The French have a delightful expression: ‘Il pleut comme une vache qui pisse,’ which perfectly describes the conditions of a July day earlier this year, when our dog was in the garden barking dementedly at a small pile of leaves. He’s not very keen on heavy rain and was oblivious to all calls to come inside. Annoyed, I risked a soaking by venturing out to drag him in. The small pile turned out to be a baby hedgehog, ridiculously cute and no bigger than the palm of my hand. Of course, I picked him (her?) up and brought him inside. I put him in a cardboard box, on top of a hot water bottle covered with a tea towel, and immediately googled for advice on feeding and for hedgehog rescue centres. I posted about my find on nextdoor, and advice immediately began to flood in.
‘Wait and see’ was a common thread. ‘The mother might come back.’ But in the meantime, my mum had found another hoglet in the same exposed spot. Hedgehogs do not wander around in daylight unless there is something seriously amiss. When I went to look for more, a third was emerging from the cotoneaster bush where they had obviously been nesting. I couldn’t in all conscience leave them unprotected outside in such a deluge. Also, a couple of people posted that they’d seen a squashed hedgehog on the road through our village. Maybe that sad little fatality was our hoglets’ mum.
It was very unlucky that we found them late on a Saturday, as we couldn’t get hold of kitten milk, the only safe food to give orphaned hoglets their size. Apparently cat or dog food is ok for adults, but can result in organ failure if given to babies that aren’t weaned. As soon as I could, I took them to a lady named Jane in Wellesbourne, who has around ten orphans/invalids at any one time. She is a volunteer for Warwickshire Hedgehog Rescue and she identified two as male and one as female.
The first thing she did astonished me. She picked up one of the male hoglets and checked him for fly strike. He had a lesion on the side of his head, where flies had burrowed beneath the skin to lay eggs. The mothers protect their babies from the flies, and these poor creatures had been horribly exposed. Jane removed the maggots with tweezers and sterilised the area. The other little male had the same problem. Fortunately, the female had been spared. The two with fly strike both died within a day of arriving at Jane’s. Nature really is red in tooth and claw. Our little girl was put into an incubator (a big fluffy warm sock) with another orphan female, who was considerably bigger.
I agreed to collect our girl when she was big enough to be independent. We picked her up a couple of weeks ago. She’s named Squeaky and is now a colossal 800g. She has been released into our garden and is now fending for herself, assisted by a generous portion of Purina kitten food that we put out for her every night. She is very farouche and keeps herself to herself, but every now and then we spot her bumbling around happily in the undergrowth. I hope she stays, but she’s free to go if she pleases. Here’s a picture of her:
We have at least one other hog who has also become a regular nocturnal customer. He’s enormous, and is a lot of fun to spy on. He’s a very noisy and enthusiastic feeder, and when the time is right, I hope he and Squeaky take to one another.
Please consider our prickly pals (sorry!) this winter. Often, second litters are born towards the end of the summer, and if the babies don’t reach at least 500g, they lack the brown fat required to hibernate and will die of exposure or lack of food. The mums hibernate and leave the babies to their fate. We have two feeding stations in our garden and will be looking out for orphaned babies come hibernation time. If you find an orphan or an invalid, please take them straight to a certified rescuer or a rescue centre. You can buy hedgehog food from most pet stores, and they also like Purina dried kitten food.
If you’d like to find out more about Britain’s favourite mammal, please read Sarah Sands delightful book, The Hedgehog Diaries.
We’ve never encouraged hedgehogs before, as we live next to a very busy road. However, they have chosen us, so we have made them as welcome as possible.