Summer is the time of year when you are most likely to actually see hedgehogs in your garden. Though they are nocturnal creatures, nights are so short in the summer months and hedgehogs have so much to do, that it’s not unusual to spot a healthy hedgehog out and about in the daylight. In this article, we are going to look at how to help hedgehogs in summer, what they might be doing and what challenges they face at this time of year.
Hedgehogs In Summer – What are They Up To?
The summer months are an extremely busy time of year for our hedgehogs. Let’s take a look at what might be going on in your garden.
Unlike many other animals, hedgehogs don’t have a specific fertile period. If they are awake (not hibernating) they can and do mate.
How do hedgehogs mate? Carefully – is the comical but serious answer. Aristotle believed that hedgehogs mated standing up, face to face. This theory was believed to be true for many centuries.
But in fact, hedgehogs mate in the same way as many other mammals with the male mounting the female from the rear. Just in the case of hedgehogs, the female has to be 100% happy with the situation, arching her back and laying her spines flat, to avoid injury to the male.
It can take some time for the female to get in the mood, The courtship process involves the male circling the female and can go on for up to an hour. It’s a noisy business and something that you might well hear on summer evenings.
May to June is peak mating season, mating can start as early as April and continue right up until September. A large number of hedgehogs will have two litters during the year.
With mating comes fighting. This is another of the hedgehog sounds you may well hear in your garden during the summer months.
Hedgehogs are pretty promiscuous and both males and flames will mate with up to 12 different partners, sometimes 2 on the same night.
Females are much less aggressive and will rarely fight one another, but they will sometimes see off unwanted advances from a male. Or shoo away a hoglet who won’t leave home.
Fighting between hedgehogs looks viscous. There is grunting, clicking, head butting and biting, They will often try to flip one another over. But it’s rare for hedgehogs to seriously injure one another so there is no need to humans to break up a hedgehog fight.
Nest Building and Pregnancy
Once the mating is done a female will be pregnant for around 32 days before giving birth.
During this time, as well as feeding herself so she is in good condition for nursing and raising her hoglets, the female’s main task is to build a nursery nest.
During the summer days, male hedgehogs aren’t too fussy where they sleep. They may grace you with a visit to your hedgehog house if you are lucky. Otherwise, they will construct very temporary nests, often only used for one or two nights, from leaves and grass. In very hot weather they may not even bother to build a nest at all, just lying up in the cool long grass during the daytime.
Females on the other hand need a permanent home for the summer to give birth and raise their hoglets
So females will build a large and solid nursery nest, using grass, twigs, leaves and moss. They’ll also use all sorts of human litter, plastic bags, newspaper and old socks included.
The nursery nest isn’t as well insulated as a hibernaculum, it doesn’t need to be for the summer months, but it can be bigger to accommodate a mother and 4 or 5 baby hedgehogs.
Building the nursery nest is hard work and takes time. Females will often have to carry on work in daylight hours and if you’re lucky enough to spot a hedgehog out in the daytime carrying a mouthful of leaves, it’s probably a nesting female.
Raising a Family
Though hedgehogs are usually pregnant for around 32 days they are one of the few animals who can delay giving birth if conditions aren’t right. A scarcity of food for example, or a sudden cold snap.
When the female does give birth 4 or 5 hoglets is an average litter size. Hoglets are born blind and tiny, only weighing around 25 grams each.
They will spend around six weeks with the mother. Firstly in the nest being suckled, then being fed morsels of food by the female. And gradually progressing to supervised foraging as a family group.
Foraging trips and family outings are another reason why we might see healthy hedgehogs out and about during the long summer days.
Feeding and Growing
For both adults and juvenile hedgehogs, the summer is a key time to feed and grow.
Baby hedgehogs look pretty much like miniature adults by 4 weeks old, but in fact, they are far from fully developed. They will not have developed the muscles they need to fully curl into a ball until they are around 3 months old. Until then they’re very vulnerable to predators.
And they won’t reach sexual maturity and be ready to mate until they have survived their first winter.
Adults too are highly focussed on feeding to gain weight and energy Whilst females may still be facing the challenges of breeding and raising young, males hedgehogs hibernate as early as mid-September. So for them, summer is a time to gain sufficient weight to survive the winter.
What Challenges Do Hedgehogs Face In the Summer?
Although we make think everything in the garden is rosy for hedgehogs during the summer months that’s not always the case. Wild hedgehogs face a daunting array of challenges during the summer months.
Finding A Mate
Hedgehogs in the UK are in trouble, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society reports regularly on the decline in numbers.
There are many reasons for this situation and challenges in finding mates is just one of them.
As human development has increased over the years hedgehogs freedom to roam has become restricted.
Breeding populations are now fragmented by roads, railways walls and fences. So finding a mate is getting ever more difficult for hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs are insectivores and as the summer is peak bug time in most of our gardens you would think hedgehogs would have plenty of natural food, right?
Sadly this is no longer the case. With the sharp decline in insect numbers even in summer, it can be difficult for hedgehogs to find enough to eat.
