It was late in September. I looked out of my patio door and shrieked with delight! There was a mummy hedgehog, with two tiny babies, eating from my cats’ bowls.
Ever since, they have been nightly visitors, although they are not always together. I’m pleased to say the babies are putting on weight nicely, but being so late in the year has me a little worried. So I’ve done a little research, and found some ways to help hedgehogs in your garden over winter.
Put Out Suitable Food
It used to be common to leave out bread and milk for hedgehogs, however that is a huge no no. Bread has little nutritional benefits to hedgehogs, so does not do them any favours. Milk is even more of a problem, as these creatures are actually lactose intolerant! Feeding milk can cause stomach upsets, diarrhoea, and other illness.
The best food to leave out for hedgehogs are wet or dry cat food, not fish based though, or you can buy food that is specifically for hedgehogs.
Make sure you leave out a dish of fresh water, as this is something often overlooked.
Create a Hedgehog Habitat
When you are looking for ways to help hedgehogs in your garden, one tip is to help ceate the right habitat for them. Rather than keeping everything too neat and tidy, have at least one area or corner where you can let the autumn leaves build up. You could also leave a pile of sticks and logs around, as all of that creates a place for slugs and other creatures to live, and provides plenty of food for garden hedgehogs.
A wooden hedgehog house is also a place where they can hide and rest during the day, or you can improvise by making your own.
Another way to make a hedgehog friendly garden, is to have a few holes at the base of your fencing to allow hedgehogs roam to and from the other gardens around you. This increases the areas they can forage for food and meet other hedgehogs!
Things to Avoid
To help hedgehogs, avoid using slug pellets! These can poison hedgehogs who will eat them, and also the slugs that have eaten the pellets. Go for natural pest control ideas instead!
If you have a garden pond, make sure you have a ramp at one end to help a hedgehog get out if they should fall in.
Don’t use strimmers without thoroughly checking the vegetation first, and avoid using netting at low levels that hedgehogs could get caught in.
Don’t light bonfires without checking for hedgehogs first!
Check for hedgehogs nesting in your compost heap before you decide to fork it over.
When you are concerned about a Hedgehog
If you see a small or baby hedgehog in your garden after mid-October, it might need some help to ensure it has enough fat reserves to see it through hibernation. A hedgehog should weigh at least 600 grams before it hibernates, to give it a good chance of surviving. If it weighs less, it should be kept indoors until spring.
If you find a cold or unwell hedgehog, get a cardboard box and fill with straw, shredded newspaper or dry leaves. You can also add a hot water bottle, filled with warm water, with a cover to help warm up a cold hedgehog. Gently pick it up with two hand, using gardening gloves and put it in the box. You can also offer it some cat or dog food and a shallow dish of fresh water.
It is best to get some advice from a rescue centre for more information about helping an underweight hedgehog yourself, or you can read some more tips here.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so if you see one out in the daytime then it is likely to need some help. The only exception to this is during the summer months when female hedgehogs may forage for nesting materials in the afternoons.
Hedgehog Fleas and Ticks
Hedgehogs often suffer from parasites, such as fleas and ticks. However, hedgehog fleas will only live on hedgehogs, and will not survive on cats, dogs or in your home.
Ticks are also a common on hedgehogs, and look like greyish to white balls stuck between the spines of on the face. While they look unpleasant, a small number doesn’t usually harm a hedgehog. However, if there are numerous ticks then it can lead to anaemia for the hedgehog due to a loss of blood. Tick are problematic to remove properly, so again it is best to call a wildlife rescue centre for advice.
It is a wonderful sight to see hedgehogs in the garden, and with concern over declining numbers, it is now more important than ever to help protect this iconic wild creature. So, make your garden a haven for hedgehogs, provide food and water, and you will help them survive the winter.
Do you feed hedgehogs in the garden? What tips can you share with out readers? Please comment!