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.
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.