The Mother Hedgehog - Wild hedgehogs and baby hoglet habits and habitats
I thought you might be interested in my own observations from watching the habits over the years of hedgehogs that are pregnant or have given birth to hoglets (baby hedgehogs). These are just my own personal observations and are not definitive. This is also a very basic overview and there is alot more detail to these sections, but you might find it interesting.
PLEASE NOTE: Never feed baby hoglets cows milk, or any milk for that matter as you will kill them! Also, baby hoglets will not eat solid foods such as jelly based dog or cat food until about 25 days of age or so.
The process of courting can be quite loud! Lots of grunts and snorting from the males and female. Often you will see one or more males (Bores) circling the female hedgehog (Sow). Multiple males can be successful and the mother can carry the offspring of more than one male hedgehog. This act is normally carried out near food sources as that's a place hedgehogs will often meet other hedgehogs.
Following normal hedgehog routines this would also be at dust/night being nocturnal creatures. Once the mother hedgehog is pregnant, the male hedgehog no longer has any purpose and often will not stay with the family. This is however not always the case though, a male hedgehog can also be found with a female hedgehog but rarely sleeping together in the same nest. Maybe the male hedgehog is sticking around for protection or a chance to court once again (I'm unsure of this reason). The mother will normally give birth in about 30 days.
Finding suitable nesting locations:
The mother hedgehog will nest in far fewer places than a male hedgehog. They prefer nests that are out of the way of noise and disturbances however, they seem to prioritise nesting locations that are warm. Traditionally a hedgehog would nest in a hedge, and still do of course. But as the landscape has changed over many years people have changed things for better and for worse. We have lost many of our hedgerows in the United Kingdom and often hedgehogs are now found in gardens.
Gardens provide a wealth of places for hedgehogs to nest and mothers can often be found nesting under decking, tarps, sheds, garages, or piles of logs.
Making a nest and nesting materials:
It is very important for the mother hedgehog to make a nest that is waterproof, warm, and one that she can build in a shape with only one entrance. The entrance is important for a mother hedgehog as it allows her to either block the exit route with her body when she has hoglets inside the nest, or to create a temporary door with whatever materials she can find and cover the hole when she is inside or out looking for food and water.
The materials she looks for when making her nest can be pretty random and what she has to hand, but tree leaves, dried grass, small twigs, feathers, and even moss are common. She uses her mouth to grab these materials then transports them to her nest. However, man made materials are often used for nesting materials these days. She will be very happy with an old painting sheet cover stored in a garage, or a large plastic tarp that covers your bikes beside your shed, or even a pile of boxes storing old unwanted items you might have inside your shed. The mother hedgehog will often toilet just outside the nesting entrance, I'm not too sure why she does this but it could be for scenting so the hoglets don't go through that path or to ward off other hedgehogs, or maybe so she knows where her nest is location (just my thoughts).
Length of time in a nest:
The mother hedgehog will stay in one nest with her family of hoglets from 4-6 weeks in total. At about 6 weeks the baby hoglets normally start to become independent and will often follow the mother outside the nest starting to forage with her.
Sometimes the hoglets will try to escape from the nest well before this time in search of their mother when she has gone out to forage for food. This can be dangerous for the baby hoglets as they are completely defenseless (blind with no hearing) and require the protection of the nest and importantly the heat. If the nest is disturbed by something the mother will relocate the hoglets to another location one at a time but this is not ideal for the family. It is normal for the mother hedgehog to stay inside the nest and not venture out for the first 2-5 days of newly born hoglets.
A mother hedgehogs habits:
Mother hedgehogs don't follow normal hedgehog routines and will venture out during the day. This behavior is unlike normal hedgehog habits being nocturnal creatures sleeping during the day and foraging at night. Hedgehogs out during the day is an indication something is wrong with a hedgehog and they will likely need help, but a mother hedgehog out during the day will simply be looking for food and water.
The photo above is not a usual situation with the baby hoglets outside in the open, this is a strong indication she has been disturbed. It is difficult to know the difference if you are unfamiliar with hedgehogs but a mother hedgehog will look healthy, plump (as in round shaped when curled rather than oval shaped). She will strut with purpose, with direct routes, and be very active. I often hear a juddering sound from mother hedgehogs as if she is in search of something, this sound might be an indication of a mother hedgehog (however, other hedgehogs could also make this noise).
The mother hedgehog with her baby hoglets:
A litter of hoglets can be anywhere from a couple to 10 or more. The mother hedgehog only has 5 pairs of nipples though! The mother hedgehog will initially clean the baby hoglets when they are born often with their cords still attached to the hoglets. She will lick them clean all through their parenting. When she is feeding the hoglets she lays on her side and once the hoglets have been fed she will lick their genitals to stimulate their bowl movement and cleaning up excess urine, this process may happen just before feeding or just after.
She will also lay belly down flat and legs slightly out to try to stop the hoglets irritating her for feeding when she has had enough. The hoglets will do anything they can to feed from the mother and will burrow under her for feeding. The mother hedgehog will push and even pickup the hoglets with her mouth to move them if they venture too far or manage to escape from the nest.
Baby hoglets will sequel when they need food or are seeking the mothers attention. When the mother is not in the nest with her hoglets they will pile on top of each other for heat. Baby hoglets cannot generate their own body heat and require the warmth of their mother for the first 30 days or so.
Stages in a hoglets development:
The mother hedgehog normally gives birth during the night time and the time can be from minutes to hours. Often the hoglets are not all born within the same day and their may be more hoglets born shortly after.
When baby hoglets are born, they are blind with their eyes closed, deaf with no ears developed yet (unfolded), and completely pink skinned with no spines. They are about 5-7cm in length and weight anywhere from 10 to 30 grams. We call these "Pinkies". If a hoglet is found orphaned at this age with out their mother it is highly likely they will die. If the mother is disturbed with her baby hoglets at this stage is is also likely she will abandon them or eat them. Within a day the hoglets spines will begin to appear from their skin.
Within the first week the baby hoglets spines grow and are black and white in colour. Their skin colour also starts to change from pink to dark grey. Their eyes and ears begin to open and they become alot more active. After about 2-3 weeks their spines (or quills) change to the usual hedgehog spine colours of shades of browns and cremes. It is at this stage when the hoglets begin to look like a small adult hedgehog with fur around their bellies and face. After about 4 weeks the hoglets will be able to generate their own body heat without their mother, but still require a warm place to sleep.