How To Help Hedgehogs In Autumn | Preparing for Hibernation

For most of the hedgehogs in our gardens preparing to hibernate is the focus of their activity over the autumn months. Hibernation is a crucial but dangerous part of the hedgehog year. And what happens in autumn is critical in determining whether our hogs make it through to next spring. So this week we’re looking at how to help hedgehogs in autumn.

What Are Hedgehogs Doing in Autumn?

To understand how to help hedgehogs during the autumn months we first need to take a look at what they might be doing. And there’s a lot going on!

Eating!

Foraging for food and eating is always a big part of the hedgehog’s routine, but in autumn eating becomes more important than ever. 

An adult hedgehog needs around 130 calories per day to maintain her weight. That equates to bout 75 grams of food. This is well over 10% of body weight for an average hedgehog. 

Invertebrates are a key part of the diet and studies have shown that an adult hog can eat over 100 in one night. Hedgehogs love bugs!

But this is just the amount of eating needed for a hog to maintain his weight. In autumn hedgehogs are aiming to gain weight to see them through hibernation. 

Although hibernation is a mechanism for conserving energy during the winter months, hedgehogs still need to have good energy reserves, in the form of fat, stored up in order to hibernate successfully. 

There is much debate about exactly how much a hedgehog should weigh before going into hibernation, but at least 500 grams is an absolute minimum. 

Hibernation nests are built with care and attention to detail. They have to be, they need to be warm and dry enough to keep a hibernating hog safe all winter.  Click To Tweet

For most hedgehogs, this means putting a real focus on eating to put on as much weight as possible before going into hibernation. 

Studies have shown that hedgehogs, especially juveniles, can extract more calories from food in autumn than they can at other times of the year. 

This certainly helps, but there is still a need for hedgehogs to find more food each night during autumn And as the weather grows colder and invertebrates and other favourite foods, start to disappear this can become more and more difficult. 

Nest Building

Hedgehogs use daytime nests to nap in throughout the summer. But the nests that they hibernate in – hibernacula – are are much more elaborate affair. 

Hibernation nests are built with care and attention to detail. They have to be, they need to be warm and dry enough to keep a hibernating hog safe all winter. 

Hibernacula are built with layer upon layer of leaves, pressed flat by the hog circling inside them. The finished walls are almost like lamination, with the closely packed layers of leaves forming walls at least 4 inches thick. Overall the nest will be 18 inches to 3 feet across, circular in shape with a short, narrow entrance tunnel. 

Hedgehogs look for quiet, dry nesting sites in tree roots, old rabbit holes, under decking or even in your garden shed!

Having Babies

Although hedgehogs are known for breeding and having young in early summer up to 80% of females will also have a second litter much later in the year. 

Late litters can be born any time from August to November. 

Knowing what we do about how much a hedgehog needs to weigh in order to hibernate successfully it’s easy to see that late litters present a challenge for both mother and babies. Hoglets weigh just a few grams at birth and must get up to over a pound in weight in just a few short weeks if they are to survive the winter. 

And mothers, who could be busy feeding themselves up for hibernation, are spending time and energy rearing young instead. 

It’s tempting to look at late litters and see them as some sort of an evolutionary design fault. But when we look in a little more detail we can see that there may be good reasons why hedgehogs continue to have late litters. 

Hibernating?

When hedgehogs hibernate has always been very variable depending on the individual, the location and weather. 

Males, who don’t get involved in late litters after the act of mating, can focus on fattening up during the late summer and typically hibernate much earlier than females. They may even be out for the count by late September. 

Hedgehogs in the north typically go into hibernation several weeks before those in the south. And a mild autumn, where food remains abundant for longer, will see hibernation delayed. 

Even so, late October and November in the UK traditionally saw most hedgehogs tucked up for the winter. 

Global warming has changed all that and as any rescuer will tell you, hedgehogs are hibernating later and later each year, with some seeming to stay active all winter. 

