The first we knew about our nocturnal visitor was when my infrared motion-triggered camera caught the unmistakeable shape of a hedgehog snuffling on our lawn. We were very excited, having not seen one for years. So, in an effort to encourage it, each night we would put out a bowl of mealworms. The camera was getting regular footage of the hedgehog, and the bowl was emptied each night. Then, as summer progressed and the days got shorter, we would sometimes see the hedgehog munching away, oblivious to the light and us watching through the French window.
I wanted to find out more about our nocturnal visitor, so I read Pat Morris’ excellent Hedgehog book. He said that research had shown that what people think of as being ‘their’ hedgehog, a regular visitor to their garden, actually is several hedgehogs. So we decided to try the experiment he suggested. By marking our hedgehog with a small dab of paint on his (or her) spines, we would be able to tell if the one we saw the next night was the same. And he was right – the next day it was a different hedgehog munching the mealworms. So we marked that hog in a different place. By the end of that summer we had seen 7 different adult hedgehogs in our garden, much to our surprise.
We were also able to watch a hedgehog courtship (which seems to involve the male pestering the female until she gives in, temporarily distracted from the mealworms). And then 3 little hoglets started appearing with their mother.
Watching the hedgehogs over the course of the summer was a real privilege and joy. They’re surprisingly quick when they hitch up their skirt and run. They can squeeze through unfeasibly small gaps in hedges, and climb better than you’d expect. They’re not the cleverest animals. They love mealworms, but ignore the slugs that climb into their bowl. Their preferred approach to eating the food we leave out is to climb into the bowl with their food, stand on top of it and then wonder where it has all gone.
My top tips for hog watching:
- If you don’t know if you have hedgehogs visiting your garden, look out for hedgehog droppings. Many wildlife books are a bit bashful about putting in photos of droppings, but it’s much easier to tell from a photo than and description or drawing. The Collins Complete Guide to British Animals has a good guide.
- If you have (or can borrow) an infrared motion triggered camera, set it up so it is aimed at wherever the hedgehog is most likely to visit. In our case it was under the bird feeding station, where mealworms sometimes get dropped, and near an ants nest in our lawn.
- If you have hedgehogs visiting, encourage them to come to a part of the garden you can easily see by putting out bowls of food (meal worms – rehydrated if you buy dried, or dog food).
- If you see a hedgehog out in daylight, it might need veterinary attention. The British Hedgehop Preservation Society can provide info about what to do and where to take them.
- Our national species is… the hedgehog?! (wildsouthuk.wordpress.com)
- How to make your garden a hedgehog haven (theguardian.com)