but a road-killed raccoon laying on its side may appear to have markings running the opposite direction. Raccoons are roughly the same colour and size as a badger, but have longer legs and a humped back. A raccoon's front feet look more like small "hands" with long digits (the actual claws are relatively short, compared to the badger's), while a badger's looks more like a dog's paw, albeit with extremely long claws.
The skunk is familiar to most people, and is a common night-time visitor. The colour is predominantly black. There is a small vertical white stripe on the face, then a large patch on the top of the head, which diverges into two stripes down either side of the back, though these aren't always as conspicuous as you'd think. The tail is bushy, mixed with both white and black fur, and generally held high above the body.
Based on our experience, clear badger tracks are not commonly seen – even right in front of occupied burrows. But when conditions are ideal, they are very distinctive. The most distinctive feature of a badger's tracks are the long front claws. However, these claws, and the fact that they have 5 toes (like skunks and raccoons) rather than 4 toes (like dogs and cats), do not always show up in a print. When the claws are not visible, a badger track looks a bit like a cross between a large cat's track and a small dog's (a bit like a fox, in fact). Another helpful characteristic is that a badger is "pigeon-toed", which can be obvious if there enough tracks visible. The hind and front prints often overlap (double register), giving the impression of a much larger print, especially in soft sand when the distinction between the two tracks isn't obvious. Here are some links to great online resources for badger tracks, and tracking in general. There are several images included below. Please refer to the Links & Resources page for more resources on badger tracks.
Identifying badger burrows
We have put together an entire page dedicated to identifying badger burrows