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.