Hedge­hog a help­ful gar­den buddy


Slowly, na­ture’s crea­tures are emerg­ing as spring weather warms our world. First come the in­sects such as bum­ble­bee queens look­ing for blue-flower nour­ish­ment, the crane flies and the moths.

Other flies are be­gin­ning to fill the air too and ev­i­dence of this is seen by the fan­tails busy at work catch­ing them.

Other preda­tors are also pleased with their in­creas­ing food source, such as the gar­dener’s peren­nial friend, the hedge­hog.

Hedge­hogs are awake from their win­ter hi­ber­na­tion and are hun­gry.

Their tim­ing is just right as their var­i­ous prey be­come nu­mer­ous around pas­ture and gar­dens.

By eat­ing slugs and snails, the hedge­hog is a help­ful crea­ture around gar­den beds, but in lightly bush-clad wild ar­eas or in the chook house, they are not wel­come due to their egg and chick-eat­ing habits.

Wild birds nest­ing low to or on the ground have lit­tle de­fence against the strong jaws and teeth of the hun­gry hedge­hog. They mostly eat in­ver­te­brates but breed­ing fe­males in par­tic­u­lar, es­pe­cially dur­ing spring and au­tumn, will munch their way through other crea­tures too, like chicks and skinks.

De­spite the hedge­hog be­ing ex­posed as a pest, many gar­den­ers value the lit­tle spiky crea­ture in their gar­dens.

The an­i­mal lover web­site, pet­son­thenet.co.nz, has a seg­ment for those who find sick or in­jured hedge­hogs and want to know how to help them.

Peg Loague, of Hedge­hog Haven, helped put a list to­gether to dis­pel some com­mon myths about the crea­tures. It says not to feed milk to hedge­hogs, but rather wet or dry pet food. While they do like milk, it of­ten gives them up­set tum­mies, so water is best.

If you see a hedge­hog wan­der­ing around in the day­time, it is not nec­es­sar­ily sick, but if it seems un­well, give it warmth, water and food – they will not eat when very cold.

Young hedge­hogs (smaller than a tennis ball) are still learn­ing they are noc­tur­nal, so can be seen out dur­ing the day in late spring and early sum­mer af­ter leav­ing their nest, while larger hedge­hogs are of­ten un­well if up and about dur­ing the day.

To en­cour­age hedge­hogs to live in your gar­den to act as nat­u­ral pest con­trol, avoid us­ing slug bait, since they may not be re­pelled by it and be­come sick or die from eat­ing it.

Hedge­hogs can have many haz­ards, one of which is the gar­den fish pond. Un­less there is a gen­tle, slop­ing ramp or rocks for it to climb out of the water, drown­ing is in­evitable if it has fallen in.

Sim­i­larly, cat­tle-stops catch many hedge­hogs, but this can be pre­vented by a ramp out.

Rub­bish is at­trac­tive to hedge­hogs look­ing for a place to hide and here there are un­nat­u­ral haz­ards. If not snipped, the plas­tic rings off food con­tain­ers can be crawled through, re­main­ing in place on the an­i­mal per­ma­nently with painful con­se­quences if the an­i­mal is a grow­ing one.

Sum­mer­time brings the flies and the hedge­hog buries it­self in earth to avoid fly­strike. This is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber if you are tempted to keep a hedge­hog in cap­tiv­ity, since in a cage they have lit­tle op­por­tu­nity to es­cape egg-lay­ing flies, and flesh-eat­ing mag­gots are the re­sult. If you come across a hedge­hog that has mange or fly­blow, a trip to the vet is ad­vised, or seek in­for­ma­tion on how to deal with it at home.

Come win­ter, hedge­hogs look for a place to hi­ber­nate and now piles of gar­den rub­bish or leaves are at­trac­tive. They are also a pop­u­lar place to have a nest of hoglets in the spring. If you come across a nest of ba­bies, cover them back up and leave them alone so the mother will re­turn and care for them – they are dif­fi­cult to hand-raise and, if too much dis­turbed, the mother may eat her off­spring or sim­ply walk away.

Loague sug­gests check­ing a burn pile just be­fore you burn it to en­sure it har­bours no un­wary hedge­hogs.

To en­cour­age these grunty lit­tle crea­tures, pro­vide shal­low water in sum­mer and cat bis­cuits in au­tumn – but re­mem­ber to shut your chick­ens in at night.

Caught: A hedge­hog tries to es­cape its tin bucket trap, used to trans­port it back to the scrub af­ter the dog brought it home.

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