Man-made barriers in their natural habitat make feeding more difficult too. A hedgehog typically needs to roan around a mile each night to find the food she needs. With roads, walls and fences in the way, this is more and more difficult.
We’re experiencing more and more heatwaves in the UK and whilst some of us humans may welcome the hot sunshine it can be a problem for hedgehogs.
It’s not that hedgehogs can’t take the heat. There are species of hedgehog all over the world including Africa. In very hot weather some species have evolved to go into a state called estivation, a partial system shut down very similar to hibernation, which allows them to conserve resources until the worst of the weather has passed.
But European hedgehogs in the UK don’t estivate and consequently, in heat waves, many arrive at rescue centres suffering from dehydration: they just can’t get a drink anywhere.
Food can be equally difficult to come by in a heatwave as the ground bakes hard and grubs and worms become impossible to dig out.
Just as summer heatwaves are becoming a regular event in the UK so are summer floods. And just as floods can wreak havoc on human homes in their path so too with hedgehog nests.
Though male hedgehogs may well be able to get themselves out of the way of rising floodwaters things aren’t so simple for a mother nursing young hogs. She may be able to save her litter by moving them, but it won’t be an easy task.
Though hedgehogs are known as the gardeners’ friend it’s not always a two-way relationship. Many of us help hedgehogs in the garden. But an unwary gardener can cause a whole host of problems for our prickly friends in summer.
Slug pellets can poison hedgehogs, strimmers, lawnmowers or a careless fork in the compost heap can injure them and they can so easily become trapped in netting or a badly designed garden pond.
Our gardens can be a sanctuary for hedgehogs in summer, but without proper thought, they can be a death-trap too.
How To Help Hedgehogs In Summer
So now we know what a busy and challenging time summer is for our hedgehogs, what can we do to help?
Food Glorious Food!
With a busy schedule, families to rear and scarcity of natural food, we need to offer supplementary food to hedgehogs in the summer.
Dog food, cat food, specialist hedgehog food – wet or dry will all be good. It can be best to avoid fish flavoured cat food or “muesli” type specialist hedgehog food.
If you want to feed hedgehogs but not the local cats, then serving dinner in a feeding station will help to ensure the food gets to the right diners.
Share a Drink
Hedgehogs need fresh water and in summer that can be really difficult to find.
A shallow dish of fresh water left close to your feeding station will be very welcome. They will drink it, paddle in it and quite possibly poo in too. So it’s going to need regular changing.
All wildlife benefits from water, so why not leave a few dishes around the garden?
And remember, always leave out water, never milk, despite the myths, hedgehogs are lactose intolerant.
Give Me Shelter
As we’ve seen male hogs may not much care where they bed down for the day during the summer. But for females, a secure nursing nest is a must.
Suitable sites can be hard to find so providing a hedgehog house or nesting box can make all the difference.
Take a look at our guide to choosing a hedgehog house here.
Whether you provide a hedgehog house or not leaving areas of your garden a little overgrown and messy will provide nesting materials and a place for daytime naps.
Room To Roam
Hedgehogs must be able to wander in the summer months to find food and mates.
Help them by making a hedgehog highway – get the neighbours to make one too.
Don’t worry, it’s not an HS2 size construction project, read our guide here.
Watch Out For Hedgehogs In the Daytime
The summer is a busy time for hedgehogs and an exciting time for hedgehog lovers. Because it’s the time of year we stand the best chance of actually seeing a healthy hog – or even a whole family – during daylight hours.
Though hedgehogs are nocturnal it’s not unheard of to see a female or even a family out in the daylight during the summer.
According to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, if these hogs are moving purposefully there should be nothing to worry about and you can just enjoy the rare sight.
But not all hedgehogs out in the day will be well, so pay close attention if you see one and be prepared to step in if you decide it needs help. Healthy hedgehogs don’t “sunbathe” or stagger around looking drunk.
Our full guide on what to do about a hedgehog out in the daytime is here.
It’s exciting if you think you have a nesting mother in your garden. The urge to take a peek at what’s going on in the nest can be almost overwhelming.
Resist! A nesting mother who is disturbed and feels under threat may feel the need to move her hoglets.
This can be a risky business but it’s also a best-case scenario. If she doesn’t feel able to move her hoglets the mother may abandon them or even eat them.
So if you have a nest in your garden please please leave it in peace.
Garden With Care
In the spring and summer rescue centres are inundated with hedgehogs suffering from garden injuries.
So please garden with care.
- Check long grass and undergrowth before you mow or strim.
- Take care turning your compost heap.
- Check garden netting regularly for hedgehogs or birds that might be trapped.
- Avoid using slug pellets and other pesticides.
- Be sure your pond has a wildlife escape route, and check each morning anyway.
Thanks For Reading
Summer is a busy time for hedgehogs. They have so much to do that even healthy hogs may be out and about during daylight hours. The summer months are full of challenges, some of them natural and others man-made.
But with a little thought and care our gardens can be a hedgehog haven in the summertime and we can do so much to help them survive and thrive.
We hope you’ve found this article an interesting read. Do you have questions or suggestions? We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below.