Poo glorious hedgehog poo!

Hedgehog poo
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Hedgehog poo

Hedgehog poo – the morning after the night before!

Many people get excited about the first signs of Spring – daffodils raising their sunny heads and delicate snowdrops swaying in the breeze…. But for me, poo is the most exciting sign of Spring….

Hedgehogs are nocturnal and, unless you plan to spend endless hours camped out by your patio doors or invest in a wildlife camera, you are more likely to see hedgehog excrement than the creature that left it.

Hedgehogs emerge from hibernation any time from March onwards and the sign of fresh black droppings on the lawn is a wonderful sign that my spiky friends have emerged safely from their deep sleep. The ‘poo calendar’ reminds me that it is time to leave out fresh water and food every day to help my prickly guests.

Top tip: If you want to know if you have a hedgehog visitor, go on a poo hunt around your garden!

Healthy hedgehog droppings are black or dark brown in colour, solid and usually oval or tapered. They can be up to 5cm long. Stools also provide a vital insight into the hedgehog diet. Hedgehog poo will often ‘glisten’ due to being packed with the remains of invertebrates, such as beetle wings and other body parts. Contrary to popular belief, hedgehogs don’t just eat slugs. Beetles are their favourite foods and eating too many slugs can actually be bad for them as they are an intermediate host for lungworm. This horrid parasite can cause weight loss, breathing problems and ultimately death.

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Top tip: Help your hedgehogs to have lovely healthy shiny black poo by packing your garden with native plants and log piles to attract beetles. There more plants the better!

Wildlife gardening

Flowers in my wildlife garden

Hedgehog poo is also a vital indicator of health in other ways. Green slimy poo can be a sign that a hedgehog is poorly and in need of rescue, so keep a close eye on your hedgehogs if you see any dodgy poo around your feeding stations.

Hedgehog rescuers like myself also love looking at poo under the microscope. Parasites can be identified under the microscope that can then be treated, with the most common being lungworm (from slugs) and roundworm (from earthworms). Bacterial infections can also be identified. Studying poo is one of my favourite passtimes…

Looking at hedgehog poo through the microscope

Studying poo under the microscope

Roundworm in hedgehog poo under microsope credit Whitby Wildlife Rescue

Roundworm eggs under the microscope: courtesy Whitby Wildlife Rescue

Lungworm in hedgehog poo under microscope credit Whitby Wildlife Rescue

Lungworm under the microscope: courtesy Whitby Wildlife Rescue

So, poo glorious poo, my favourite sign of Spring!

I’d love to know when you spot the first hedgehog poo in your garden….

My hedgehog rescue is entirely self-funded. To support my rescue work please visit www.littlesilverhedgehog.etsy.com

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Build a hedgehog feeding station

Hedgehogs feeding in garden
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Want to feed hedgehogs but not your neighbourhood cats? A hedgehog feeding station may well be the answer. It also helps to keep the food and the hedgehog dry when it is raining. Hedgehogs aren’t keen on rain!

There are lots of options for feeding stations. You can buy a ready made one, I use a wooden hedgehog house (see header pic) or you can also build your own very cheaply from a plastic box. Please remember that a feeding station should only be used for food – don’t mix dinner with bed and breakfast. Use a separate hedgehog box to provide a house.

You will need:

  • A plastic storage box with a lid. A minimum of 12″ wide by 18″ (but can be bigger)
  • A stanley knife or strong scissors to cut the hole
  • Measuring tape to measure the size of the hole
  • Strong tape to cover the cut edges of the hole
  • A brick
  • Small but heavy ceramic bowls for food

Building the box

  • Decide whether you want to have the box with the lid on or whether you want to turn the box upside down with the lid underneath.
  • Carefully cut out a hole around 4.5″ square.
  • Tape up the edges of the hole – they may be jagged
  • Line the box with newspaper
  • Put the food at the far end of the box
  • Place a brick on top to help prevent the lid being taken off by a fox/cat
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Feeding station lined with newspaper. Pic courtesy http://www.thehedgehog.co.uk

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Place a brick on top of the box. Pic courtesy http://www.thehedgehog.co.uk

Check the box daily and change the newspaper when it gets dirty. Wash the food bowls regularly to keep them clean.

