Observations of hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus in an Ipswich garden, June and July 2008 Seventeen separate sightings occurred in the garden of 112, Westerfield Road, Ipswich, between 12 June and 22 July 2009. Most were of a large adult hedgehog which on every occasion was seen during daylight hours, the earliest time being 10.45 am. This is contrary to the hedgehog’s normal nocturnal activity and is usually associated with illness, sudden disturbance or acute hunger. Step (1921:9) adds that daylight emergence can also occur ‘when a heavy summer downpour of rain has drenched the herbage and caused the snails and slugs to show considerable activity’. The hedgehog’s daytime passage around the garden was punctuated by bumping into obstacles but this would not necessarily indicate any abnormality; it was observed several times crossing a wide expanse of strawberry netting without getting entangled. It responded immediately to the close clicking camera and also to footsteps on gravel, the latter deliberately made to dissuade it from moving along the side passage of the house towards the busy Westerfield Road. At no time did it curl up into the normal ball of spines, though McDonald (1984:7530) comments that ‘If threatened a hedgehog will often not immediately roll up but will first simply erect the spines and wait for the danger to pass’. The nearest it came to rolling up was during one of the latest observations, on 21 July. The hedgehog made several unsuccessful attempts to climb up from a garden border to the higher patio area and was eventually assisted by being lifted up. The response was to partly curl up, lying on its side with most of its face still exposed, possibly feigning death. Eventually it started to move again, dropping down to the border and heading away down the garden. It was successful in depressing its spines, first to get through a narrow gap between the side passage gatepost and nearby fence and second to squeeze through a small split in the back fence. This hedgehog was observed on several days to be drinking copiously from two small and shallow water containers on the patio and a larger, much deeper gravel tray full of water near the back fence. Sometimes it had to use the front feet on the container’s rim to reach the water. It also ate stale food put out on the patio, including cheese parings, and also consumed one of the two snails in its path. Knight (1962:7) describes the strength of the hedgehog’s jaws, adding that ‘the teeth are not only well adapted for crunching insects but are capable of dealing with much more substantial prey’. The evidence for this came on 25 June at approximately 6.35 pm. A young woodpigeon, usually know as a squab, was observed on the back lawn. This had probably fallen out of a woodpigeon’s nest in a line of conifers, as a result of neighbours cutting their side right back to the dividing fence. The squab, unable to fly, ended up motionless in a narrow border betweeen the fence and the patio edge. The hedgehog was then observed heading up the same side of the garden. It speeded up as it scented the squab, which tried to move but couldn’t climb up onto the patio. The hedgehog darted forward and grabbed the squab, holding on despite vigorous wing flapping. Once the bird was on its back the predator delivered a quick series of stabbing gnawing bites to its chest but it took about
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ten minutes before the victim stopped struggling. By then virtually all the breast meat had been eaten, the hedgehog leaving the skeleton with feet and wings intact (Plate 3). The next day another dead squab was found on the other side of the lawn, similarly attacked and eaten, its remains already colonised by ants. After this there were three further June sightings but then none until 10 July. Rustling was heard from under a large curry plant close to a small garden pond. From the nearby kitchen window the hedgehog was watched as it gathered nesting material, initially dried buddleia leaves and bluebell seeds which were close by, then going further to pick pine needles. Much vigorous tugging was needed to tear off some of the material. Intermittent observations revealed at least 34 trips, with maximum activity between 4.10 and 5.00 pm. One spell of continuous observation recorded six trips in ten minutes. Visible activity ended at 7.45 pm but the female probably continued working unseen. Bomford (1979:53) describes how two closely observed females rolled around in the tight nest space, using their prickles to comb the nest into shape. The next day the nest was revealed to be not for birth but one of several daytime nests sometimes constructed by the mother. At 2.50 pm she was seen leading two young hedgehogs, known as piglets, aged between three and four weeks old, towards the curry plant. All were hidden just four minutes before heavy rain began. Disturbance at the breeding site may have caused the move but Bomford (1979:57) comments that piglets 3–4 weeks normally accompany the mother in her search for food. For the rest of the day there was just one brief exploratory emergence by one piglet just before dusk but many high pitched calls came from beneath the curry plant. Knight (1962:11) remarks that ‘baby hedgehogs are by no means silent when they are hungry and their squeals are loud enough to cause surprise to anyone who has never heard the noise before’. A single piglet was subsequently observed on 13, 14 and 15 July, just one sighting each day and none during the daytime, all three being between 9.45 and 9.55 pm. Sightings ended after one piglet was discovered dead on Westerfield Road, about three hundred yards from the house. The final record was on 22 July when the adult female was seen at 12.30 pm, first using her front feet to get to water in a small container near the pond, in the process passing very close to human feet. She then headed down the lawn, across the strawberry netting, drank from the larger water tray and disappeared through the small fence gap into a neighbour’s garden. To conclude, all of the recorded hedgehog behaviour in this article has bee documented in the many published studies of this species. However, much of it was new to us. From such limited observations no conclusions can be drawn. Bomford (197(0 describes a hedgehog as ‘the familiar stranger’ and even after her detailed long-term study and filming of many individuals she came to the following conclusion: ‘We seemed to have ended with more questions than we started with. The knowledge we had gathered was to a large extent just a familiarity with the shape of the puzzle. The hedgehog remained one of Britain’s most familiar, best loved, and least understood animals’.
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References Bomford, L. (1979). Secret Life of the Hedgehog. Hamlyn, London. Knight, M. (1962). Hedgehogs. Sunday Times, London. McDonald, D. (1984). The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Andromeda & Oxford, Abingdon. Step, E. (1921). Animal Life of the British Isles. Frederick Warne, London.
R. G. Stewart
Anne-Marie and Richard Stewart ‘Valezina’ 112 Westerfield Road, Ipwich, Suffolk IP4 2XW
Plate 3: Hedgehog eating a Woodpigeon squab in an Ipswich garden (p. 4).
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