Hedgehogs will be waking up from their hibernation and starting to look for food – they will be really hungry, as they need to replenish their body fat reserves. This is when a bowl of cat food or a pile of peanut ends (NOT whole peanuts) will be very welcome!
A hedgehog spotted ‘staggering’ (or wobbling and rocking) is a sign of hypothermia and they may look like they are sunbathing as they spread themselves out in the sun in an attempt to get some heat into their bodies. When spotted in this state they need help and warmth immediately, not tomorrow as that will likely be too late to save it.
From mid-March they will be mating (this can be a noisy business!), and babies will be born from early May. The pregnant mother makes a nest of dry leaves, grass, moss and anything else suitable. She might pick a site in a flower-bed, underneath a hedge or shed, or in a compost heap. Litters of babies are 2 – 8 in number; the average number is 4 or 5 babies.
Hoglets are pink and hairless when they are born, but within hours spines begin to appear– initially these are white. The baby appears to have a ‘parting’ along the centre of its back, which gradually disappears as the animal grows. After about a week, brown spines begin to appear. When the hoglets are about 6 weeks old, they start venturing in to the big wide world with their mother.
As summer really gets going, around July time, you will see hedgehog families out together at dusk or at night foraging for food. When the hoglets are old enough to fend for themselves, they are abandoned by their mother, who will then become receptive and be mated again. Her second litter could be born any time from August to October. At this time of year, food is plentiful – beetles, earwigs, caterpillars, slugs, earthworms, household and bird table scraps. However, hedgehogs will still visit gardens regularly where food is provided, and this can be especially important to the young hedgehogs learning to fend for themselves.
Many of us are also active in our gardens at this time of year, so we must be aware that there might be a hedgehog curled up in the long grass we are about to mow, or the hedge we are about to cut – so please check first!
Hedgehogs are now eating all they can to build up their fat reserves for the winter – so again they will be grateful for extra food that we can supply!
A particular concern at this time of year are autumn juveniles – these are hoglets from the second litter of the year, that may be born in September or October. These hoglets have far less opportunity to grow before the winter comes, but will be desperately trying to build up enough fat and bodyweight to survive the coming winter. By the end of September, hedgehogs need to weigh at least 600g, ideally 650g (1½ lb) or more to be able to survive the winter. Those who weigh less will possibly not survive hibernation.
As winter approaches, hedgehogs start to build their ‘hibernaculum’ – a nest made from grass, moss and dry leaves. Hibernation is triggered by the colder weather, by reduced hours of daylight, and by the disappearance of most of the food supply.
Juvenile hedgehogs at the rescue centre that are not heavy enough to be released have to be kept over the winter and released the following spring.
During the cold winter months, most hedgehogs are snuggled up fast asleep in their cosy nests. But no two years are the same!
When winter is mild, or arrives late, hedgehogs can remain active into January, which means that autumn juveniles have a much better chance of survival.
When winter arrives early, some hedgehogs may be caught unprepared, and will be active even in very cold weather, searching for the last few bits of food, or for better shelter.
If there is a mild spell in January or February, some hedgehogs may venture from their nests to see if there is any food around. So we need to be observant – if you know you have a hedgehog active in your garden at some time during the winter, you can be sure that some extra food will be very welcome!
A particular problem at this time of year is bonfires, particularly around November 5th. Big piles of wood, sticks and garden rubbish make very inviting places for a nest for a sleepy hedgehog. If possible, build your bonfire and light it on the same day; or if you have to build it over several days, check underneath it very carefully before you light it.