Now is the time for cleaning hedgehog houses and ensuring they are not confused when they wake in the spring, says Jeanette Hampstead.
I am often asked when hedgehog houses should be cleaned out. Well, the time is now! Hedgehogs that are going to hibernate are probably well asleep by now so it’s an ideal opportunity to have a little look.
Gently, and as quietly as possible, open the lid of the hedgehog house and part the nesting material. If there is a hedgehog in residence they will probably jump or make a hissing noise. If that happens just replace the nest! You could put some more hay in as well, then quietly replace the lid and withdraw.
Try to put the house back into the same position so the waking hedgehog knows exactly where it is and can find the food you leave out for it.
If the house is empty remove all the nesting material and insects. I clean mine with bleach and animal cleaning spray to remove any ticks or mites that reside unseen in the cracks and crevasses. Rinse well with water – from a hose is best. Allow to dry completely before replacing the hay back into the house.
How to deter cats
Any old or broken houses could be used as feeding stations. By putting hay in the entrance tunnel, you may deter cats from pushing through to the food; they often do not like the feel of it on their whiskers.
Where to place a hedgehog house is personal choice – I usually put mine under a bush or hedge with the entrance facing into the overgrown area to give it some protection from the weather. Having said that, we have had hedgehogs nesting in houses placed in the middle of the lawn, and even in an upside- down house waiting to be cleaned in a pile of dirt houses! Hedgehogs nest wherever they feel comfortable, and do not appear to realise there are any rules they should be sticking to.
It’s not dead!
Just as an aside; if you open a hedgehog house and you find a hedgehog that is not moving or making a noise, do not automatically think it is dead. A hibernating hedgehog is really cold. Dead cold. They are colder than freezing. It may be that they are so well asleep they are not aware of their surroundings, so replace the nesting material and the lid. Leave them alone to wake in the spring.
I sometimes put some newspaper on the top of the old hay to soak up the tiny bit of condensation the sleeping hedgehogs produce but it is not necessary.
Feeding in winter is also a personal choice. I stop feeding wet cat food in jelly and just give dry food when the weather becomes cold. Wet food freezes, whereas dry cat biscuits do not. There is no need to crush, soak or break the biscuits. Crunching them is really good for hedgehog teeth so just feed them as they are.
Continuing to give the food into a feeding station helps those waking early from hibernation. Also they know where to find food if it is left in the same place regularly. Research has shown that hedgehogs can wake up as many as seven times over a winter. It is thought they wake because they are hungry, thirsty or have a full bladder. Some wake to move house too.
The Hazelbury Bryan Hedgehog Rescue has been incredibly busy in 2021; we are currently making provisions to buy a new incubator as two is often not enough. Funding help is much needed – if you are able to contribute you can donate via our paypal account here.
by Jeannette Hampstead