The hedgehog year
During January most hedgehogs should be hibernating and although they may wake for short periods of time during their hibernation, it is unlikely that they will choose to move unless they have been disturbed or the weather has turned extremely mild. Some underweight hedgehogs may venture out from their nest during mild weather to find food and water. Hedgehogs lose around a third of their body weight during hibernation, if they were underweight when they started they will need to keep topping up or they will die before the Spring arrives.
Much the same as January with hedgehogs remaining in their hibernacula (hibernation nest) as their natural food is still not available – should you see a hedgehog out and about during February, especially during the day, it’s highly likely to be in need of food and water.
Hedgehogs will now start to emerge from hibernation extremely thirsty and hungry, having lost around a third of their body weight, food and water are the priorities. With their natural food still scarce due to the slowly rising temperatures – now is the time to provide a shallow dish of chicken-based cat/dog food, along with a shallow dish of water during the evening to help them prepare for the breeding season.
Most hedgehogs are now active and still building up the body fat lost over the winter. They will be searching for suitable nesting sites (as well as potential mates) and we can continue to help them by providing supplementary foods as well as artificial habitats where a more natural option is unavailable. Matings occur in this month, especially in late-April. Birth sites include flower-beds, underneath hedges, underneath sheds, in unused rabbit burrows, in compost heaps and even in bags of rubbish that have been left unattended – ALWAYS CHECK. The pregnant female makes a nest of dry leaves, grass, moss or anything else she finds.
The mating season now begins in earnest. The female is circled by the male, until she accepts him. The snuffling and grunting you hear is her telling him what she thinks of him! He plays no other part in raising a family.
About four weeks after getting pregnant, the female gives birth to a litter of up to 6 or 7 hoglets, and whilst they are too small to leave the nest, Mum goes out foraging during the evening and returning to feed her young. Putting out food and water can help Mum get the energy she needs to raise her family.
Once the young hedgehogs reach three to four weeks old they begin to accompany their mother on her foraging trips, quickly learning what is good to eat but still returning to the nest to suckle their mother’s milk as well.
Now the youngsters become independent of their mother and wander off on their own adventures. As hedgehogs live solitary lives, they are unlikely to encounter their siblings again. August is the peak month for the number of road kills as independent youngsters seek new gardens.
Mature females may have mated for a second time and thus repeating the events of the last couple of months, however, with their natural diet becoming scarcer in the autumn, late litters will struggle to gain the fat reserves necessary for hibernation and may require human intervention for survival. Small Autumn orphans may start to appear.
As the colder weather takes hold, mature hedgehogs will continue to feed as much as possible and begin building their nests in preparation for their winter hibernation. Hedgehogs need to be at least 600g to survive hibernation.
November – December
Most hedgehogs will have begun to hibernate during November and will normally remain in this state until March of the following year. During mild winters hedgehogs may remain active late into December
With changes in weather noticeable in recent years, many wild animals naturally adjust their behaviour accordingly. delaying hibernation or breeding to the rhythm of the seasons.