One of Britain's most recognisable and well-loved wild animals, the European hedgehog is one of around 16 different species found throughout the world. They're also the species that are most often admitted to our specialist wildlife rehabilitation centres.
Where hedgehogs live
They're widespread throughout England and Wales, and they live in a range of habitats - particularly farmland, woodland, and urban areas where they're a favourite with gardeners. Individual hedgehogs can travel as far as one or two miles in one night! They're most active at night and during the day, they'll rest in nests made of vegetation, such as leaves, twigs, and grasses.
What hedgehogs eat
Hedgehogs are mostly insectivorous, so will prey on beetles, caterpillars and earthworms. However, they may also occasionally eat amphibians, small rodents and birds, slugs and snails, carrion, bird's eggs and even fruit.
When hedgehogs breed
Hedgehogs will breed any time between April and September, but mostly during May and June. Both male and female hedgehogs can mate several times a year with multiple partners. Litters usually consist of around four or five young, called hoglets, born between June and July with some late second litters born in September.
Hoglets are born blind and deaf, and their spines are pure white when they first appear soon after birth. They'll start leaving the nest to forage with their mother around four weeks old, and will be independent by about six weeks old.
When hedgehogs hibernate
Hibernation usually takes place between November and mid-March, although the timings depend on the weather and in mild years, hedgehogs have been active as late as December. Hedgehogs will often wake up from hibernation and forage for food or move their nest site at least once, if not more, before they go back to sleep. The nest they build to hibernate in is called a hibernaculum, which helps to keep them warm when their body temperature drops during hibernation.
Decline in hedgehog populations
Sadly, hedgehog populations are thought to be falling rapidly, particularly in rural areas, and they're now considered vulnerable to extinction in Great Britain. There are a variety of factors contributing to this decline, including destruction of their habitats, increasing road traffic, and the use of pesticides which makes it harder for them to find food. Garden hazards such as netting and ponds cause further casualties as hedgehogs can easily become trapped in them and starve, dehydrate or drown.
We have more information about how to help hedgehogs in your garden, and the Hedgehog Street campaign run by the People's Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society has a great range of resources for people who want to help hedgehogs.
Cats, dogs and hedgehogs
Cats aren't normally a problem, as they'll usually leave hedgehogs alone after an initial investigation. Dogs can attack hedgehogs, so try to keep them away from hedgehogs and monitor or keep your dog on a lead in the garden at dusk or night, when you know the hedgehogs will be out. You can also 'warn' any hedgehog before you come outside by turning a light on first. Owners might worry about hedgehog fleas being passed to their pets; however these fleas can only survive on hedgehogs and not on other species.
Hedgehogs out during the day
Although hedgehogs are nocturnal and will hunt at night when their prey is most active, they can sometimes be seen out during the day if they've been disturbed from their nest or if they're struggling to find food, particularly during dry weather. Hedgehogs seen during the day, often in late afternoon or evening, could be pregnant females or new mothers with a litter of hoglets to feed, or growing youngsters who need more food than usual. However, being out during full daylight is often a sign that the hedgehog is ill, injured or needs some help.
If the weather isn't cold and the hedgehog seems healthy and active, offer them some food and water, then leave them alone and monitor them from a distance.
But if any of the following apply, then please rescue the hedgehog, following the advice below:
- The hedgehog is obviously sick or injured, or in immediate danger
- The hedgehog doesn't seem interested in the food you've put out
- The weather is cold - regular ground frost, snow, or temperatures are at or below freezing for several days
- The hedgehog is staggering, wobbly, walking around in circles or lethargic
- You can see a large number of flies, maggots or ticks on the hedgehog
- You've seen the same hedgehog out during the day more than once
- It's a young hoglet which weighs less than 300g (about the size of an apple)
- The hedgehog does not roll up, or try to roll up, when you approach or touch it.
Sick or injured hedgehogs
If it's safe to catch and handle the hedgehog then, wearing thick gloves or using a folded towel, gently pick it up and place it into a secure high-sided cardboard box, lined with a towel. You might also find that throwing a towel over the hedgehog causes it to curl up, making it easier to catch. It's important not to handle the hedgehog any more than you need to, because contact with humans will be stressful for them. Make sure you wear gloves if you have to handle a hedgehog, as they can carry diseases like ringworm or salmonella bacteria which can be passed to humans. Hedgehogs from the same litter can be kept in the same box if it's big enough.
Keep the hedgehog somewhere warm and quiet indoors, offer them a small amount of suitable food and water, and contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. It's often faster to take an animal to a wildlife rehabilitator yourself, as our officers may be out of the area attending other calls. If you're unable to transport the hedgehog, please contact us.
If you find a dead hedgehog, please report it to the Garden Wildlife Health project.