My Hedgehog Year

I’ve tried to be very dilligent in 2021, keeping my hedgehog records up to date throughout the year, and I’ve really been looking forward to this moment. It’s the end of December, it’s payback time on all that effort and I can analyse a little my Hedgehog year 2021.

Warning. This blog is a little longer than usual but I hope that you’ll enjoy it all the same.

I started the systematic record taking of hedgehog activity in the garden in September 2020. My ‘unscientific’ method has been to maintain a trial camera in the same position in the garden and then to log the number of videos taken with a hedgehog in the frame during the night. The trail camera is motion activated and is set to record for 20 seconds. It’s directed towards a strategic point in the garden which includes the hedgehog feed station and the small fence hole used as a passage into the neighbours garden.

And the results are now in!

The graphic below shows the number of video segments with a hedgehog present per night. For the purposes of comparison I’ve left the results from 2020 on the graph, represented by the blue line.

The peak activity was during the months of March and April, just after hibernation. There is then a fairly constant level of activity, with a slight tendency to decrease as the year progresses towards the next winter hibernation.

There is also one particular huge spike in activity on the 2nd August when over 100 videos were taken in a single night. This was a slight anomaly caused by 2 hedgehogs performing a mating/courtship dance right in front of the camera. It went on for over an hour and generated a lot of recordings, although unfortunately no actually mating. To capture that on camera really would have been remarkable!

March and April were also the months where I recorded the highest peak of activity in the hedgehog feed station. Typically several hedgehogs were present and during the night of 16th March I achieved my personal best with four individuals simultaneously feeding.

Interestingly the hedgehogs are so desperate for food at this time that they have no time to battle each other. This level of sharing is much less common as the year goes on but in these early stages the focus, to the exclusions of other considerations, is to recover condition and gain weight so that breeding can start as soon as possible. Early breeding is important as the new hoglets will in turn have the maximum amount of time to gain weight to prepare for next winters’ hibernation.

It’s a recurrent theme but the driving factor in the Hedgehogs lifecycle is the need and ability to survive the Winter months.

The feed station was in the garden throughout the year and the food that I finally settled on using was dry cat biscuits although I didn’t leave out food every night.

Time for some numbers.

There were 257 nights in 2021 between the end of hibernation in February and the start of the next at the end of October. The first thing to say is that I only have records for 170 nights. There were 87 nights when my camera was not deployed or not working properly, so I have no records to analyse. It is a significant gap but not catastrophic.

Of the 170 nights with records I left out food on 97, that is to say 57%. This was not done for scientific purposes just my own ability, or rather inability, to keep up with the activity.

A rather basic analysis shows that on the nights when food was left out there was an average of 23 hedgehog visits compared to only 14 on the nights without food. This gives the conclusion that the hedgehog activity in the garden, using my recording method, with a camera pointed near the feeding station I hasten to add, is nearly doubled by the presence of food.

I really would say that if you’re interested in attracting hedgehogs to your own garden the most important thing to do is to leave out food, particularly in March and April when the need is greatest.

As an additional note the other important point is to ensure that there are access points into the garden, a small hole in a couple of the boundary fences is ideal. A garden surrounded by four solid walls will not be attracting any hedgehog activity.

However the big success of my hedgehog year has been the hedgehog house. I installed it in May 2020 but it was only in March this year that a Hedgehog finally moved in. In all during the year I had three different hedgehogs stay for varying periods.

  • Hedgehog 1 – 4 days between the 22nd March and the 27th March
  • Hedgehog 2 – 34 days between the 2nd April and the 13th May
  • Hedgehog 3 – 26 days between the 26th August and the 20th September

Of the three, the last hedgehog gave me the best opportunities for filming inside the house as he was a slightly less assiduous nest builder. It enabled me to achieve a small ambition of filming hedgehogs simultaneously in the house and the feed station.

All three of the occupants were Male. I found this surprising as I understood that Males typically roam over a bigger area and also that they were less likely to stick to the same nest site, especially over Summer. I thought that they had a preference to keep moving, building a new and different nest site every night.

