Hedgehogs traditionally hibernate in places like mature tree roots, old rabbit holes and the bases of established hedges. There aren’t too many of these habitats to be found in many of our gardens. So it’s good to provide a hedgehog house as an alternative hibernation home for our local hogs. Let’s take a look at how to set up your hedgehog house for hibernation.
Why Provide a Hedgehog House For Hibernation?
Hedgehogs hibernate as a way of conserving energy through the cold winter months when food is scarce. During hibernation, they slow down their metabolism so that energy and fat reserves that would last just a few days if they were active can last them for months.
To hibernate successfully hedgehogs need to be well insulated, safe from weather and predators and undisturbed through the winter months.
To achieve this they build a hibernation nest or hibernaculum. This is a thick, round nest with a narrow, short entrance tunnel. Hedgehogs know all about layering up for warmth and the hibernaculum is built up from many layers of leaves and other nesting materials, packed tight against one another.
To make the hibernation nest the hedgehog gathers together nesting materials into a ball crawls into the middle and circles round to make a central cavity and create the walls.
For this to work the hedgehog needs to find a hole or confined space to make the nest inside, otherwise, the whole thing is just going to fall apart.
Spaces at the base of mature trees, in the bottom of established hedgerows or in old rabbit holes have traditionally provided good nesting sites.
As these sites have dwindled, especially for city and suburban hedgehogs, we have seen our supremely adaptable prickly friends make their hibernation homes in man-made nooks and crannies: in sheds, under decking, in compost heaps, you name it.
Some of these locations can work very well as a winter hedgehog home. The only trouble is that being so close to us humans, there is every chance a hibernating hog may be disturbed, most often, simply because we didn’t know it was there.
Disturbing a hibernating hedgehog is a bad thing. Each time a hedgehog rouses from hibernation it is forced to use large amounts of its stored energy to get itself “started up”. This means it has fewer reserves to see it through the remainder of the winter and less chance of emerging healthy in the spring.
So providing a hedgehog house for hibernation means that you have a suitable nesting site in your garden that you can be sure not to disturb during the winter months.
Maybe even more importantly, hibernation takes practice. And young hedgehogs often make a hash of it in their first year. They can choose their nesting site poorly, leaving themselves open to danger from predators or the weather. And they often struggle to build a really solid nest in their first year. Which means they may not be as well insulated as they need to be during hibernation.
Hedgehog houses provide an excellent first year nesting site for young hedgehogs and you will often find that it is young hogs who take advantage of them. Whilst the older ones ignore your best efforts and go ahead and nest under the shed anyway!
Choosing The Best Hedgehog Houses For Hibernation
There are lots of lovely hedgehog houses on the market these days – ours included. Some make great feeding stations, others are perfect for summer daytime nests. But when you are looking for the best hedgehog house for winter hibernation there are some specific features you should look for.
Hedgehogs are at their most vulnerable when hibernating, so the more protection your hedgehog house offers the better.
- A solid floor makes it difficult for other animals to get a paw under the house and tip it over.
- A securely fastened roof will prevent access from the top.
- And an internal partition or better still a long entrance tunnel, offer further protection for the sleeping hog.
For the sake of the hibernating hedgehog and your wallet, a hedgehog home for hibernation needs to have sturdy construction and be able to stand up to the elements.
- A solid floor is important here too as it keeps the hibernation hog off the cold wet ground. Some, like this one, even offer an insulated floor, even cosier!
- An angled, waterproof roof allows rain to run off, which will not only help to keep the hog inside dry but will also ensure that your hedgehog house lasts longer.
- A long tunnel entrance not only offers good protection from wind and rain but also gives you the option of burying the hedgehog house and providing extra, natural insulation.
- The right materials are important for hedgehog houses for hibernation. Twig or thatch construction may not offer the best protection from wind and rain. A plastic hedgehog house on the other hand isn’t breathable and may be prone to develop mould and mildew with a hibernating hog inside for months on end. Wooden construction probably makes for the best hedgehog houses for hibernation.
Hibernation nests can be huge – some have been found to be 3 feet across. A hibernation nest inside a hedgehog house won’t need to be that big, because of the solid frame and extra insulation the house provides. But you still need to allow enough space for the hog to make a good nest. We recommend 35cm square internal space as a minimum.
Where to Put Your Hedgehog House for Hibernation
The hedgehog house we use as a feeding station is right by the back door, on the edge of the patio where we stand a good chance of seeing some of the nightly action. It’s also convenient for topping up food and water and cleaning, which are all daily tasks.
The hibernation house, on the other hand, is right off in a corner that we rarely visit, under a bush. It’s frustrating that we’re not likely to know whether we have had a tenant until the spring, but this is how it has to be. Hedgehogs need peace and quiet for hibernation.
So when you are placing your hedgehog house for hibernation choose the quietest area of your garden, somewhere where you can be sure a hedgehog can rest in peace until the spring.