Is this a problem? Maybe, maybe not. Hedgehogs don’t biologically need to hibernate like we need to sleep. If there is enough food around they can do just fine without hibernation, even in pretty chilly circumstances. 

In New Zealand’s North Island, hedgehogs imported from the UK over 100 years ago and living in the wild don’t hibernate. They live significantly longer than UK hogs, meaning each individual gets the opportunity to produce more offspring. 

This is just part of the reason why, hedgehogs endangered in the UK, are now considered a pest in New Zealand where they are not a native species.

So maybe we’ll see some hedgehogs going into hibernation during the autumn months, but it’s increasingly likely to be December or even January before they bed down for the winter. But maybe having a shorter hibernation, or not hibernating at all isn’t such bad news for the UK’s hedgehog population.

How To Help Hedgehogs in Autumn

From taking a look at what hedgehogs are doing in autumn we can start to see what we might be able to do to help.

Stock Up On Hedgehog Food

It’s rare to find an overweight hedgehog, so almost all of our hogs will be eating more to bulk up for hibernation. And as the foods that make up their natural diet become more scarce, the need for us to provide extra food increases.

If the hedgehog food you leave out each night is disappearing now is the time to add a little more. Keep upping the quantity until you find you are getting some left in the mornings, then start to decrease. 

I prefer dry hedgehog food for the summer months, but as the days and nights get cooler wet or dry is fine. Or of course, you could go for meaty dog food or cat food. 

Don’t forget to leave out fresh water, in a heavy shallow bowl, too. 

For our full guide on what to feed hedgehogs and what foods are best avoided, check out this article. 

Provide a Hedgehog House for Hibernation

Building a good hibernation nest takes practice and it’s easy to spot the efforts of young hogs going into their first winter. These nests won’t win any prizes and often won’t do a fantastic job of keeping a young hog safe and dry for the winter. 

This is why young hogs often take advantage of hedgehog houses – they provide a secure framework for building a winter nest. 

So if you don’t have a hedgehog house, now is a good time to buy or build one. And if you already have one, maybe another wouldn’t hurt? Hedgehog houses provide hedgehogs with a safe place to hibernate or raise a family. They’re a good thing to have around the garden. 

Add Some Nesting Materials

Leaves are a key nest building material for hedgehogs. This means that if you have trees in your garden you now have the perfect excuse not to do too much leaf-raking this autumn!

If your garden doesn’t have trees help hedgehogs by taking a sack to a local park or woods and gathering up fallen leaves for nesting. It’s a fun October half term activity. 

help hedgehogs

You could leave a pile of leaves by your hedgehog house as a gentle hint. You could put some inside but don’t be offended if your hog drags them all out again. Gathering nesting materials and building the nest from scratch is an important part of the hibernation process. 

Don’t Cut Back

Our gardens can look especially bedraggled and messy as autumn advances and more and more plants go over. 

It’s traditional to cut back and clear up at this time of year. But for wildlife including hedgehogs, this is a bad idea. 

Even dead and dying plants offer a home and food for invertebrates, which in turn are the main food for our hedgehogs. 

So for the sake of the wildlife, try to cut back as little as possible until new growth starts to appear in the garden in spring. If you can, leave things to go a bit wild. 

Weigh Hedgehogs In Your Garden

We’ve discussed how important it is for hedgehogs to be carrying a good amount of fat when they go into hibernation. So if you have hedgehogs in your garden autumn is the time to pop them on the scales and check how they are doing, if you get a chance. 

Using a pair of gardening gloves or a towel, it’s easy to scoop up a hedgehog and pop him or her on the scales. It won’t worry the hog, and as long as you are suitably protected from prickles, it won’t hurt you. 

You can read our guide on what is a healthy weight for a hedgehog here. But as a rough rule of thumb, a hedgehog weighing less than 500gms will not survive hibernation. 

Hedgehogs tend to start to hibernate when nighttime temperatures regularly fall below 5c. 

So if you have underweight hedgehogs in your garden when temperatures start to drop contact your local rescue centre or the British Hedgehog Preservation Society who will advise you on the best way to help. 

