Hedgehogs ‘born free’!

Wild hedgehog
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It has been a very busy few weeks as the over-wintered hedgehogs are returned to the wild. I’ve released 38 so far since the start of Spring!

It has been late releasing them this year due to the cold night time temperatures until May. It has to be 5 degrees or above at night for at least 5 days in a row after release for them to be able to go. If it is too cold and frosty, there wont be enough insects around for them to eat.

Where possible, the hedgehogs are returned to where they came from. They will remember the area and the food sources and nest sites. Sometimes this isn’t possible though if the area has dangers – for example, if a hedgehog has been attacked by a dog in the garden or if it was found in a pond. I have strict criteria for new sites.

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Derek was found in early Spring struggling after hibernation. He had a high worm burden and ringworm.

To give them the best start back in the wild, the hedgehogs are all supported for at least the first few weeks. They are provided with food and water daily and they are given nest boxes filled with hay to give them shelter whilst they seek their own homes.

It is a bittersweet time because they have been cared for over winter for many months and I will miss them deeply but it is what hedgehog rescue is all about – getting them back to the wild to play their part in maintaining the wild population. Keeping them too long can cause them to get stressed, particularly males so, as soon as they are fit and well and the temperatures are okay, they are off!

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Autumn was found out in daylight – which 99% of the time means there is a problem. She had a wound, was missing an eye and had a high roundworm burden.

People often ask me if rehabilitation is successful. Well, I mark them all with a tiny bit of nail varnish which should last at least 12 months. So far, not a single hedgehog has come back to me poorly. Beyond the 12 months though is unknown….

Good luck out there hedgehogs!

I run a hedgehog hospital in York – to support my work please visit Little Silver Hedgehog jewellery

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How to sex a hedgehog

male wild hedgehog
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Is my visiting hedgehog a girl or a boy? I’m often asked this question. The challenge of working it out often leads to many just being called ‘Spike’, which I guess works for either…..

There are a few ways you can tell what sex your hedgehog is. The first does depend on the hedgehog being cooperative and uncurling for you. You could also pop it into a see-through box so that you can take a sneaky look from underneath.

A male hedgehog has a large ‘belly-button’ about halfway up its tummy. This isn’t really a belly button but is actually his penile sheath. You can see this clearly in the pic below.

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Alex with his manhood proudly on display

You can tell a female hedgehog because her vulva is directly above her anus. You can see this in the pic below. Although it looks as if she has a protruding part, you will see that there is no gap between it and her anus. If she were a boy, she would have a ‘belly button’ like Alex a couple of cm up in the area of belly that you can see exposed and a gap between that and the anus.

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Female hedgehog

Another way of identifying the sex of your visiting hedgehogs is to observe their behavior. If you aren’t able to catch your visiting hedgehogs physically ‘in the act’ (which makes it very clear which is which!), you are more likely to see hedgehog courtship behaviour. You will certainly hear it! The male will chase and circle the female. The female will be the one being circled around and making the ‘huffing’ sound. This brilliant film featuring David Attenborough shows you everything you need to know and more!

 

Many people wonder if male and female hedgehogs can be identified by their size. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible because there are so many other factors influencing the size of a hedgehog including age, nutrition and whether females are pregnant. Like humans, some hedgehogs will naturally be smaller or larger than others and some will eat more or less than others!

Good luck and do let me know how you get on!

2015 – A spike in admissions

European hedgehog hoglet
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Hoggy New Year! A huge thank you to everyone that has supported me on my journey and my third year of hedgehog rescue. This is a quick look back on Little Silver Hedgehog during 2015 and a look forward to the year ahead.

We started 2015 with 13 hedgehogs being over-wintered from 2014. Spring saw them successfully released back to the wild including my special boy, Max. He was found in Winter 2014 severely underweight and not eating. He was hand fed and given fluids all over Christmas including Christmas Day and lived in our spare bedroom to ensure he was warm. What a brilliant Christmas present when he turned a corner and started to thrive!

