Elusive badgers on the move in Edmonton, and they're hunting for pocket gophers

The number of badgers in Edmonton is on the rise thanks to an increasing number of pint-sized, tunneling rodents the elusive predators find particularly delicious. 

Solitary predators provide valuable pest control, wildlife biologist says

Badgers are extremely elusive, nocturnal hunters but sightings in Edmonton are on the rise. (Karl Larsen)

Edmonton's badger population is on the rise thanks to an increasing number of pint-sized, tunneling rodents the elusive predators find particularly delicious. 

Badgers have been expanding their hunting grounds in the capital region within recent years — feasting on a growing number of city-dwelling pocket gophers, says Colleen Cassady St. Clair, a conservation biologist at the University of Alberta.

Badger sightings in the city remain rare but the animals are here, and they're well-fed.

Pocket gophers — tiny mole-like rodents that spend most of their lives tunneling underground devouring roots and crops — are a major food group for badgers.

"Even if you've not seen a pocket gopher, you've likely seen where a pocket gopher has been," Cassady St. Clair said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"When you see those raised furrows of dirt in the river valley or in meadows and wonder, 'What made this mess,' that was probably a pocket gopher and we know that they have increased dramatically in Edmonton in the past few years — and that's probably what's bringing the badgers in."

A badger has been spotted repeatedly in Summerside this spring, much to the chagrin of residents of the south Edmonton neighbourhood who have captured snapshots of the squat, striped beast digging through backyard garden beds.

"It's a rare sighting and kind of an exciting one," Cassady St. Clair said. "Badgers are such neat animals. 

"It's not completely expected to see badgers in a neighbourhood like that because it's on the edge of the city near a lot of open habitat, open agricultural fields and wide open spaces that badgers prefer." 

A badger has been spotted in Edmonton's Summerside neighbourhood this spring, digging through gardens and ambling through backyards. (Chantel Campbell MacDonald )

Native to Alberta, American badger have distinctive black-and-white facial markings with a line down the bridge of their noses.

They prefer grasslands, especially areas where small rodents are plentiful. Badgers are opportunistic nocturnal omnivores. While considered essential to the prairie landscape, they are rarely seen. 

The solitary predators move quickly and shuffle dens often, digging large holes to hunt underground. 

Historically, badger territory didn't reach far outside southern Alberta but the critters have been increasingly common in northern and central parts of the province over the past decade, Cassady St. Clair said.

This busy badger was captured by a research trail cam as he wandered the outskirts of Edmonton last year. (University of Alberta)

Last year, trail cameras captured a badger ambling through heavy snow on the northern outskirts of the city. Set up across Edmonton, the cameras are used in an ongoing survey of urban wildlife that is a collaboration between city wildlife officials and researchers at the U of A.

The badger was among the most surprising things researchers have spotted so far, Cassady St. Clair said. 

"They've been expanding northwards over the past few decades but it's a rare sighting still, to see a badger.. 

"When badgers are seen in Edmonton it does tend to be on the edges of the city." 

And while the presence of badgers has been the cause for consternation for some city dwellers, Cassady St. Clair said they should be welcomed into the urban environment.

They keep rodents in check and their tunnels help aerate the soil, improving plant growth and creating valuable habitat for other species.

"I think badgers get kind of underestimated," she said. "They have a reputation of being kind of surly.

"They are solitary and they are in the weasel family so they can be fairly ferocious but they provide a lot of ecosystem services for people."

With files from Ariel Fournier


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