Watch Out For Autumn Juveniles and Injured Hedgehogs

When hedgehogs hibernate they need to be at a good weight and in good physical condition to stand the best chance of making it through to the spring.

An injured hedgehog or hog that is sick will very likely not make it through hibernation. In the interests of hedgehog conservation, these hogs should be taken to a vet or local rescue centre. 

Likewise with autumn juveniles. Any baby hedgehogs born in September or later will really struggle to put on the weight they need for the winter hibernation. Read our guide to helping autumn juveniles here. 

Take Care When Gardening

Leaf piles, log piles, the compost heap, bonfires, garden sheds and long grass are all favourite hedgehog hangouts. Though so many of us are keen to help hedgehogs and attract hedgehogs to our gardens, still many hedgehogs perish every year in gardening related accidents.  

If’s easily done, a balled-up hedgehog is very well camouflaged in the colours of an autumn garden. So please, to protect hedgehogs and other wildlife, take extra care when gardening at this time of year. 

Thanks for Reading

Hedgehog numbers in the UK are in steep decline and our prickly friends need all the help they can get. At any time of year, our gardens are playing a more and more important part in hedgehog conservation, by providing that kind of hedgehog friendly habitat that’s becoming increasingly scarce in the countryside. 

But in autumn the help we give by providing food and keeping a close eye on the health and size of visiting hedgehogs is absolutely crucial in helping more individuals make it through the winter and on to the next breeding season. So let’s keep up the good work!

Thanks for reading, we hope you’ve enjoyed this post and found it useful. If you have questions or suggestions we would love to hear them. Leave us a comment below. 

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18 Responses

  1. Thank you again for another great read. This is my first year of feeding & filming the hedgehogs in my garden. I have learnt such a lot from this site. I have noticed one is taking the leaves we have left near the house we bought early summer. The night-time camera is catching some great footage.

  2. This information was excellent. I have a caravan in Scotland and a hedgehog that comes every night at about 8.30. We feed it about 5 mealworms and some wet chicken cat food and water. We have cleaned the house out. I read that hay can be put in the house is this advised as we bought a bag ready as we go home at the end of October. Is there anything that I can leave in the house for it to eat.
    Thank you for this information.

    1. Hi Patsy,

      Hay is fine, but like the leaves I mentioned, don’t be too upset if the hedgehog throws the whole lot out and starts again.

      don’t leave food in the house if you want the hedgehog to hibernate in there. they don’t take food into their hibernation nests as it can attract preditors.

      Best of luck!

      Clare

    2. Please don’t feed mealworms to hedgehogs they, along with sunflower seed and peanuts can cause metabolic bone disease. Google it 🙂

      1. Calciworms are now recommended- but in smaller quantities than I remember our rescue used to suggest with the mealworms.Have to agree about sunflower seeds from advice around now ,but unfortunately if feeding birds -especially attempts to avoid feeders by scattered seeds is very difficult especially in wildlife gardens (not easy to brush up !).I have a young hog and suspect he’s been caught across the top spikeswith a (strimmed?) blade but only saw this after enlarged picture – been feeding well since it arrived (after November 5th(!) suspect the areas around the bonfire areas were cleared rather randomly 🤬. He’s looking good currently but needs to keep eating – arriving around mid morning and dusk.

  3. I had a mum and baby hedgehog last year but havent seen sight of them this year at all I even installed a hedgehog hotel but as yet nothing , will l be lucky if they come back into my garden again l did manage to get them through the winter last year then they disappeared

  4. Dear Clare
    I love your articles and each time forward them onto my twitter and facebook accounts – please spread the word in NW London Hedgehog social media pages. For some reason recent articles you have written have been blocked on my pages – stating the content is offensive.
    Have you had this problem and how can I rectify this as I want to share your knowledge and excellent information
    Kind regards
    Dr. Stephen Barabas

  5. Great read, thank you! We have a hog that has moved into the feeding station at the top of our garden, it’s a large plastic, lidded container that I cut an opening in but he has filled it with grass and hay and sleeps there in the day. Do you think he will stay for winter? Should I try and cover it further? He’s very active, has taken a liking to trying to climb my daughters slide, he never gets far but he can be on it for hours at night. Is this normal?

