Daytime Badger Nests

This badger blog comes from a guest writer – our loyal volunteer Lesley Stewart.

 

When I first heard about badger day nests I thought they were rare, found in remote areas and only used during the day – I was wrong! 

On one of the first badger surveys I took part in, I was really surprised when Melanie Craig, the survey leader, said “there’s a day nest under this tree”. We were in a little wooded glen one mile from my house in the town of Hamilton, which lies in the densely populated central belt of Scotland!

nest below path first photo
Bedding material above ground and in the cover of a tree (Lesley Stewart)

 

The nest was in what felt like a secluded woodland but was in fact only 170 meters from a housing estate, so not remotely located at all. Although basically just a big pile of bedding, to me it was a thing of great beauty! It was roughly circular & made of dried vegetation with a badger sized dent in the middle. That was it – I was hooked and wanted to learn all about these nests. 

There is surprisingly little written about them in badger literature. Ernest Neal (Badgers 1986) spoke of rudimentary nests occurring in isolated areas, mainly from midsummer to autumn. Throughout his writings on day nests Neal variously called them sleeping out places, overground nests and often just nests.

AG nest
A perfectly worn badger indent (Lesley Stewart)

T Roper (Badger 2010) wrote of badgers sometimes sleeping above ground in rudimentary nests, especially in summer. Roper was lucky enough to stumble upon a badger fast asleep in a nest in a field of wheat during the day. I haven’t had this pleasure but I live in hope!

Roper referenced 2007 research by Laureiro et al at the Serra De Grandola in Southern Portugal that showed that badgers there sleep above ground on about 40% of days using a wide variety of sites within shrubs, hollow trees, beneath rocks and in man made structures. Roper also referenced 2004 research by Kowalczyk et al telling of badgers in the Bialowieza Primeval Forest in Poland sometimes sleeping in the hollow trunks of fallen trees, especially lime trees. 

So my interest had been sparked and I’d read what was available but I was still confused about why and when badgers used these nests. Fortunately I then met ecological consultant John Darbyshire and he was able to cast light on this for me.

During surveys and consultancy work, John has seen many badger nests both above and below ground (in setts that he was destroying under SNH license). John has seen nests in hollow trees, under shady spots in woodlands, in a bale of hay, in castle walls, under sheds/containers and in many other locations. John has always been struck by the fact that whether above or below ground the nests always look the same (roundish with a dent in the middle). For John then it’s simple – badgers build nests, some are underground and some are above ground. As badgers are therefore using nests both night and day, John believes calling them day nests is incorrect, so he calls them badger nests.

As to why badgers use nests above ground John, pointed out some possible advantages that they can give badgers; freedom from the parasite burden underground, freedom from persecution from higher ranked individuals in the clan, freedom from overcrowding underground, good access to scent signals on the wind (that might include the location of sexually receptive individuals) as well as providing a base near to seasonal food sources.

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A room with a view – certainly beats a muddy tunnel (Lesley Stewart)

My confusion about nests was clearing and I was seeing more and more of them on badger surveys, so when I came across 4 nests in a local nature reserve where I volunteered, I was quick to put up trail cameras at 2 of them for a period of 2 months in the summer of 2017. 

One nest was in a fallen tree, the other was on a badger path through canary reed grass. I was so excited to collect the footage & to finally see for myself what badgers do in these nests.

I wasn’t disappointed – the videos gave me an amazing, front row seat into the life of the clan. As I watched the sow & her 3 cubs use the nests for play, grooming, feeding the cubs, socialization & sometimes even for a wee snooze, I realized that badger nests above ground and the locations that badgers choose for them are a home away from home  – one more asset in the clan’s ‘property portfolio’ providing a place of shelter and a hub for socializing.

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Perfect cover beneath a fallen tree (Lesley Stewart)

As these nests are above ground, we can use them to further our understanding of this shy nocturnal creature  – it is certainly cheaper than building an artificial sett with lighting, cameras and a viewing gallery! 

I would encourage people to look for badger nests & report their location/description to Scottish Badgers as only through the collection of such reports can we learn more about these nests and the factors affecting their use. If you can identify a badger guard hair, then you can likely identify a badger nest as the guard hairs are frequently found among the nest material.

With the advent of cheaper trail cameras, it’s possible to unobtrusively film badgers using nests.  I am no scientist so I look to others to begin research on nests but I would certainly make my footage available for this purpose. (Editor’s note: You should speak to the landowner before placing trail cameras on any site. For advice on sensitive placement to avoid disturbance to badgers, please contact Scottish Badgers.)

It is six years since I first trained with Scottish Badgers and I’ve seen 50 + nests in all sorts of nooks and crannies in the Lanarkshire area so I don’t think they are as rare as previously thought. 

The nests I’ve seen have mostly been located at or near setts but some have been at the edge of badger territories – all locations with a degree of seclusion but sometimes very close to well used public paths and housing. 

The nests have varied in size – some are huge like a swan’s nest and some are not much bigger than a curled up badger. They are simple, not ornate like a bird’s nest and they are made from whatever bedding material is available nearby; grass, hay, leaves, canary reed grass, moss, ivy and even plastic. (John Darbyshire has seen nests where 50% + of their composition is plastic).

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Quite a sizeable nest (Lesley Stewart)

I’ve filmed badgers using a nest that is no more than a badger sized dent in the ground with barely any bedding. Sometimes it is clear that the badgers have gone and collected bedding such as grass for their nests but other times I think they simply gather in whatever is on the immediate forest floor and make themselves comfy. 

I’ve seen nests under fallen trees, in hollow trees, in trees coppiced near the ground, under quarried rocks, in a culvert under a path, on the woodland floor and most recently under man made decking. I’ve seen up to three nests in close proximity to each other, conjuring up delicious images of a clan gathering for a chin-wag.

 

I know of 2 badger clans with at least 5 nests in their territory. Both clans have numerous setts available to them but they are also choosing to build nests above ground.

In conjunction with Scottish Badgers and the Scottish Wildlife Trust,  I’ve currently got trail cameras at 8 nests. I’ve set up a You Tube channel called badger day nests so that others can share the joy of watching badgers using these nests.

 

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCT5W4LbX1iU9RzXQz13YpHg

 

The trail cam footage has shown badgers using the nests for play, grooming, socializing with other clan members, feeding the cubs, a bit of me time, sleep and even for mating. Both Scottish Badgers and myself have recorded badgers using nests in heavy rain so they are not just a fair weather phenomenon!

The earliest I’ve seen a nest in use was 10th February – so some of the cameras will be up for at least a year to further explore the question of when badgers use them.

Except for two bits of footage (one of a crazy cub jumping in then out of a nest at midday and one of a badger entering then immediately leaving the nest at 10am) the nests I’ve filmed have only been used during the times badgers would normally be above ground – so whilst day nest is the current accepted name, I think it is too narrow and misleading so I much prefer John Darbyshire’s use of the term badger nests.

teeny weeny nest
A very well hollowed badger nest (Lesley Stewart)

Discussions between Elaine Rainey, John Darbyshire and myself have identified several possible topics for research including why badgers use nests, what they use them for, whether nest sites are used again and again through the years, distance from different sett types, timing of use (time of day, duration on nest & time of year) the effect of badger population density, weather conditions, habitat type, substrate, disturbance factors and if there is any observable hierarchy of use amongst clan members.

 

If you would be interested in this topic for a student research project, please get in touch with Elaine Rainey via projectofficer@scottishbadgers.org.uk.

 

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