You can also decrease the risk of cats getting into the feeding station by placing the entrance up against a fence or wall with only a hedgehog sized gap behind it….

If you want to check that your visitor is, in fact, a hedgehog, you can place a non-toxic ink pad at the entrance followed by a white paper lining. You should then be able to spot hedgehog footprints made by the ink….

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Hedgehog footprints. Pic courtesy http://www.hedgehogstreet.org

For suggestions of what food to put in your feeding station please read my blog.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York. I make silver jewellery to raise funds to support my work.

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Top plants for your hedgehog haven

Wildlife gardening
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Help hedgehogs thrive in your garden with this guide to plants that are great for our spiky friends. Contrary to popular belief, hedgehogs don’t mainly eat slugs. Their favourite foods are beetles and caterpillars. Growing plants to attract insects is therefore one of the best things you can do to help hedgehogs. Plus, you’ll help bees too!

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A garden full of plants looks beautiful and also provides a haven for insects – a hedgehog’s favourite food

As well as providing food and shelter for insects, plants also provide shelter for hedgehogs to forage and nest underneath. The more ground cover the better! Don’t be too tidy – when plants die back in the Winter, keep the remains on the ground to provide Winter hidey holes for insects. Don’t forget fences and walls – cover them with climbing plants and ivy.

Any native plants are good but here are a few plant ideas to get you started.

Wildflowers

  • Field Scabious
  • Ox-eye Daisy
  • Meadow Cranesbill
  • Red Campion
  • Common Knapweed
  • Wild White Clover

TIP: Many garden centres now offer native wildflowers as plug plants or you can grow them from seed.

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Scabious attracts bees and hoverflies

Wild corner of garden for wildlife

A wild corner left long and featuring Red Campion, Knapweed and Clover

Hedging

Hedges provide a great habitat for a wealth of wildlife including nesting sites and berries for birds. They also provide free access for hedgehogs between gardens, unlike walls and fences. Native species are best:

  • Beech
  • Field maple
  • Hawthorn
  • Geulder Rose
  • Berberis (not native but its flowers are great for insects and its berries for birds)
  • Hazel

Shrubs

  • Alder Buckthorn
  • Goat Willow
  • Dogwood
  • Buddleia
  • Pyracantha
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Buddleia in flower is a magnet for butterflies and other insects

Good luck with your planting and please share your pictures!

Please read my blog for more tips for hedgehog friendly gardening.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York and I am also a keen gardener. All the photos are from my own garden. My work is entirely self-funded. To support my work, please visit www.littlesilverhedgehog.etsy.com

 

Build a hedgehog house

Hedgehog house
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Give your prickly garden visitor a helping hand by creating this sturdy des-res. It will make a cosy Winter hibernation home or a snug Summer nest.

This design was made by my husband Joe. Every hedgehog rescuer needs a DIY expert to support them. There is always something that needs building or mending in the hedgehog hospital!

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Joe building the hedgehog house

Every rehabilitated hedgehog that is released from my rescue is provided with one of these houses to help them settle into their new home. Some will remain living in them but others will continue their search for the perfect ‘natural’ residence – they can be fussy creatures! You can always use it as a feeding station if no-one makes it their permanent home….

The entrance tunnel helps to keep out predators as well as wind and rain.

You will need:

  • A DIY guru who can translate the diagram into reality – ESSENTIAL!
  • Exterior grade plywood or OSBC board (untreated)
  • Wooden battens
  • Screws
  • Wood glue
  • Hinges (for lid)
  • Roofing felt (optional)
  • Fence paint (for exterior)

Plan and dimensions

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Plan and dimensions for the hedgehog house

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The completed house before the exterior is painted. Drill some air holes at the top of the side walls to help aid ventilation

Hay-presto!