    1. Oh my!

      Hedgehog climbing the slide, this I would love to see! I wouldn’t describe it as normal behaviour, but it doesn’t sound as though it’s doing him any harm.

      It sounds like he could be thinking of hibernating in your feeding station. So you could try adding a little extra cover in the daytime, slowly and gently so as not to disturb him.

      Best of luck!

      Clare

  6. Fabulous advice.
    We had hedgehogs in our garden for years then one year they disappeared, so happy that we have them back.
    I have made a feeding station as we have a lot of cats in the area, l was so happy to see 3 hedgehogs in there.

  7. Thanks for the reply Clare, I ended up buying one of your recommended houses which I’ve put next to the plastic one he’s currently in. I’ve put a load of leaves and hay next to it so hopefully he gets the hint. We can have up to 5 other hogs come in our garden, we have another feeding station at the other end of the garden but over the last 2 weeks have come down in the morning to some blood in it, no sign of the injured hog so I am hoping it’s not serious, just arguing over food.
    Am I able to post video anywhere? I would love to show our hog on the slide.

  8. Hi Clare

    Help. I have 3Preadator proof hedgehog houses (2 of which I am still putting food in and they are still eating) and a Greenfeathers Eco Friendly hedgehog house. I also bought some bags of Pillow Wood Meadow hay and a bag of Eco Nest. One of the hedgehogs is sleeping under the garden shed next to one of the feeding stations. I would like to provide somewhere for the hogs to hibernate. Should I put hay and Eco Nest bedding and leaves next to the 3rd Predator proof house or would you suggest something else? Would they use the Greenfeathers house to hibernate in?

    Ruth

  9. In September I saw a hedgehog in my garden. I bought some dry cat food and started to feed it. On the 17th October, two baby hoglets were eating the food so I then realised that the adult was a mum! I decided to mix the cat food with Spike’s hedgehog food – enough for three and all three were happy. I bought two cloches, putting them opposite each with a covering to keep the food from getting soggy in the rain. I also put cat deterrents aound the garden to stop them coming into the garden but something was getting to the food as I found one of the three dishes out on the grass, So I decided to buy a large clear plastic box and my neighbour cut an opening for an entrance/exit. It was a success and all three were in and out during the evenng and night. I managed to weigh mum On Wednesday 17th November I managed to weigh mum. She weighed 595g so on her way to a good weight before hibernation. However, when I managed to weigh the hoglets, one was 237g and the other 229g. I decided after that to only feed them Spike’s to ensure they were getting everything they needed and it was fine. They were always first in the feeding station in the evening and the last to feed before daylight. I thought that, with the food disappearing, the hoglets were eating enough. However, I haven’t seen the hoglets for two days now. Last night there was no sign of them when they usually arrive, nor an hour later up until 8.30pm. Then I heard ‘munching’ coming from the box, had a look and saw mum with one very big hedgehog that took up a lot of room in the box! Maybe the male she mated with? After eating they both headed to the nesting area so it wasn’t just a ‘Come dine with me’ hedgehog that went its separate way! I saw it in the box three times more until I last looked at 11 o’clock. It’s certainly making the most of the free food. But my concern now is what’s happened to the hoglets? I can’t look into the nesting area as it’s under a large phormium bush with lots of brambles. This morning I cleaned the feeding station, put fresh food and water inside and put it out just in case the hoglets came out during the day, which they shouldn’t I know, but no sign. I fear the worst possible thing has happened. Any suggestions?

    1. You are doing the best you possibly can for them Lesley. Nut all autumn juveniles – which it sounds like your hoglets are – will make it through the winter. But with supplementary food available everyone stands a better chance.
      If you come across hoglets that size again in November I would suggest you phone your local rescue and have a chat. They will know what’s best to do, based on your local weather conditions.

      Kind Regards

      Clare

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