Trail cameras allow a peek into the unassuming lives of animals, and here at Faville Grove my trail camera has been busy capturing photos this spring. This window captures a brief but illuminating look at different animal species and has helped us to document the presence of secretive animals like the American Badger!
Here we see the 13-lined ground squirrel in its open sandy prairie habitat. The ground squirrel also can be found in lawns, parks, and golf courses, often to the chagrin of those hoping for a manicured lawn. With eyes located towards the back of its head, you can guess where the 13-lined ground squirrel fits in the food web.
A true hibernator, the ground squirrel overwinters in burrows and reduces its heart rate from 50-340 beats per minute to about 5 beats per minute! 13-lined ground squirrels will often plug hibernation burrows with grasses and dirt, and do the same during the breeding season to protect it from predators.
The eyes help it to detect predators, like weasels, foxes, coyotes, and hawks. Where American Badgers occur, the ground squirrel is a very important food source.
The badger is the only fossorial carnivore in Wisconsin, meaning its life is adapted to digging and life underground. This badger is possibly hunting for ground squirrels or various rodents.
Trace the shape of the badger in the above photo. The overall squat and oval shape of the badger indicates the shape of its burrows.
While hunting, badgers use their sensitive yet massive foreclaws to detect below ground movement and will dig down and corner an unsuspecting rodent. Impressive diggers, badgers develop intricate systems of burrows, some as long as 30 feet. Natal dens will split for two-way traffic in and out of the burrow, and branch off into blind pockets (dead ends) where scat or resting areas may occur.
At Faville Grove, the Badger digging on Buddy's Prairie is extensive, and provides habitat for numerous other species in burrows left unoccupied by the badger. For instance, this coyote (running to the left), red fox, and eastern cottontail rabbit might use the hole for foraging, cover, or as a den.
Another mammal found in these burrows is a weasel species (Mustela), likely an ermine or long-tailed weasel. Weasels will often appropriate ground squirrel burrows, or the burrows of other rodents to use as dens. Owls, snakes, foxes, and coyotes prey upon weasel species, and they thus provide an intermediate link in the food web, as the weasels prey upon mice, voles, ground nesting birds, and young snakes.
The number of carnivores captured on Buddy's Prairie seems high with badger, coyote, fox, raccoon, and weasel documented in the past month. Rodent prey species appear less numerous, with only 13-lined ground squirrels and rabbits. Is the trail camera missing something?
Yes! The smaller rodents—mice, voles, and shrews—constitute a big part of the diet of these carnivores. There must be abundant mice and voles on Buddy's Prairie this spring. Furthermore, invertebrates and the seeds and fruits of the prairie will constitute a minor source of nutrition as summer progresses.
Written by Drew Harry, Faville Grove Land Steward