Once you’ve built the house, don’t treat the wood with anything nasty like creosote – these can be toxic to hedgehogs. You can paint the exterior with fence paint to prolong its life. Drill some ventilation holes towards the top of the side walls.

Fill the house with some hay as a ‘new home’ gift for your spiky visitor. You can also place some piles of hay around your garden underneath something to keep it dry and then they can add more to their nest whenever they like.

Siting your hedgehog house

Follow these tips to site your hedgehog house and increase your chances of a prickly resident.

  • Face the entrance away from the prevailing weather.
  • Place it in a quiet area that is unlikely to be disturbed.
  • Insulate the house and provide extra protection from the weather by covering it with branches/twigs/leaves.
  • Don’t treat the wood with strong chemicals like creosote.
  • Clean it out in Spring after the hibernation period and before nesting begins (late April).
  • Don’t line it with newspaper as this tends to go soggy.

Good luck and please share your photos when you’ve completed your project.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York. You can support my work at http://www.littlesilverhedgehog.etsy.com

 

 

Hibernating hedgehog

hibernating hedgehog
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How can you tell if a hedgehog is hibernating? This is a question I am frequently asked by my foster carers, a network of special people who support me with looking after rehabilitated hedgehogs over the Winter period. These hedgehogs missed the deadline for release before the weather turned cold and, if they are well enough and heavy enough (absolute minimum of 650g), they will be allowed to hibernate in captivity.

Hibernation is not like sleeping. The hedgehog won’t be roused by touch or by noise. Hibernation is a state of torpor, where the core body temperature has dropped, the heart rate and breathing have slowed right down and normal activity has stopped. A hibernating hedgehog will be completely rolled up into a tight ball with no face visible.

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Lucky, a hibernating hedgehog, just before his weight check

You can tell that the hedgehog is hibernating and not dead by the fact that it will ‘ripple’ when touched very gently. It may also emit a little ‘snore’!

Video of a hibernating hedgehog

Please don’t read this post and think you should go around disturbing the hibernating wild hedgehogs in your garden to check on them. I only check on these hedgehogs during hibernation because they have been poorly. Weight checks every few weeks will alert me to any potential problems and they can be woken up again if they have lost too much weight. I use a special calculator from a wildlife rescue to assess whether their weight loss in hibernation is acceptable or not. Waking up a hibernating hedgehog is also a specialist task, so please do not try this yourself.

The best advice is not to disturb a hedgehog in hibernation. Take care when gardening in Winter. Don’t be tempted to tidy up piles of leaves or logs – they may be home to a hibernating hedgehog. If you do disturb one, cover it back up straight away – unless there is a chance that you have caused injury e.g. with a fork. In that case, you must take it straight to a hedgehog rescue.

Hibernation is also not a continuous state. Hedgehogs will wake up during periods of milder weather for a quick snack or sometimes even to move their hibernaculum if the warmer spell lasts for a few days. I always leave out a bowl of water in the garden and a little food year round to help hedgehogs that have briefly woken from hibernation.

With a little luck, hedgehogs that were healthy when they hibernated will wake in the Spring. The exact timing depends upon the temperature and can be as early as March or as late as May. They will emerge hungry so Spring is a great time to put out hedgehog feeders and make sure that you can give them a hearty breakfast when they emerge….

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England, you can support my work at www.littlesilverhedgehog.etsy.com

Hedgehog friendly gardening

Feeding garden hedgehogs
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The sound of a hedgehog snuffling round your garden has got to be one of nature’s most glorious delights but hedgehog numbers have dwindled in recent decades with habitat loss and human activity thought to be the biggest causes. There are now believed to be less than a million wild hedgehogs left in the UK, with gardens providing a vital stronghold.

Here are a few simple tips to help the spiky residents in your garden.

