Our hedgehogs may have had a quiet time during winter hibernation, but they make up for it with a very busy few months during the spring. Just getting out of bed (or rousing from hibernation) is a huge effort. Then comes the mating season and nest building. It’s all going on in the wonderful world of hedgehogs in spring, and there is plenty we can do to help.
What are Hedgehogs In Spring Doing?
Understanding what hedgehogs are doing in the springtime is key to knowing how to help. There’s a lot going on!
Rousing from Hibernation
In the UK hedgehogs traditionally come out of hibernation between March and May. Males emerge before females. And due to the warmer climate southern hogs emerge before their northern cousins. In these days of global warming though, hedgehogs can emerge much earlier.
If it takes you a while to come round in the mornings after a few hours in bed imagine how hedgehogs must feel after months of hibernation.
It takes hedgehogs anything from a few hours to several days to fully “come-round” after hibernation. During this time they will be wobbly and disoriented; vulnerable to predators and even more prone than usual to wander into trouble.
It’s no wonder that spring is an extremely busy time for rescue centres.
As well as being wobbly and disoriented hedgehogs coming out of hibernation will be extremely thirsty and hungry.
They will have used up most of their fat reserves whilst hibernating and then the proc3ss of rousing uses a lot of energy too.
So hedgehogs coming out of winter hibernation urgently need to eat and drink. This can be a challenge if an early warm spell fools them into emerging before spring is really underway and before their natural food supplies are available.
As soon as they are out of hibernation hedgehogs start to work on getting into peak condition for mating. Mating usually takes place between April and June, but in reality, there is mating season, hedgehogs wil mate pretty much whenever they are awake. So with climate change bringing hedgehogs out of hibernation earlier, we might expect mating to happen earlier too.
And you will know if you have mating hedgehogs in your garden, it’s a noisy business!
Monogamy isn’t a “thing” in the hedgehog world. Hedgehogs do lots of mating, with lots of different partners just to be sure. Two a night is not unusual, and a hog may have ten or 12 different partners during the mating season according to Pat Morris in his great book “Hedgehogs”.
Once mating is done, that is the male finished with child rearing. He is unlikely to see the female again and would not recognise his young when they are born.
The next task for a pregnant female is to build a nursery nest. Because the weather is warmer the nursery nest doesn’t need to be quite so well insulated as a hibernaculum, but it will need to be bigger to accommodate the female and around 5 hoglets for at least 4 weeks after birth.
Winter hibernation nests are mainly made of fallen leaves, but nursery nests made in the spring are built from pretty much anything the female can find. This increasingly includes human rubbish and plastic.
Female hedgehogs are usually pregnant for around 32 days. But pregnancy may last much longer. Hedgehogs are one of the few mammals who can delay giving birth if conditions are not suitable. For example if the weather has turned cold again, or if there is little food about.
It’s easy to see how this remarkable ability could become even more useful as climate change continues to disrupt our seasons.
Whilst female hedgehogs are dealing with pregnancy and nest building in the spring, guess what the boys are doing?
That;s right, fighting Hedgehogs don’t often fight. They are solitary creatures and although they have home ranges, they are not territorial. Two or more ranges may overlap and the hogs will simply avoid each other.
In mating season this changes and boars will frequently fight over desirable females.
This, like mating, is a pretty noisy business and it can be quite difficult to tell, just from listening, what exactly they are up to in your garden on a spring evening.
Getting Sick and Injured
Coming out of hibernation is a dangerous business.
Hedgehogs are wobbly and disoriented post-hibernation at just the same time as many of us are busy on garden projects. Dozy hedgehogs and garden equipment, or even a garden fork, are a disaster waiting to happen and your local hedgehog rescue will have plenty of horror stories.
In the same way hedgehogs have lost a lot of body fat during hibernation so they can be in quite a weakened state when they emerge. If they are not able to get hydrated and well fed fast they can be vulnerable to infection, parasite infestation or other illnesses.
How to Help Hedgehogs in Spring
Having looked through all the hedgehog activity going on in your garden in the springtime it’s easy to see that there are plenty of opportunities for us humans to help out.
Feed Hedgehogs and Offer Water
As night time temperatures start to rise above 5c hedgehogs will start to stir.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society recommends leaving a shallow dish of fresh water out all year round for hedgehogs and other wildlife. Hedgehogs really need to drink when they come out of hibernation.
The next thing they need is food. To build up their energy and fat reservice sand to help them get into peak condition for the mating season ahead.
With our increasingly volatile climate the creatures that make up a hedgehog’s natural diet may be scarce in the spring. So supplementary feeding is all the more important.
Provide a Hedgehog Feeding Station
Many people simply put a bowl of hedgehog food out in the garden for hedgehogs, that’s a great start. But if like us, you have visiting cats, foxes or badgers, or even if you let the dog out unsupervised last thing at night, there’s a good chance someone else will have snaffled up the food before the hedgehogs even get a look in.
A hedgehog house helps to keep other animals and predators at bay, and offers some shelter for the hedgehogs whilst they eat. You can make your own hedgehog box, or we have some lovely sustainable timber feeding stations, handmade in our workshops here in Kent.
Make a Hedgehog Highway
There are no major roadworks needed here. A hedgehog highway is simply a hole in your fence that lets hedgehogs access neighbouring gardens.
This is important at any time of the year a hedgehogs need to roam up to two miles each night just to gather the food they need.
But freedom to roam is especially important in the mating season, when hedgehogs need to find suitable partners as well as food.
One of the reasons hedgehogs are in decline is that man-made barriers like walls, roads and fences have made it more difficult for them to move around and find mates. So let’s show a bit of hedgehog love by creating a hedgehog highway.
Nesting Sites and Materials
Because humans are out in the garden more in the summer than in the winter months many of the nest sites that worked for hibernation may not be quiet enough for a good nursery nest.
If you quiet corners of the garden that you can be sure will be undisturbed through the summer months and contain plenty of undergrowth, a log pile, or maybe an old tree with spreading roots, this could do nicely as a nesting site.
If your garden does have these sorts of areas you may be better off providing a hedgehog nest box in a quiet corner. A hedgehog nesting box will generally need to be a bit bigger than a feeding station, and made out of natural materials to allow it to breathe. Again, you could make your own, or alternatively buy one ready made.
Nesting material is equally important. Try not to be too tidy in the garden. If you have a wild corner that will provide super foraging opportunities for hedgehogs, both for food and for nesting materials.
Alternatively you could leave some hay or shredded newspaper in or near your nesting box.
With hedgehogs being a bit feeble and extra accident prone after hibernation, and gardeners being especially busy, spring is prime time for keeping an extra special eye out for hedgehogs in the garden.
Not only do we need to be careful not to injure hedgehogs as we go about our gardening. We also need to keep an eye out for any hogs that may be sick or injured. Remember, hedgehogs should not usually be out and about in the daytime. So if you see one especially looking dazed or obviously injured, call your nearest rescue centre for expert advice.
Make Your Garden a Hedgehog Haven This Spring
Though spring is certainly a busy and challenging time for hedgehogs it’s easy for us to offer them valuable support in our gardens.
Hedgehog numbers in the UK are still in sharp decline due to the destruction of their natural environment. But with a little care and attention we can help to protect hedgehogs in our gardens and support the recovery of Britain’s favourite mammal.