I do have a theory that the nesting chamber in the house, which is quite small, may be a factor. Perhaps females, who may be looking for a space to raise a litter, would want something bigger, especially in March and April when they may already be pregnant. I’m currently constructing a new, next generation hedgehog house for the 2022 season with more space and it will be interesting to see if this attracts any females.

When the house was occupied I started to log the detailed movements of the tenant hedgehog, all based on a trail camera I set up outside the entrance. A random example from April, showing the information I was recording, is shown below.

I didn’t really learn a lot from the departure and arrival times which weren’t very remarkable. The hedgehogs obviously spend most of their time asleep inside, especially during the day.

What I did notice, and was able to capture nicely on the external trail camera, was that the hedgehogs often leave the nest for regular cleaning scratches just outside the entrance. This is for hygiene, particularly to try and remove ticks which they tend to pick up.

These ticks attach themselves to the skin of the hedgehogs as they pass through the undergrowth and then gorge themselves on its blood. They start off the size of a seed but then get bigger as the feed on the blood, eventually dropping off.

I noticed that the longer the hedgehogs stayed nesting in the house the more time was being spent outside cleaning and scratching. The tick problem was getting worse. In particular the second hedgehog occupant had a real problem with this and in the end left.

After he’d gone I opened up the house to have a general rummage around and I found lots of fully engorged ticks inside.

It seems like the nest environment was ideal for the ticks and once they moved in, carried by the hedgehog, it became more and more uncomfortable for the occupant to stay.

Generally I found that the trial camera pointed at the entrance was the most useful way to record the activity as, after the first few nights, the nest became so large that it blocked the camera inside the hedgehog house. I’ve learned that a hedgehog nest, which is essentially a ball of leaves with a hedgehog in the middle, is very difficult to film. Birds, by comparison, are much easier as they happily make an uncovered nest directly below the camera lens, bless them for this.

Ultimately, I would love a female to use the hedgehog house to raise a litter but I’m not sure that this is a realistic ambition. A hedgehog needs to be undisturbed during this delicate period and the required level of seclusion may be difficult to obtain in my rather small and quite busy garden. However the new hedgehog house for 2022, which will also include a hopefully improved camera position together with the bigger nest chamber, may create some possibilities.

Although I didn’t witness a female in the hedgehog house I did have the great fortune last year to see a family of young hoglets in the garden. I had a particular wonderful evening during the first week of June watching a family group, when one of the very young, small and inquisitive youngsters even came right up and touched my foot. I assume that they get warier of potential risks as they get older.

I didn’t manage to get a recording of that or indeed of the full family group together. However the video below shows the Adult with one of the hoglets and it does illustrate the size difference between the two.

What can be deduced from this sighting is that as these hoglets we’re out and about during the first week of June they would have been born at the beginning of May at the latest. As the gestation period of a hedgehog is 4-6 weeks they would then probably have been conceived during the last weeks of March.

A female hedgehog will look for a nesting site as soon as it is pregnant. Therefore by the end of March this female in my area, and perhaps others, would have already been looking for a suitable nesting site. Interestingly the first Male moved into my hedgehog house on the 22nd March, more or less the same time. Maybe the competition for nesting sites was hotting up and it was necessary to claim it.

I will also be making a blog of my Garden bird year and for the birds the fact that I introduced two cats into my garden environment during 2021 had a major, and rather negative impact. But it wasn’t a big factor for the Hedgehogs and they have coexisted well with the cats. The biggest problem became the realisation that my hedgehog installations, the house and particularly the feed station were actually not at all cat proof. The smaller of the two cats kept sneaking in to steal the hedgehog food.

So as well as the new improved hedgehog house, 2022 should also see a very cat proof feeding station.

Writing this review of 2021 has made me realise that I’m achieving my objectives. Installing useful and safe spaces in the garden does seem to be offering assistance for the hedgehogs. Then by watching, recording and writing about the activity I’m definitely learning more.

Most importantly I’m really enjoying the experience. And as I still want to keep learning I plan to keep going in 2022.

Of course I intend to keep sharing. Thanks to all those who have read the blogs during the last year and especially a big thanks for all the feedback received, the ‘Likes’ and comments. Please never hesitate to reach out with any comments or suggestions and I finish by wishing you all a healthy and happy 2022.

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