Before you start, get down on your hands and knees and think like a hedgehog! Take a good look around your garden from this new perspective. How easy is it to get between gardens? Are there any good hidey holes? What hazards are there at ground level?

Tip 1 – Make a hedgehog highway! Hedgehogs need access to lots of gardens to find enough food and to find a mate. They can travel up to 2 miles a night. Please provide a gap at least 5” square within or underneath wooden/wire fences to enable them to travel between neighbouring gardens.

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A hedgehog hole linking my garden with my neighbour’s garden

 

Tip 2 – Provide a wild corner in your garden and don’t be too tidy – keep piles of leaves, logs and branches. These provide homes for insects (a hedgehog’s favourite food) and are also great hibernation sites.

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I’ve turned a gap under a disused BBQ into a hedgehog house full of dried leaves and twigs. Great for insects and hedgehogs!

Tip 3 – Check before you use a strimmer on areas of long grass or fork over a compost heap – they may be home to a hedgehog.

Tip 4 – Avoid using pesticides, slug pellets and herbicides. These can all make hedgehogs very poorly and even cause death. My garden flourishes beautifully without them.

Tip 5 – Provide an escape route from ponds. Hedgehogs can swim but they will soon get tired and drown if they cannot find an easy escape route.

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A corner of my garden left wild for hedgehogs to forage in

Tip 6 – Keep netting at least a foot off the ground. Hedgehogs can get trapped in it.

Tip 7 – Avoid dismantling sheds during the summer nesting period. Hedgehogs often make their nests under sheds.

Tip 8 – Leave out food and water. If you feed them, they will come! Here’s some advice on what to feed them.

10543594_832420926795609_648555195443977511_oTip 9 – Check for hedgehogs before you light a bonfire and ideally move the wood pile to a completely different spot on the day of the bonfire. Wood piles are ideal homes for hedgehogs.

Tip 10 – Cover drain holes and keep rubbish tidied away. Hedgehogs can get trapped in plastic and tins and may try to nest or hibernate in bags of garden rubbish left open.

Tip 11 – Plants, plants and more plants! Hedgehogs love foraging in the undergrowth for beetles and caterpillars. The more ground cover the better. Grow a wide range of native plants which will attract insects – read my blog about the top plants for your hedgehog haven

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My garden is packed with shrubs and flowers to attract insects and provide cover for hedgehogs

Tip 12 – provide a hedgehog des-res. Give your spiky visitors a helping hand by providing them with a good quality hedgehog home. Fill it with some hay to create the perfect starter home.

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My husband Joe with one of his homemade hedgehog houses. The divider helps stop wind, rain and predators entering the house.

Good luck and let me know how you get on!

You can find out more about me and my work rescuing hedgehogs here

How to identify an elderly hedgehog

Elderly European hedgehog
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Old-timer Elsie is a great great great great grandmother hedgehog – possibly even greater! She has likely survived at least four winters.

In a hedgehog, ginger is a sign of longevity. Their spines turn ginger and Elsie almost glows orange!

Hedgehog skin pigmentation also changes with age. A majority of hedgehogs are born with brown noses but elderly hedgehogs start to lose this pigmentation and their skin starts to go pink. This is particularly striking in this old lady currently residing with at Hedgehog Appreciation Prickly Pals Yorkshire 

 

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Pigmentation changes in the nose of an elderly hedgehog: Pic courtesy of H.A.P.P.Y – Hedgehog Appreciation Prickly Pals Yorkshire

Elsie has survived harsh winters, numerous hazards including roads, ponds, strimmers… but this year she has not fared so well. She is thin for her size. Her rear is baggy and pointed, whereas it should be round.

As with humans, their dental health can also suffer with age. Teeth get worn and rotten and infection can set in. Elsie is on antibiotics to treat an infection in her mouth.

Elsie needs TLC to restore her to full health and then we will find her a lovely garden where she can relax and live out the rest of her days. She’s one lucky hedgehog.

You can find out more about me and my work rescuing hedgehogs here