Monday, 12 November 2007

Hedgehog Juvenile visit

Last night was a very cold night in my garden and worryingly it had to be the first night we saw a juvenile hedgehog! It was spotted heading for the sultanas I leave out for any visiting hedgehogs but was startled and ran at speed into the garden. That would have been okay if it had kept on going but it didn’t. Our outside light was on and we could see it very clearly – I ran for my camera!




The photo above
shows our visiting juvenile sitting slightly under an ornamental grass in my border. There wasn’t much cover or warmth for it there. We watched - it didn’t move. I moved the grass back to see how small it was – it didn’t move. I touched it – yep it didn’t move! I had expected it to be very prickly and go into a ball - but it didn’t. I took a couple of photos (with flash) – it didn’t move.

I am very aware from wildlife forums, websites and the News that there are lots more juveniles this year and that if our juvenile was under 600g it would not be able to survive hibernation. So okay, how do you tell by just looking at a hedgehog juvenile, for the first time, if it is too small? Well, if you are one of the many Carers’ of hedgehogs you may have a good idea – but we didn’t. However, we couldn’t leave it there without finding out if it was too small. We had to find out its weight. It was nearly 11pm and we were all cold outside too.

Gardening gloves were called for, kitchen scales and kitchen roll! I have no experience in handling animals (no cats or dogs) except since March when my daughter got two guinea pigs for her birthday. Okay, guinea pigs and hedgehogs are roughly the same shape – I could do this. I put my gardening gloves on and picked up the young hedgehog and guess what – it still didn’t move. I could see it gently breathing and although it wasn’t in a ball it was curled up slightly so we could only see a bit of its nose and two feet!

The kitchen scales were now on the ground. I carefully laid it down on the scales on its side – it didn’t move. The scales read 430g and we knew this was not heavy enough for winter hibernation. Sorry, never thought to photograph it on the scales - we were concerned now. I picked it up – it still didn’t move. What should I do with it now? It was too late to phone a Carer. If you are reading this with some experience of this I would welcome comments – you can do this anonymously or if you prefer you could email me.

Should I have returned the hedgehog to where I lifted it? It found its way to the sultanas it could perhaps find its way back to its nest. Perhaps it has time to put on weight before hibernation – I didn’t know the answer to that.

Should I have put it in a covered box with leaves and shredded paper and place it in my shed or garage for the night? I didn’t like that idea as perhaps the family would come looking for it. Perhaps I would disorientate it doing this and it wouldn’t find its nest the next day.

Should I have put it in the small carrying case for our guinea pigs with straw and paper? I could then have taken it to a Carer or Rescue Centre the next day. Perhaps it was sick – I had no way of knowing.




What did I do? Well, none of the above. If you are a regular visitor to my blog then you will know I built a hedgehog house recently. I carried the hedgehog to the path that leads to this house and laid it amongst the leaves there, which you can see in the photo above.

I scattered some sultanas around the ground near the entrance. My thinking was that if it needed shelter for a while, or indeed the night, it could go into my house – but it could also leave and find its way to its own nest. I am guessing it will be able to find its way from my garden pond which is near the usual supply of sultanas. I have a small amount of running water at my pond so I would guess that with its better hearing than sight the hedgehog would easily find its way to the pond.

So, I haven’t intervened this time – was that the right thing to do? I was very aware that even at 11pm the leaves were crunching underfoot with the cold of the night. For the next hour I regularly checked, with a torch, the young hedgehog to see if it moved at all. I also set up my video camera to see what it did – if anything! Guess what – it finally moved and I caught this on film.


Young hedghog out in November, video 1:03 with background music, try 480p quality.

I captured a lovely piece of film, which you can see above, with the hedgehog turning round and heading for the sultanas! I would normally be absolutely delighted with a piece of film like this but it just highlights the plight of these small animals and their survival at this time of year. This morning saw the ground very frosty in this area – it was -1.5 deg C at 8.45pm.

Today at lunchtime I checked out our hedgehog house, with my video camera at the entrance, and found it to be empty. I also noticed that the entrance of the plastic box had narrowed with the weight of the grass turf above. I altered the entrance once again – you can see the before and after photos below. That should do it now.

As I looked at the large stone on the left of the entrance to this path I am now thinking it could perhaps be a good place to put sultanas too. Hedgehogs are supposed to be good climbers so I don’t expect this stone would be too much of a challenge to them!






Finally, I phoned my nearest Wildlife Centre tonight just before 5.30pm, when they close, to ask if I had done the right thing with our juvenile hedgehog last night. I felt happier after speaking to them.

As expected 430g is too small for our hedgehog to survive hibernation. I was advised to continue feeding the hedgehogs but if I saw one out during the day I should take it to the Wildlife Centre. Also if we had a number of very cold nights and a young, under 600g, hedgehog was seen at night I again should lift it and take it to the Wildlife Centre.

When I asked if last night’s hedgehog had time to put on enough weight, I was told that it is possible but it is the weather that is most likely to determine that. If we get it milder again the hedgehog will go back to foraging and could be okay.

