Tag Archives: European hedgehogs

Birds, hedgehogs and the dark secret of a butterfly

When the drought finally broke here, I realised that the hedgehog food was getting waterlogged and needed to be under cover. A small ramshackle structure was made, with little doorways suitable for hedgehogs to go in and out and they took to it right away. They did make a mess in there, as they tend to wherever they are, but at least their food stayed dry. It didn’t take long for the birds to find this box and the blackbirds, especially the female, began spending large parts of their day in or around it. They had the food the hedgehogs hadn’t eaten, shelter and a large tray of fresh water just outside the door, so they made the most of it. That the box was so near to the front door didn’t seem to bother them at all and I was able to take a few photographs of the female in her new roost.

The female blackbird in her new roost

The weather is still fairly mild and the hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) have yet to hibernate – indeed some are still working to put on the weight they need to see them through till spring – so we are following their lead and still putting food out. I am no longer giving cat food, but crushed suet balls as advised by someone I spoke to from the Wildlife Trusts, who told me that suet balls provide a good fatty boost for hogs needing to gain weight in autumn. Conveniently for the birds, hedgehogs don’t seem to clear the dish and leave a lot of crumbs which the birds then finish up during the day. All that needs doing is to wash the dish and reload it. I’m glad that the box is being used during daylight hours by birds, it makes me smile to see them roosting in there and taking daytime naps.

Hedgehog eating breakfast

Something I’ve realised in the last few months of watching hedgehogs is that they aren’t very bright. One night, we surprised one of the juveniles which has been visiting and rather than run away or curl into a ball, it just stuck its head into the gap in a broken chimney pot and stood there looking silly.

Imagine that silly hedgehog with just its head the gap. Yes, we can still see you!

Coming to butterflies. One surprised me the other day and in a rather distasteful manner (if you’re eating, stop reading now). I was sitting in the sunshine in a wildish area of a large garden, enjoying my lunchtime sandwiches, when a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) alighted in the long grass a couple of metres away, its proboscis uncurling and curling up again. How lovely, I thought, and wondered what it could have found. Late flowering daisies, perhaps? Some remaining dew drops? It was certainly working away at something. Thankfully, by the time had I finished eating and got up to see what it had been doing it had flown away, otherwise I might have been sick there and then. Not a late daisy, nor a drop of dew, but fresh dog shit. Now that I know of this habit, delicious as it may be from their point of view, I can never see Red Admirals as I did previously, nor other butterflies for that matter. They are no longer innocent and beautiful sippers of nectar, they eat faeces.

Not so innocent!

Feeding hungry hedgehogs

At the start of August, we realised that hedgehogs ((Erinaceus europaeus) were living in the courtyard, probably under one of the woodsheds. Karl saw a young one out in the day near a dish of water and thought it must have been looking for a drink. They shouldn’t be out during the day, so action was needed. We started by putting out other sources of water as well as suitable food, cat food in this instance.

The hedgehog family have breakfast together

Please, never, ever put out milk for hedgehogs, they cannot digest it and it makes them ill. There is advice about what to feed them here.

It turned out that we had a family of hedgehogs living right here that we hadn’t known about, a mother and two young ones. Given how hot and dry it’s been this summer, they must have been having a hard time finding enough to eat. There is always water available here, but we had only been feeding birds and not mammals – that had to change.

One of the young hogs has a drink

I have little experience of caring for hedgehogs, but found useful information on The Hedgehog Preservation Society‘s website and on Hedgehog Street. We put food and water near to the house so that we could watch over our guests and check the young ones were growing and that all were getting enough to eat and drink. That started on August 2 and has continued every night since. The hedgehogs arrive one at a time, gather around the dish of food and eat for a good half hour, sometimes longer, going from food to water and back again. Once they’ve had enough, they wander off, one by one, through the flower bed and go under the gap in the gate to explore and, hopefully, find natural food.

When talking to my dad about it all he said we ought to name them, so we have. How do you choose a name for a hedgehog, though? Apart from the mother, we don’t know what sex they are and, in any case, human names didn’t seem quite right so we had to think. Eventually, we decided on descriptive names that relate to behaviours we’ve seen. I feel more comfortable with this – calling them names like George or Susan wouldn’t tell you who was being talked about.

Let’s have some introductions. The first night we saw the mother hedgehog, we inadvertently frightened her and sent her rushing for cover. Her name is Runs Fast. The smallest hedgehog has a tendency to climb into the food dish, so is called Eats in Dish. To start with, the middle hedgehog invariably arrived at the bowl last, so we called it Late for Breakfast. If they change what they’re doing we might pick new names, but we’ll probably stick with the names we chose first.

Runs Fast and Eats in Dish