It is already the beginning of March and the hedgehog admissions have started. It is a difficult time for hedgehogs- we are still having frosts and there is little natural food about but some hedgehogs especially those that went into hibernation early may be waking and others will be affected by gardening work.
A very recent twitter feed from BBC Wildlife Magazine promted me to write a few lines.
The twitter feed ran "Everything you need to know about hedgehog emergence" with a link to this article.
(Post my writing this BBC Wildlife Magazine have informed us via Twitter that "it's an adaptation of a 60-second expert column in our March issue")
While I am pleased that BBC Publishing and PTES are working to get information out there and I respect both organisations the tweet headline is very misleading and the few lines on the page sadly totally miss the important information about hedgehogs emerging post hibernation.
This is the information that I feel is important to anyone wishing to help hedgehogs at this time of year.
Throughout March and April we will see hedgehogs start to come out of hibernation. During hibernation a hedgehog will reduce its hearbeat from 190 beats a minute to a barely detectable 20 beats per minute. Breathing slows to one breath every few minutes and it's body temperature drops from around 35°C, to 10°C. The hedgehog will feel cold to the touch and to all intents and purposes will look dead. It however isn't, it has reduced body function to a bare minimun to allow it to use as little energy as possible to survive the winter months. However it is imperative that the core temperature does not drop below 1°C as frostbite can occur or the hedgehog can freeze solid.
In extreme low temperatures brown fat reserves are brought into play in order to wake the hedgehog from hibernation so frost bite doesn't occur and in extreme and prolonged very cold temperatures prompting the hedgehog to move and find a much more insulated nest.
By the time March arrives fat reserves are running very low and this prompts hedgehogs to start coming out of hibernation. A hedgehog will have lost around one third of its body weight during hibernation.
For example Dan above (a resident wild but totally blind hedgehog at Willows) went into hibernation in the wildlife garden at over 900grams. He woke in late February at just over 550grams, very slow and lethargic and extremely wobbly.
When hedgehogs wake after hibernation and such drastic weight loss they initially wake very disorientated and weak, they appear drunk being very wobbly on their feet. At this point we have observed that the hedgehogs first priority is water not food so it is very important to ensure that there is ice free water in your garden all year round. (Remember extreme low temperatures can cause a hedgehog to wake in the middle of winter).
This first couple of days is a time of danger for the newly awake hedgehog. We have many recently emerged hedgehogs admitted to the rescue for simply getting themselves into trouble because they are so weak and disorientated. So water is a must and as soon as there is any sign of hedgehog activity please make sure that there is food available for them. It is also important to just check your garden and remove any stored clutter that may pose a threat to a weak and disorientated hedgehog.
Back to Dan who woke from hibernation just under two weeks ago now- with food left out in the garden he is now back up to just under 800grams from his 550gram waking weight and around 100grams under his pre-hibernation weight.
Human Hedgehog Hibernation Dangers
The last two weeks (late Feb and first week of March) have already seen a number of hedgehogs admitted after their hibernation nests were destroyed (The hedgehogs themselves still in hibernation).
March and April are awful months in the world of hedgehog rescue. We will admit many hedgehogs with soft tissue injuries from strimmers and garden forks, factured bones from spades and forks. (Simply check last years early admissions if you need proof) The injuries are often horrific with operations needed and long periods of rehabilitation. A number of the admissions will be put to sleep straight away due to the extent of the injuries. Sad, when you think that the animal has managed to survive the rigours of winter lowering its metabolism to near death in order to survive only to be seriously injured by human activity.
It is easy to avoid most of these situations.
- Check before you clear, cut back or carry out work on any shrubs or bushes.
- Check first before putting a spade or fork into the compost heap.
- Check under sheds or any structures in the garden before removing them if you are replacing them- hedgehogs like to nest in that gap under garden sheds and patio decking.
- Check before you mow or strim the grass.
Check with a torch, a gloved hand, your boot or gently with a stick. Gently poking and tapping a hedgehog may slightly annoy it but it will mean that you don't injure or possibly kill it.
Please take the time to make your garden more hedgehog and wildlife friendly there is lots of info from organisations on the internet or check out our Pledges for Hedgies page.
Please note the hedgehog 'Dan' in the photos is a wild but totally blind hedgehog. Hedgehogs should not be out in daylight- if you spot one in daylight please contact a rescue straight away.
Charlie co-Founder/Manager Willows Hedgehog Rescue
Willows Hedgehog Rescue is a large experienced hedgehog rescue covering the county of Worcestershire and areas of South Birmingham.
Please note that although we occasionaly work alongside various organisations that we are not affiliated with the BBC, BBC publishing, PTES.