Looking after hedgehogs
Looking After Hedgehogs - What they should and shouldn't eat
12th April 2011
Contrary to what people might think hedgehogs do not ravage gardens of bird eggs and you will not catch fleas from hedgehogs. Hedgehog fleas prefer hedgehogs not humans - and as you can see from the picture these small prickly creatures are not built for climbing up tree trunks or scrambling about in the tree canopy. Although they may sometimes eat the odd egg or two produced by ground-nesting birds they do not rely on birds’ eggs as their main food source on the UK mainland.
Hedgehogs eat beetles, worms, earwigs, millipedes, caterpillars, larvae and snails and are considered useful allies for gardeners because they eat the slugs which feast on plants. This may help gardeners to reduce the need to use sprays in gardens which not only saves money in the long-term but also helps the environment.
Hedgehogs, however, are not totally reliant on insects for their diet. They are omnivorous and are opportunistic feeders by nature. They will eat whatever they can find including blackberries, carrion, mushrooms, grass roots and also any food that has fallen beneath a bird table or from bird feeders. Since their eyesight is particularly poor they use their strong sense of smell to guide them to food; and they can also hear their prey such as worms and beetles rustling about in the undergrowth or long grass to some extent. They will benefit from food left for them by people provided it is the right kind of foods, such as dried mealworms, and supply is consistent.
Contrary to popular belief hedgehogs find cow’s milk difficult to digest. The milk irritates their stomach and the hedgehog will suffer from dehydration and they will eventually die. It is best to provide a dish of clean water and to clean the dish regularly when adding more fresh water. This will help prevent disease and bacteria building up in the dish. Bread is also not good in vast amounts as it does not contain sufficient nutrients to keep them in top condition; vital if they are to survive the cold winter months and also to produce litters.
Most wildlife websites suggest raisins, bananas and crushed unsalted peanuts. Any cat food left out for them at night should not contain fish as this will make them ill. It also appears that tinned food which contains gravy or jelly should also be avoided as it causes stomach upsets. Any food left out needs to be chopped up finely as hedgehogs cannot chew or tear large pieces of food as easily as other creatures; and, it is also best to place food in a shallow dish that is heavy enough to stop a hedgehog from tipping it over.
Hedgehogs may also be unwittingly poisoned by gardeners who use sprays, cleaners, disinfectants and various pest control products. They will eat slug pellets if these are left lying around; and they will also eat the bodies of slugs which have been poisoned by slug pellets and, in turn, will succumb to the poison.
Any spillages of poisons, creosote and paints need to be cleared away as hedgehogs may inadvertently walk through them and become contaminated or poison themselves as they lick spillages or paintwork. Even spillages inside garden sheds may kill hedgehogs as they drain through the floorboards and form pools underneath where potentially a family of hedgehogs may be nesting or using it as a route to get to other parts of the garden.
The current lists of priority species and priority habitats in the UK can be found at http://www.ukbap.org.uk/newprioritylist.aspx