During the Spring months hedgehogs begin to wake up and emerge from their hibernation. Typically, hedgehogs wake up from late March through to May and during this time our spikey friends are very vulnerable, any may appear wobbly and confused making them easier prey for larger animals and also more likely to get themselves into all sorts of trouble.
We humans can also cause a great deal of harm to hedgehogs in the Spring; just as the hedgehogs are coming back into our gardens, so are we – with mowers, strimmers, forks and all manner of other equipment which can seriously injure or kill a hedgehog – this is a time to be especially careful when we are tidying piles of leaves and cutting back long grass etc… We can’t stress enough how important it is to be mindful of all garden wildlife when working in your garden.
This wobbliness we have mentioned is due to the energy used in “rousing” from a months long sleep and the generally grogginess we all feel when we first wake up; it can take the little guys between a few hours and a few days to wake up fully. At this time our hedgehogs will also be very hungry and thirsty, having used up all of their reserves over the long winter months so it’s a great idea to put out fresh water every day and some food for them. They just love a bit of meaty cat food in jelly, cat biscuits, or there are various different hedgehog food out there you can buy.
If during late winter and early Spring the weather has a warmer snap, hedgehogs can become confused and come out of hibernation early. If you see any out and about during such a warm snap it is important to make sure they have access to food and water every day, as their naturally foraged food may not be around for them to find – your kindness may be their only chance of survival.
Whilst you won’t be able to tell from simply watching these little ones potter around your garden, it is the males who wake up first. Hedgehogs in the South of the UK also wake up before those in the North simply because it is warmer in the South.
Now why, you might well ask, do the males wake up first? Well, the answer is so they can get themselves in tip top shape to impress the ladies once they also wake up. Aside from a good meal, the only thing on their mind is to start mating. Although hedgehogs generally don’t fight even when their territories overlap (they tend to just avoid one another), they will fight over the ladies if two males “fancy” the same lady.
Hedgehogs do not live in a family structure; once they have mated a male hedgehog will move on and have nothing more to do with the female and would not recognise his offspring as being his if he later came across them on his travels. A male hedgehog may mate with more than one female a night throughout the mating season (which tends to be from April – June, however this period may very well be extended if the Spring and Autumn are mild).
Once a female is pregnant she will want to make a nest for her and her hoglets to live in once they are born. The female and the hoglets will live in this nest for 4-6 weeks while the female raises them. When looking for materials to make her nest, the female will use whatever is available to her whether it be natural materials like leaves and sticks, or rubbish left by humans. Obviously it is risky for mother and babies to live in nests made from the rubbish humans leave lying around and we should do all we can to help with this. Leave things in your garden that the mothers can use; leaves and cut grass, sticks, even let an area overgrow and put in a safe hedgehog house or two that nesting mothers can use. Or create areas of cover and safety that can be used. Put food and water in these areas and remove any potential hazards.
Female hedgehogs are remarkable in that if the weather, food sources or other conditions are not safe for her to give birth, she can delay this to give herself and her hoglets the very best chance of survival.