Guest Blog: Spotting Hedgehogs in Hibernation

Denise Martin is the creator of the ‘Hedgehogs of Portlethen’ Facebook page. Denise spends her time raising awareness of the plight of endangered hedgehogs and here tells us a little more.

In the last ‘hedgehog’ blog I covered some basic facts about hedgehogs, how you can attract them into your garden, hedgehog houses, feeding stations and what to feed them.

Now winter is well underway, hedgehogs in Chapelton will be hibernating until around February to April depending on temperatures. Adult males go into hibernation first, around October. Females often have second litters in autumn and along with their hoglets (known as ‘autumn juveniles’) need extra time to build up fat stores prior to hibernating. It’s not unusual for them to remain active well into December and even into January before they finally hibernate.

In the run up to winter, after building up enough fat stores over summer and autumn, hedgehogs will build an impressive tightly packed hibernation nest which is made of leaves, twigs, straw and grasses. They’re expert nest builders and will create a narrow entrance tunnel that leads to a snug waterproof inner chamber where the hedgehog will hibernate.

A typical natural hedgehog nest.

When a hedgehog is ready to hibernate, it will drop its body temperature to match its surroundings and enter a state of torpor, thus allowing them to conserve energy by slowing down all bodily functions, making normal activity impossible. Any disturbance during this period can be extremely dangerous. Hedgehogs use up precious energy reserves in order to become active again – it can take many hours, leaving them very vulnerable to predators.

How you can help a hibernating hedgehog

To you it may appear dead, it will be cold and unresponsive, curled into a very tight ball – hedgehogs rarely die curled up in a tight ball. If you accidentally disturb a hibernating hedgehog in your garden, please cover it back over, it may continue to hibernate or wake and move to another site. But always call a rescue for advice. Most disturbances are caused by garden makeovers, disturbing compost heaps or log piles, shed and decking removals. Hedgehogs are very secretive and most people are completely unaware there’s a hedgehog in the garden.

Hibernation is not for wimps and it takes practice. Many young hedgehogs fail to build a successful nest in their first year and will perish through cold and damp – but this is where you can help….

There’s never a wrong time to add a hedgehog house to your garden and yes you can have several if you want to – hedgehogs are not territorial. A well-made waterproof hedgehog house can save a young hedgehogs life, where most experienced adult hedgehogs will still opt to hibernate under the shed or decking.

Construct the best hedgehog home

It’s very important to buy or build a house with good quality wood – the wood should only be treated on the outside with a water-based preservative that’s safe for small animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs. The roof should have a covering of waterproof felt and the inside must have an entrance tunnel and inner sleeping chamber, see photos and simple plan showing how to make your own hedgehog house.

Put a generous amount of clean, fresh, dry meadow hay into the sleeping chamber to welcome your hedgehog in your garden.

Place your hedgehog house in a quiet, dry and sheltered part of your garden. Behind a shed, under a hedge or dense shrubs is ideal. Face the entrance away from direct sunlight and winds.

Did you know that throughout winter, especially in milder periods, hedgehogs can and do wake from time to time and go searching for food and water before hibernating again. Once more this is where you can help them, all winter, by providing, in a feeding station, a shallow dish of dry kitten kibble and a bowl of water. This really will save a cold and very hungry hedgehog’s life in the depths of winter when it comes to your garden in the frozen early hours looking for food – while you’re tucked up cosy in bed and totally unaware its quietly out there. If you see these tiny footprints in the snow, you’ll know a hedgehog has been there.

Caring for hedgehogs

Hedgehogs have great memories, so if you fed them in summer and autumn when they wake, they will come straight back to your garden in search of food – please don’t forget them.

As always, and even more so in winter, a hedgehog out in the day is not ok. It may look ok to you and be very active, but it’s very poorly and desperately in need of help.

If you find one here’s what to do:

Put on a pair of thick gloves and pick it up – it won’t struggle, scratch or bite you, it will curl tightly into a ball, or stay flat if it’s really very poorly.

Put it into a high-sided box with something to keep it cosy and hide underneath so it feels safe, such as hay, straw, an old towel or T shirt. Place a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel to help warm up the hedgehog.

Don’t offer food, it will need to be warmed and hydrated before its body can cope with food or water.

Place it somewhere quiet and warm and call your nearest rescue ASAP (The New Arc) – time is of the essence, the sooner it’s brought into rescue the higher its chances are of survival.

DO NOT:

Try to look after it yourself, it’s not just cold and hungry, it needs medication that only a rescue has access to.

Planning ahead

Now is the time to plan ahead in your garden for hedgehogs:

  • Check that access in and out of your garden is clear
  • Plant lots of pollen rich plants and bulbs
  • Perennial plants will soon fill out a border and provide shelter over winter for bugs
  • Give yourself a break and don’t be too tidy in the garden, wait until spring before you prune and tidy up
  • Plant a native hedge
  • Plant evergreen shrubs

There’s lots of information on the Facebook page @HedgehogsofPortlethen and you can use the search tab to find information quickly.

Whether you’re looking for a retirement property, a new home for your growing family or you’re just getting on the property ladder, all homes in Chapelton feature beautiful, landscaped gardens. Find out more about new build homes for sale near Aberdeen here.