Update November 15th: Through comments on this post and concerns myself over what I should have done with our juvenile I contacted the British Hedgehog Preservation Society today. I spoke initially on the phone and shortly after received the mail below after this post was read. I would like to thank Fay for her quick response and advice and I hope this also helps anyone else who has been in the same position. The area where my video was taken was uneven. My email read:

"Having looked at the blog pics and videos, it is a really tough call to make. The minimum a hedgehog in the wild can hibernate successfully at is 450gms so he isn't far off it. I think the 600gms comes from the weight they can be released at after being in care as they initially lose weight on release. If he looks and eats well and is just out at night I would be inclined to leave him where he is for now, but act at the first sign or trouble.

"Wobbling is a classic sign of hypothermia (they walk as if they are drunk) and I'm not sure from the video clip if he is wobbling or if it's just that the ground is uneven? Do keep an eye on that as it is something small hedgehogs commonly suffer from and if he is hypothermic he will need help. Lethargy is another symptom so it could be that's why he was so still for so long?

"To answer your other question, hedgehogs are very solitary and don't generally live in family groups (except Mum and babies for first 8 weeks of babies lives). This one at that weight shouldn't have a family group.

"I hope this helps, but if you, or anyone else needs more guidance please call for advice or see our website at www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk

Thanks, Fay Vass, Chief Executive, British Hedgehog Preservation Society.


The video shown above and first two photos were taken in my garden on November 11th, 2007. The last two photos were taken in my garden on November 12th, 2007.

9 comments:

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Shirl, what an exciting find in your garden. The poor little dear is lucky to have found your garden.
I think you did the right thing. Hopefully eating all your sultanas will beef it up for the winter hibernation.

What is a sultana?? I have seen you mention this before. I am not acquainted with this food.

shirl said...

Hi there, Lisa :-)

Gosh, you were quick to see this post! It was an exciting find - I still can't believe I picked it up and it didn't try to run away like the guinea pigs can do :-)

Thanks, I don't want to step in unless I have to. I too hope it will beef up - and quickly too in case the weather stays cold :-(

A sultana is a dried fruit not unlike a raisin. It is larger than a raisin, softer and lighter in colour - more brown than black.

Vanillalotus said...

Wow what an exciting night. I would have been frighten if I hadn't seen the hedgehog move through all that handling. I hope the little ones will survive.

Jan said...

Sorry Shirl, you did ask for opinions, you should have gone for the option of putting it in the guinea pig carrier and taking it to a carer the next day. It wouldn't have stayed in your box. If you see it again, please capture it and take it to be looked after. The chances of it getting up to weight to survive this late in the year are very low now. I guess you know about the hedgehog forum, all the addresses of carers are on there, or of course the Wildlife centre you mention. You did your best I know, sadly not many people know what to do, I didn't either until a couple of years ago. They desperately need our help though now. Did you see Autumn watch last week? They showed a small one then and told people to get them to carers.

shirl said...

Vanillalotus – It was an exciting but nervous night not knowing what was going to happen! I expected the hedgehog could react like one of our guinea pigs so I was ready for it to move. What I would have done if it did – I hope I wouldn’t have dropped it :-D

Jan – Don’t be sorry, I wanted help with this one. I did ask for opinions as if I did do the wrong thing I wanted to share this. I did see Autumnwatch but I understood that if a hog was found out in the day, or at night during a very cold spell, that was when we should pick it up and take it to a rescue centre. It was a cold night when we saw our Juvenile but we have had it a lot colder and the next night was milder. I have continued to put food out and I have looked for it since and will lift it or others should I see them. I do understand if we get a cold spell it could die but perhaps someone else will find it and take it to the rescue centre. I know I am not the only one putting out food for them in my area. I understand that they really need our help to survive but I do still have issues in removing them from their family unit – should they be in one. Don’t worry though, if I see one now I will it. Thanks for your feedback, Jan :-)

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Shirl - it's so hard to know what is the right thing to do (especially at 11 p.m.). I probably would also have put it back in the garden in a protected spot. But now that you've gotten expert advice, you'll know what to do next time. Hedgehogs are so cute.

shirl said...

Hi again, Mr McGregor's Daughter :-)

Thanks, it was a hard decision. I now know more signs to look for and won't hesitate to lift one next time :-D

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Thanks for this most informative post on hedgehogs Shirl. I didn't realise that they like sultana's so much. Yesterday I saw a black bird eating dry cat food. Are we living in a crazy world or what? ;-)

BTW I hope that this young hedgehog will make it through the winter. It won't be for want of help because you're doing everything you can!

shirl said...

Hi again, Yolanda :-)

Thanks, I hope it helps others in the same situation :-)

Yep, it is definitely the sultanas that hedgehogs like in my garden but they are also partial to a peanut or two! Blackbirds try anything in my garden – dried hedgehog food, dried dog food, grated cheese (put out for the wrens) and most recently the apples from my obelisk – oh yes and they fight over the sultanas! I too hope the young hedgehog survives :-D