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Shelter for winter sleepers

Gardens close to nature are the best protection for hedgehogs

If you want to make hedgehogs fit for winter, you should make your garden fit for hedgehogs, because gardens are important habitats for the prickly animals. The ideal winter quarters consists of a pile of dead wood, brushwood and leaves.

Hedgehog in the garden - Photo: NABU / Hubertus Schwarzentraub

As early as the middle of October, the food supply for hedgehogs becomes significantly scarcer, the adults begin to build their winter nests and young hedgehogs try to put on even more weight. The ideal winter quarters consists of a pile of dead wood, brushwood and leaves. The hedgehogs seek their winter quarters when the ground temperature remains around zero degrees. You can find protection against the cold in hollows, under hedges or even in brushwood piles. In addition to natural shelter, you can also set up a hedgehog house. If you want to offer animals a permanent place, the brushwood pile can be provided with a base made of field stones.

If hedgehogs wake up in between ...

In the mild winter of 2019/20, hedgehogs were often observed, who instead of being in hibernation, were running through the gardens, bright and cheerful. Many nature lovers worried about these hedgehogs, a newspaper with four capital letters even headlined a "hedgehog crisis". It is normal for hedgehogs to wake up at high temperatures and it is also unproblematic in healthy animals.

If this happens more often in the course of winter, however, it can drain the hedgehog's strength because the food supply is now relatively poor. The best way to help the hedgehogs is with a bowl filled with high-quality moist or dry food for cats with a high meat content; an additional water bowl is also gladly accepted. As in the rest of the year: Please do not feed canned food or leftovers. Winter hedgehogs only need direct help if they are sick or clearly weakened. As soon as the temperatures drop, the hedgehogs will return to their winter quarters.

Some young hedgehogs who are delayed are still out and about during the day to eat up more fat reserves. These animals should not be admitted out of misunderstood care. Only if a hedgehog is noticeably malnourished or ill should it be looked after or given to a hedgehog station. Hypothermic hedgehogs are warmed with a lukewarm hot water bottle wrapped in a terry towel.

Only non-perishable wet or dry food for cats should be fed, under no circumstances leftover food or canned food. Hedgehogs need a lot of protein and fat, the carbohydrates ingested by insectivores are indigestible and only serve as fiber. This is why dog ​​food is also unsuitable due to its lower protein and higher carbohydrate composition compared to cat food. If the hedgehog does not eat in the night after admission, the veterinarian must be consulted.

How you can build a hedgehog house with few resources is explained by NABU expert Julian Heiermann in this video (instructions for download):

Leave hedgehogs outside

Most of the hedgehogs slumber from mid-November. Apart from short breaks, they slept through the cold season until March or April. In bad weather periods, the eager insect and snail eaters use these winter quarters until May. Since the sleeping animals do not react to disturbances, i.e. cannot flee, this means for the garden: Please do not move any hiding places once created during the winter months. You should also be careful when removing bushes, when mowing under low-lying branches, when using brushcutters and bar mowers.

Body contact and warmth

Hedgehogs live solitary and should therefore be housed individually in the enclosure if they need to be cared for during the winter. However, this does not apply to very young hedgehogs, because hedgehog children absolutely need physical contact. Hedgehog siblings up to a weight of around 300 grams should always stay together in the enclosure. Individual animals without siblings should be looked after by the carer accordingly. According to the current state of knowledge, there is no risk of an incorrect imprint on humans, the animals become shy again some time after being released into the wild.

Young hedgehogs also need a room temperature of around 15 degrees Celsius when they are fed up. If it is significantly cooler, the animals can reduce their feed intake, under certain circumstances they stop it completely - the weight gain necessary for wintering is practically impossible. Of course, this effect also applies to the field. Young hedgehogs below the hibernation weight, which are still walking around in cold or frosty temperatures, must therefore be taken in. Even with additional feeding in the garden, such hedgehog children are not helped with the onset of the cold season.

For a long time, collecting small hedgehogs in autumn and spending the winter in the house was considered an effective means of helping wild animals to survive. However, the well-intentioned actions turned out to be of little help and are no longer practiced. Instead, a whole package of measures is in the foreground today that helps hedgehogs to overwinter where they are at home: outdoors in nature.

Free access to the hedgehog garden

Ideal hedgehog gardens are designed and managed close to nature. This means that there is space for many natural elements such as hedge, pond, fruit tree, stone wall or meadow and there is no need for mineral fertilizers or chemical pesticides. The lawn is not constantly mowed, fertilized and watered, the hedge is only seldom cut, not every herb is weeded and every leaf is vacuumed. Alternatively, “gentle” methods of tillage, fertilization, composting and pest control are used.