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Max

The rest of the year brought in almost 70 hedgehogs – a huge spike in admissions on 2014 as awareness of Little Silver Hedgehog has grown and the public has become more knowledgeable of the plight facing our prickly pals.

Spring saw an influx of orphans including Fred and Ginger who had rolled out of their nest and down a steep bank. The bank was so overgrown it was impossible to find their nest again. ‘Peeping’ for their mum alerted the finder to their plight and they were luckily rescued. And baby Iggy who was found in a car park with no sign of his mum, severely dehydrated.

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Fred and Ginger

Late Summer and Autumn and still they kept arriving. Many in Summer 2014 arrived with multiple internal parasites – roundworm, lungworm and fluke, on top of severe dehydration and starvation. A contrast to 2013 when most arrived with only one internal parasite. Cold, wet weather struck just as baby hedgehogs were emerging on their first foraging trips and food sources dwindled. We suffered a number of tragic losses – our worst since opening in 2012.

But there were also happy stories. Two babies, Spike and Fuzzypeg, whose nest had been attacked and had been left for days in the hot weather on their own on a lawn, survived. A miracle given that fly eggs had hatched on Spike and got inside his ear. They were the smallest orphans I have raised at only 66g and 70g.

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Fuzzypeg, who arrived at only 66g

I learned a lot last year, including how to hand feed orphaned hoglets and to help them go to the toilet as well as how to remove maggots from ears – gross!

Hedgehogs kept coming right through December and we currently have 27 in care here or out with with foster carers. It’s a busy start to 2016!

Wildlife rescues are entirely self-funded and, with even more mouths to feed and medicines to buy, fundraising has been more important than ever. I am indebted to the many people who have donated food, equipment and money to help us keep going.

The handmade jewellery I create to raise funds also went from strength to strength in 2015 www.littlesilverhedgehog.etsy.com. I introduced new wildlife designs and created a new Little Silver Hedgehog logo, working with a local York illustrator. I wrote a leaflet to accompany each order to help spread the word about how people can help hedgehogs.

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Little Silver Hedgehog logo and jewellery

There is much to look forward to in 2016. I’m planning to increase the number of talks I give to help raise awareness of how people can help hedgehogs. My network of foster carers play a vital role over-wintering hedgehogs once they are fit and well and I’d like to expand and grow the army of volunteers I’ll need to help even more hedgehogs. I hope to find more time to be creative and create even more jewellery to help raise vital funds.

I hope 2016 is a happy and healthy one for hedgehogs but somehow I think we’ll be busier than ever….

Feeding garden hedgehogs

Hedgehogs feeding in the garden
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Hedgehog numbers are declining at an alarming rate, with there thought to be less than a million now left in the wild. Supplementary feeding is crucial to help them survive.

What do hedgehogs eat?

It is a myth that hedgehogs solely or mainly eat slugs. Whilst they do occasionally like to get their teeth into a juicy fat slug, they mainly eat insects, including beetles and caterpillars. Hedgehogs are also opportunistic and will eat a wide range of other foods including birds’ eggs and small dead animals like mice.

Too many slugs, snails and earthworms are bad for them as they carry lungworm and roundworm which, in large numbers, can cause hedgehogs to become very poorly and die.

One of the best things you can do to help hedgehogs find their favourite food sources is to grow a wide variety of shrubs and plants to attract insects. Also provide plenty of piles of old logs and other hidey holes for beetles.

Providing extra food and water helps to keep hedgehogs fit and healthy and to put on weight for hibernation. It also stops them resorting to worms and slugs. Supplementary feeding is particularly important in the Spring as hedgehogs are emerging hungry from hibernation and in the Autumn to help them get up to weight for Winter. Leave out a shallow bowl of water year round.

NEVER feed hedgehogs bread and milk. They are lactose intolerant and it can make them very ill.

Suitable hedgehog foods include:

  • Meaty cat or dog food (they don’t like fish flavours)
  • Cat or kitten biscuits
  • Specialist hedgehog food e.g. Spike’s or Ark Wildlife

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Watching hedgehogs feeding is a popular pass time for all members of our family, including our cat Alfie!

Silver jewellery supporting my hedgehog hospital