Prickly characters

Hedgehogs are a rarer and rarer sight in our gardens, but our volunteer, David Merry, is lucky enough to have a whole family visiting his wildlife garden! Read all about their antics.

It’s become routine to see hedgehogs in the garden, but just to prove the ordinary can turn into the extraordinary, an infant hoglet arrived. Hedgehogs can have a litter of four to five hoglets, but sadly the young are very vulnerable and many don’t make it. After about eight weeks hoglets will go out foraging with their mother, and after only ten days they will start to fend for themselves. Hoglets face a tough and dangerous life, living in a green space within an urban landscape, as their homes are becoming more and more fragmented.

We had been so worried about the mother, who had abandoned our hedgehog house in the last stages of pregnancy. We were alarmed to see the mother hog in the late afternoons, walking low to the ground, moving slowly and appearing rather lethargic. This went on for weeks until her visits to the garden grew shorter and more irregular. Her appearance and behaviour became so alarming that we phoned a hedgehog recuse centre for advice. Luckily, their diagnosis was that she was heavily pregnant and close to giving birth!

A hedgehog walking through our volunteer David Merry's garden in daylight

David Merry

Following their advice, we started putting hedgehog food out in the early afternoon, and water was always available to help her through this critical time. It was a huge relief to eventually see the mother and hoglet together! However, this was tinged with sadness that only one hoglet had survived.

When we started using our trail camera in June we quickly realised there were more hedgehogs visiting our little garden than we had first thought. We knew of the larger, older hedgehog that spent half the winter hibernating in our hog house; and of course the younger female with her hoglet. Then we discovered a smaller courting male, and a now fourth hog. We’ve also started recognising distinguishing marks on the hedgehogs. The new mother has three marks on her back, the male is slightly smaller than the females, and after one encounter, his genitalia could be clearly seen.

The larger, older female hedgehog dominates the others and has aggressively attacked the young mother, pushing her violently away from the feeding dishes. On one occasion the smaller female balled up for protection, and the little male will always back away from this bigger hog. But, she does seem to tolerate the little male and the hoglet.

On another occasion the bigger hedgehog, after some momentary hissing, allowed the newly independent hoglet to eat her food. The fourth hedgehog has a stripe on its side - could this be another male?

Hedgehogs caught feeding on volunteer David Merry's trail camera

David Merry

In using the trail camera, we found that the hedgehogs enter and leave the garden by the front gate. By watching the hogs at dawn, we have come to the conclusion that they are nesting in impenetrable brambles and bindweed on neighbouring land.

Recently we’ve heard reports from neighbours that hedgehogs have been seen eating cat food in their gardens, and two young, excited children had a very close encounter with a balled-up hog. It did manage a speedy exit I am glad to say.

The little male is now fully engaged in wooing, or should I say pushing the new mother into motherhood again; we have caught this courtship on camera. I have also seen them in the early morning circling each other on the neighbouring playing field. ‘Hedgehogs know one big thing’ that time is not for wasting when the summers moon is shining, and there is new life to begin.

We are now addicted to these prickly characters and will keep watching to see what happens next.