The hedgehog is famously nocturnal. Foraging in the dark for beetles and the occasional slug, this garden dweller is best spotted on the footage retrieved from a nighttime camera trap. In the absence of camera equipment, a dedicated vigil by the patio doors may be your only opportunity to catch a glimpse of your spiky little lodger, and should you see him or her at any other time the response would ordinarily be one of concern, as hedgehog carers across the country are quick to remind us that they should not be out in the day.
However there is one, and just one, exception to this rule. Anytime from May to early October, you may be lucky enough to catch your hedgehog behaving rather differently. When a female hedgehog is nesting, all her normal behaviours appear to go out the window as she frantically and obsessively gathers the material needed for her nest and her hoglets’ imminent arrival. There’s no mistaking this rare sight with the behaviour of a poorly hedgehog stumbling around in the daytime (one that should immediately be taken to a hedgehog carer); this is the tunnel-vision behaviour of a mother having a last minute panic that everything is ready before the babies are born. Your hedgehog will be tearing up the grass and collecting leaves, ferrying all of her necessities back and forth to the nest with a zeal that wouldn’t be expected of so small a mammal.
Should you have witnessed this already this summer (the majority of hoglets are born in June or July), then you may by now be eagerly keeping an eye out in the evenings for the sight of a trundling little family, going about its business as mum teaches the newborns how to forage before sending them on their way at around ten days old. Be sure not to disturb your hedgehogs at any point through the nesting process and the hoglets’ early days – a mother will abandon her babies if she becomes alarmed or unsettled. However, hedgehogs can breed right into the early autumn, with late September and early October generally being the time to spot ‘autumn juveniles’. These young hedgehogs can be especially vulnerable, as they have only a few weeks to build up enough fat reserves to last them through hibernation. Therefore vigilance is strongly advised: a hedgehog needs to be over 650 grams to be able to survive the winter; and if not, it should be taken to a hedgehog rescue centre.
Witnessing a female hedgehog preparing her nest is one of the most unusual sights that you can be treated to in your garden. It is a glorious technicolour spectacle of an animal more usually seen in the blacks and greys of the nighttime. So as summer draws to a close, don’t abandon your garden-watching just yet – you might just see something entirely unexpected.