Where do hedgehogs live?
Hedgehogs are creatures of the woodland edge and can be found among hedgerows, fields and other countryside areas where there's a mosaic of habitats including trees, open grassland and scrub. In urban and suburban areas they live in areas that mimic these countryside habitats, including cemeteries, gardens and parks. They seem particularly fond of thickets of bramble, open compost heaps and wood piles, and often nest beneath garden sheds.
Hedgehogs come into gardens via holes in fences, gaps beneath gates and other small entrances – they don't need a big hole to travel through, around 13cm (the size of a CD) is enough. Hedgehogs in the garden are a good sign as it means your garden is open and accessible, and has the shelter and food they need. They travel up to 2km a night in search of food and a mate, and will often return to the same garden – research has shown that hedgehogs spend more time in gardens where supplementary food is provided, and in those with open compost heaps. A male hedgehog may spend a week or so visiting the same garden and then move on to a different patch, while a female may raise young, so could spend several weeks in the same vicinity. Hedgehogs typically hibernate between the months of November and March so are less likely to be spotted during this time, however not all hedgehogs will hibernate so you may have the odd winter visitor.
- All images of hedgehogs in this feature are of those in full time care due to long-term injury, that are used to being awake during the day.
Signs of hedgehogs in your garden
Hedgehogs make snuffling noises, so if you leave your windows open at night in summer you may be able to hear them in your garden. Failing that, you'll need to look for signs that they have visited.
One of the most obvious signs that hedgehogs are visiting your garden is hedgehog poo. This is easy to spot as it's darker than the poo of most other animals, and may be shiny with the wing cases of beetles and other insects. Another easy way to find out if hedgehogs are visiting your garden is to look for hedgehog footprints, which are unique and therefore unmistakable. You can look for them in the mud or make a hedgehog footprint tunnel, in which hedgehogs will hopefully walk over a wildlife-friendly ink and then on to white paper.
Other tips to spot hedgehog activity include leaving a stick in front of an entrance to a hedgehog feeding station or nest box, or leave bedding material such as straw or leaves close to the entrance to the nest box, which a hedgehog might use to make a cosy bed.
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If you're unsure whether hedgehogs are visiting your garden, visit the BIG Hedgehog Map, where you can see if hedgehogs have been sighted in your area.
A trail camera is a good investment as it will help you record hedgehogs visiting at night, and provide you with interesting footage to monitor their behaviour.
Facts about hedgehogs
When do hedgehogs have babies?
Hedgehogs emerge from hibernation in spring, and mate soon afterwards. Females are pregnant for around four weeks and give birth to their first litter of up to seven hoglets in late spring or early summer. The mother will leave the nest to forage for food and feed them milk. After three or four weeks the hoglets are old enough to join their mother on foraging trips where they learn what to eat, but they still return to the nest to take their mother’s milk as well. After around six weeks the hoglets will start exploring on their own. From this point they become independent from their mother and their siblings.
Sometimes hedgehogs have a second litter in late summer or early autumn. Having babies this late in the season is risky as the hoglets may not have enough food to gain weight in order to successfully hibernate. These young may be seen out during the day and are known as 'autumn orphans'.
Can hedgehogs swim?
Hedgehogs can swim and, on summer nights, may take a refreshing dip in a garden pond. However they quickly become tired and may become stuck in the pond and drown. If you have a garden pond, make sure it has gentle, sloping sides so hedgehogs can walk in and out easily. Pre-formed plastic fish ponds don't have sloping sides and can be hard to get out of – add a log or plank of wood to the pond to give hedgehogs and other wildlife a helping hand.
What do hedgehogs eat?
Hedgehogs are known for eating slugs and snails but they actually eat a variety of invertebrates, including caterpillars, worms and beetles. Slugs and snails make up a very small portion of their diet and can give them lungworm disease, which causes respiratory problems.
If you want to provide supplementary food for hedgehogs then choose cat or dog food, which is high in protein and vitamins. Biscuits are best as they keep for longer and are less likely to attract flies than wet food. Hedgehogs have small mouths so kitten biscuits are ideal for them as they are designed for small kitten mouths.
What noise do hedgehogs make?
Hedgehogs make a variety of noises that indicate their health, activity and whether they are stressed or content.
- The most common sound you will hear from hedgehogs is grunting and snuffling, similar to a pig. This indicates that a hedgehog out and about, looking for food. There's nothing to worry about
- If you hear a sound similar to a steam train that is the sound of a two hedgehogs mating or a male attempting to mate with a female. Again this is a normal sound and should not be of concern
- Hoglets in the nest make a chirping sound like a baby bird. If you hear this repeatedly during the day it could mean the mother has abandoned the nest or been injured while out foraging for food. Act quickly – speak to your local rescue centre before checking the nest as if the mother is still present she may then abandon it
- A screaming hedgehog is in pain or distress. Call your local hedgehog rescue immediately for advice
- A coughing hedgehog may indicate a disease such as lungworm – call your local hedgehog rescue immediately for advice
What to do if you find a hedgehog in your garden
If you see a hedgehog using your garden at night then the best thing to do is nothing! This is a perfectly normal occurrence and you should be happy that your garden can support these declining mammals.