Think about any work you may be planning to do in the garden over the winter and be sure that won’t interfere with your hibernation house.
Don’t just think about disturbance from you, what about the neighbours? We have a lovely thick hedge that would make a great place to put a hibernation house; if it weren’t for our neighbour’s workshop on the other side: power tools and Meatloaf at full volume aren’t a recipe for happy hibernation.
Give some thought to the animal pathways through your garden. A hedgehog won’t want to hibernate on a route that is regularly used by cats, foxes or badgers. If you have a hedgehog highway or other gaps in your walls and fences that are used as access points by wildlife, don’t place your hedgehog house near to these if you want it to be used for hibernation.
Our hibernation house is tucked under an evergreen bush which offers some extra protection from the weather. Some people bury their hedgehog houses, either placing earth and turf on top or piling old branches and leaves over them. This is a great way to add some extra insulation (and help deter you, when you get the urge to peep inside). Just give some thought to ventilation. This hedgehog house has a built-in ventilation tube, which along with the long tunnel entrance make it ideal for covering over.
Consider putting a few small stones under your hedgehog house to act as feet and raise it up a little from the cold and damp of the ground.
Also, try to tilt the house very slightly forward, so that any rain or snow that might blow in can run back out again.
Try to position the house so its entrance points away from the direction of the prevailing wind, and also don’t place it in direct sunlight – even in the winter, exposure to too much direct sunlight could make it uncomfortably hot in there.
What To Put in Your Hedgehog House
Hedgehogs like to build their own nests, so chances are whatever you put into a hedgehog house intended for hibernation will be thrown out again. Even so, I always like to put some nesting materials in there. In my mind, I’m giving the hedgehog a clue about how to use the house. I’m probably wasting my time, but . . .
Whether you put them in the house or nearby it’s important that there are nesting materials available for the hedgehog. A good pile of dry leaves is best, Deciduous leaves including beech, oak, hornbeam and lime are favoured. Providing some of these in a natural garden should be no problem. But if you don’t have these to hand then hay or straw make a good substitute. Through newspaper is good for lining a feeding station it’s probably not the best nesting material for hibernation.
Never put food inside a hedgehog house that you are hoping will be used for hibernation. It’s tempting to do this as a way of enticing the hogs in. But a hedgehog will never bring food back to its nest for fear of attracting predators. So it would probably avoid hibernating in a hedgehog home that has food in it.
We would recommend that you continue feeding hedgehogs through the winter. Leave a little dry hedgehog food, dog food or cat food out for your hedgehogs in the winter. They will wake naturally from hibernation a couple of times during the cold months. But leave this food in your feeding station, well away from the hibernation house.
You could if you wish leave a dish of water near, but not in, the hibernation house. One of the reasons hedgehogs are thought to rouse from hibernation is to drink in order to avoid dehydration. So a little water on hand is sure to be appreciated.
When to Put Out Your Hedgehog House For Hibernation
Traditionally we would expect hedgehogs to have hibernated by late November throughout most of the UK. But with climate change, things aren’t so predictable and in some areas, hogs may still be out and about in January.
Even once the hibernation season is well underway the vast majority of hogs will move house once or twice during the winter and will build a new nest each time.
So although most people tend to get hedgehog houses for hibernation set up in the early autumn you could put one out at any time and even though you may not have a resident straight away a hedgehog could take advantage of our generosity partway through the winter.
What About Cleaning?
Anyone who has a hedgehog feeding station will know that hogs can be messy creatures. There tends to be a lot of poop, and it can get everywhere. That’s why we recommend cleaning feeding stations daily.
But what about hedgehog houses used for hibernation? The hog is going to be in there for months. What kind of a state is the place going to get into?
Well not to worry. A hibernating hedgehog’s bodily functions slow down to almost stopping point and this includes peeing and pooping. Hibernating hedgehogs rarely do either (in fact they produce a special post-hibernation poop which can be quite spectacular!).
So a hedgehog house used for hibernation may not be quite the health hazard you might expect. You can’t disturb the resident hedgehog to clean the house during the winter. And in summer there’s every chance that the same box might get used by a female to raise a family. So once again we should not disturb.
The best times to give your hedgehog house a quick clean are probably October and early April, between hibernation season and breeding season.
Removing old bedding and a wipe out with hot soapy water or an aminal safe disinfectant is all that will be needed.
Provide a Hedgehog Home for Hibernation This Winter
Hedgehogs in the UK are in trouble. They are officially classed as at risk of extinction and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society reports on alarming falls in hedgehog population numbers.
One of the reasons for this is loss of habitat: suitable places to feed, breed and hibernate for the winter.
We can help to encourage hedgehogs and redress the balance by providing the right hedgehog house as a safe place for them to hibernate through the winter months. A hedgehog house set up for hibernation could save a prickly life this winter.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to find out a little more about how to help hedgehogs. We hope you’ve found this article useful. If you have questions or suggestions about how to set up your hedgehog house for hibernation we would love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below.