Young hedgehog - Photo: Michael Benteler / www.naturgucker.de

Shelters and hiding places such as wood beige, crockery huts, roots, dry stone walls, staircases, compost heaps, hedges and brushwood piles are essential for hedgehogs. They hide there during the day or create their winter nests. In addition, self-made hedgehog houses or hedgehog domes made of wood concrete, which are filled with leaves, can be offered.

Hedgehogs are very mobile at night and need free access to gardens: Hermetically sealed fences and walls must be passable for nighttime forays. Cellar stairs, light shafts and rain collecting vessels are often dangerous traps, but they can easily be defused. Hedgehogs find plenty of food in bushes, on dry stone walls, under fruit trees and on lawns. In spring and autumn, when food is scarce, additional feeding places can be helpful. Good quality moist and / or dry cat food with a high meat content should be used. Cooked (never raw meat) unseasoned ground beef or shredded scrambled eggs can also be fed. There is no need for sauces and jellies. Milk, nuts, fruit and kitchen waste are definitely unsuitable for hedgehogs. The types of hedgehog food available in stores can also be safely left on the shelf, because all types are not recommended for hedgehogs due to their composition. In any case, you should always offer fresh water.

In order to deter other eaters such as cats, rats and martens, it is advisable to offer the food in a hedgehog feeder with a rat flap or a labyrinth entrance. Clay coasters have proven themselves because they are very easy to clean and disinfect. The food and water bowls should be cleaned daily and leftover food removed daily. Feeding is best done in the evening.

End goal release

In parks, gardens and the outskirts of settlements, the hedgehog shares the living space with humans. On the one hand, this leads to specific dangers such as animal traps or traffic, and on the other hand, to finding injured or sick animals. Thanks to the cute child scheme, the willingness to help hedgehogs is particularly great. However, the maintenance or wintering of the house must remain the absolute exception and can only be aimed at the early release. Hedgehogs are wild animals, they can neither be tamed nor kept as pets.

Even if they are so tempting housemates, they do not belong in the kitchen, living room or children's room either as roommates or as pets. Justifying exceptions for being taken into human care are motherless, dependent young animals, injured and sick hedgehogs, as well as animals that are encountered during the day or in frost and snow. However, housing and feed is far from being enough: the professional and animal-friendly care of a foster home requires experience, daily attention and causes effort and costs, which can only be achieved in cooperation with hedgehog stations and veterinarians.

Quality standards for hedgehog stations

For competent hedgehog stations there is a list of quality criteria with regard to the premises, hygiene, qualification of the staff, cooperation with hedgehog-trained veterinarians, medication equipment and detailed documentation of the cases. If there is a lack of accommodation, one speaks of hedgehog advice centers, which provide technical support and, for example, help check whether a hedgehog that has been found needs to be looked after at all. Often the animals can be returned to nature in the same autumn.

Hedgehog in the garden - Photo: Christine Kuchem

After taking care of them at the hedgehog station, advice center or veterinarian, hedgehog finders should look after their animals themselves if the conditions such as suitable rooms, nutrition and daily care are given. The solitary hedgehogs are housed individually in spacious enclosures with sleeping houses. Some hedgehogs have to sleep through the winter as foster animals. There are many aspects to consider, as well as when preparing and carrying out the release into the wild in spring.

And all help has limits: not every hedgehog can be saved at any cost. In such cases, clarify with the hedgehog station and the veterinarian which measures are useful or not. A healthy hedgehog population can cope with certain losses - and providing them with an optimal livelihood is the primary task of hedgehog help.

What the individual can do

  • Provide shelter and nesting options for hedgehogs in your garden, such as low shrubbery, piles of leaves and brushwood.
  • Create winter quarters, for example by building a hedgehog house.
  • Avoid English lawns and exotic trees in the garden.
  • Design your garden without small-meshed fences so that hedgehogs can move around freely.
  • No burning of brushwood piles without careful moving beforehand.
  • Be careful when mowing and when cleaning up and clearing: Hedgehog nests can be found in piles and piles of wood.
  • Cellar shafts and pits are animal traps that should be covered.
  • Check construction pits, cable and similar trenches (also on roads) for fallen hedgehogs and rescue victims from their predicament.
  • Attach rescue planks for ponds and water basins with steep, smooth edges so that hedgehogs can save themselves in an emergency.
  • Do not set up snap traps and do not use protective bird nets on or down to the ground.
  • No unnecessary use of chemicals in the garden: Use environmentally friendly alternatives for pest control.
  • Make sure you have fresh drinking water regularly, for example with a bird bath or watering in the garden.
  • Do without leaf blowers.
Stefan Bosch

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