Friday, 8 November 2013

Hedgehog Tales

OK, some of you knew this was coming: it's that time of year again when wildlife lovers like us keep an eye out for visiting hedgehogs and make sure they are big enough to survive hibernation.  Most people who find underweight hedgehogs take them to a rescue centre, but last year our local centre was full, and I ended up looking after two hoglets (Midge and Squidge) over the winter.  It was a steep learning curve, and I was thrilled to successfully release them, happy and healthy, back into the wild in the spring.

Spring was so very late this year that Midge and Squidge didn't come out of hibernation in my shed until mid April, presumably around the same time as the local wild hedgehogs outdoors. Consequently everything was late, and as hedgehogs often have two litters a year I knew there was a high probability of seeing young hoglets born too late in the year to survive again... which was borne out on Sunday evening as I looked up from what I was doing and through the patio doors saw a tiny hedgehog climbing into the bowl of hedgehog food that we always have out in the garden.  I scooped it up, and weighed it... 314g! (To survive hibernation a hedgehog needs to be a minimum of 700g by the end of October, otherwise they will still hibernate in December but their tiny fat reserves won't last and they will die before Spring.)  We called our new baby Hiccup, after the main character in the 'How to Train Your Dragon' book series that Eldest is currently enjoying. Out came the boxes from last year (large Really Useful Boxes with airholes drilled into the lids), and the downstairs loo was once again taken over as a hedgehog rehab unit.  The next day I got a good look at our first guest and established that Hiccup is a 'she', with a lovely personality - she snuggled into my jumper while I was checking her over and seemed quite happy.  She's a messy miss though - trashes her box thoroughly just like Squidge used to... it's a lovely thought that she might be one of Squidge's offspring.


So, one hoglet rescued, and an even higher probability that we would be visited by more 'Autumn Juveniles', as hedgehogs usually have three to four babies in the wild.  Sure enough, on Wednesday evening we spotted and rescued "Hero" - at 304g our smallest ever hedgehog.  Hero is very shy.  I sat holding her quietly in the dark last night after cleaning out her box, but she wouldn't uncurl and let me establish her gender, so I am calling her "she" based on no scientific evidence whatsoever...  I haven't even seen 'her' face yet!

Youngest's picture, "Smallest Hedgehog" (I love his writing)

We left the camera trap out that night and in the morning I was a little concerned to see we'd had another baby visiting at 4.20am!  I really didn't fancy having to get up at that time to go on hedgehog watch, so was very relieved hast night when "Harvest" appeared at 9.30pm, and no further hoglets were caught on the camera trap afterwards (just a cheeky magpie nicking the hedgehog food very early this morning) - here's hoping that's the complete litter as we have no room left in the downstairs loo!  Harvest weighed 351g, and is a proper grump - was storming around the box overturning the food and making a lot of noise - I reckon Harvest is a 'he'!

And while I'm the main carer for obvious reasons (they stink: the boys aren't keen to do the worst of the daily cleaning out), the boys are really excited about helping our new family of hedgehogs. So understandably we've gone all hedgehog-focused for a while.  Not in a "theme/ project" kind of way, asking the boys to write hedgehog poems or doing sums adding hedgehogs etc (as that's usually evidence of parent-led activity, and that's just not the season we're in right now) - but just naturally, day-to-day, as we do what needs to be done.  Yes, the boys are immersed in animal science, particularly Eldest who gets 'hands-on' with me, and helps with the 'cleaner' parts of mucking out, such as lining the cleaned-out boxes with paper, putting food in bowls etc (he also gets to gently handle the hedgehogs) - and they are learning by osmosis about nocturnal animals, hibernation, food chains, parasites, habitats, endangered species etc. They are practicing maths, as we're keeping a weight chart for each hedgehog (and if like last year I have to medicate them, those will need to be measured out too). They are using English skills, as we think of names (words that begin with 'H' that are not too obvious (such as Hedgie) and are suitable for either sex), and make up bedtime stories to tell each other with hedgehogs as the main characters.  They are learning compassion and consideration, as for the first few days after we rescue a new baby we do try to keep quiet (well, as quiet as the boys get) about the house while the hoglets acclimatise - and the boys now have to go upstairs if they need the loo, which none of them have complained about at all.  They have been inspired to get "Arty" and draw LOTS of hedgehog pictures...

 "Hedgehog Eating a Worm" by Eldest

"Hedgehog Hero" by Middle (I just LOVE it)

It's all just such a fantastic learning experience, without any effort to "teach" whatsoever!  We're all just sharing knowledge and increasing our understanding as we go.  And that's not even why we're doing it.  We're doing it because we love animals, and it's just something little that we can do without too much trouble to protect an endangered species in our own back garden. Eldest wants to be a conservationist when he's older - and what could be better than starting right now?


  1. Fabulous! What a wonderful learning experience for you all, and how lucky are those little hedgehogs to have you looking out for them.
    PS. We love the Hiccup books too, and have just finished the latest one!

    1. Thanks Rachel - great books, aren't they? Eldest is devouring them! More hedgehog updates coming soon... ;)