If you see a hedgehog out during the day in summer then it could be a mother popping out to find food or water. Standing a good distance away, watch for a while and check that it's walking in a straight line and walking with purpose. If so, then continue to do nothing. It could mean there's a nest nearby so you may want to offer her a helping hand by leaving food and water out. If the hedgehog is walking in circles, sitting or lying down or making any noises that sound like it's coughing or screaming, then use gloves to pick it up, pop it in a high-sided box with a warm hot water bottle and a towel in the bottom and call your local rescue centre immediately – the faster you act, the more chance you have of saving its life.
If you see a hedgehog out during the day in autumn or winter then it could have a number of problems, including being too small to hibernate, lungworm or even organ failure. Again, the quicker you act, the more chance you have of saving its life. Use gloves to pop it in a high-sided box (with warm hot water bottle and towel) and take it to your nearest rescue centre (call ahead to ensure they have space).
Sometimes, if a hedgehog is sick and is unable to regulate its own temperature, it will seek out warm places to rest. You may find one trying to get into your home or lying in a sunny spot in the garden. This means the hedgehog is very sick and will need taking to a rescue centre immediately.
Never assume you can care for the hedgehog yourself and always seek out a professional rescue centre where trained staff know how to care for sick hedgehogs. Remember that a healthy hedgehog will never sunbathe and will never try to come into your home.
Best ways to help hedgehogs
Hedgehog numbers are in decline. In rural areas, intensive agriculture has led to the fragmentation of habitats such as copses and hedges, resulting in fewer places to nest, hibernate and forage for food. Roads and motorways carve up habitats and create hazards. The use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides may be behind the decline in their food, such as caterpillars, beetles and worms.
Find out what hedgehogs need to thrive and how to help them, in our video guide to helping hedgehogs:
In urban and suburban areas, fences and walls prevent hedgehogs from travelling between gardens. Ponds, netting, strimmers and slug pellets also create hazards. Paving over front gardens reduces food and shelter and forces hedgehogs onto roads to get to the next patch of green space.
The good news, however, is that there is plenty that gardeners can do to help. Here are 10 simple steps that will provide hedgehogs with food and shelter.
Create access holes
One of the best things you can do for hedgehogs is to allow them access to your garden. Simply cut a hole, 13cm x 13xm, in the bottom of your fence. If you have a large garden, consider making holes at several points. If you get together with your neighbours, you can create a 'hedgehog highway', allowing hedgehogs to roam greater distances.
Watch our Quick Tips video with Kate Bradbury, on how to attract hedgehogs to your garden:
Plant a hedge
A hedge is the perfect garden habitat, allowing easy access between gardens, and room for piles of leaves to accumulate beneath, where hedgehogs can forage, hibernate and raise their young. Native plants, such as hawthorn and hazel, will attract egg-laying moths, increasing your stock of caterpillars – a favoured food of hedgehogs. Follow our guide to planting a hedge.
Make ponds safe
To ensure a hedgehog can enter and exit your pond safely, make sure it has sloping sides. Alternatively, drape thick rope netting over one side, or place a log at one end to act as a ladder.
Check before strimming
Hedgehog hospitals and rescue centres are full of hedgehogs with injuries caused by strimmers. To prevent injury or killing a sleeping hedgehog, check your long grass before using your strimmer. If you find any hedgehogs, move them from danger to a safe, secluded spot.
Avoid using slug pellets
Conventional slug pellets contain metaldehyde, which is lethal to hedgehogs. Wildlife-friendly, organic pellets contain the less toxic ferric phosphate, but there's no real proof that they are safe for hedgehogs to use.
Make a hedgehog house
Hedgehogs need a dry, safe place to raise young and hibernate, and a hedgehog house is the perfect habitat. Ideally, cover it with plastic sheeting and a layer of leaves and make an entrance tunnel (around 13cm x 13cm and 40cm long) to prevent predators getting in. Site it under a north-facing hedge, out of the way.
Leave out extra food
While provision of natural food is the best option for hedgehogs, give them a helping hand with supplementary food, especially before and after hibernation. Offer meat-based dog or cat food, preferably chicken or turkey flavour. Kitten biscuits are perfect as they are designed for small mouths. Never leave out bread or milk as this can dehydrate and kill hedgehogs. Never leave out mealworms as they can lead to a painful brittle bone disease.
Watch our No Fuss video guide with Kate Bradbury, on how to make a hedgehog feeding station (many thanks to Sue Kidger, a hedgehog rehabilitator, for her kind help in making this video):
Grow native plants
Native plants such as honeysuckle, dog rose, hawthorn and blackthorn are caterpillar food plants for a wide range of moths, which lay eggs on the leaves. Most moth caterpillars descend to the ground to pupate before becoming an adult, where they become nourishing food for passing hedgehogs.
Retain twigs and leaves
A pile of leaves, logs or twigs left in a quiet corner of the garden - or a compost heap - makes the perfect hedgehog habitat, providing a warm, dry and secluded place for them to nest in and hibernate. Plus, small invertebrates, such as slugs, centipedes and beetles, will also take shelter here, providing food for hungry hedgehogs.
Found a hedgehog while tidying? Monty explains how to look after it:
If you build a bonfire that includes twigs, branches and other garden waste, it could be mistaken for a hibernaculum. Either dismantle it and rebuild it just before lighting, or light it on the same day you build it. This will ensure that no hedgehogs or other wildlife have had a chance to creep into it.