When do hedgehogs hibernate for winter in the UK?

A hedgehog preparing to hibernate for the winter (Picture: Getty)

Hedgehogs are cute spike-covered mammals (not rodents), which occasionally pop up in our garden – but they’re far from being a backyard pest.

In fact, if you keep a flower patch, they can be quite useful to your garden’s natural ecosystem – as they often munch on the bugs which tend to ruin plants.

Lots of garden owners will even take it upon themselves to set up a cosy little wooden house for their local hedgehogs.

Usually, these unusual little creatures are most active in summer – before settling down to hibernate during the colder months.

But when does hedgehog hibernation properly begin? And why do they do it?

Here’s what you need to know.

When do hedgehogs hibernate for winter?

Hedgehogs build nests to hibernate in (Picture: Getty)

Hedgehogs in the UK typically start to hibernate in November or December.

Preparation for the winter ‘snooze’ begins around October time, when the weather begins to cool.

This prep involves locating the best site to build a chunky nest – perhaps under the root of a big tree trunk, or hidden in a hedge – using sticks, grass, fallen leaves.

There’s no exact date for hedgehogs to go into hibernation, though. It all depends on the temperature.

If it’s a particularly frosty November, they might hibernate then. Or if it’s a mild winter, they could still be active in December, going into hibernation as late as January.

Usually, hedgehogs will hibernate for around four months, until March or April. As spring blooms, you’ll start to see them again.

Why do hedgehogs hibernate?

So why do hedgehogs need to snooze for the winter? (Picture: Getty)

We’ve described hibernation as a ‘snooze’ – but it’s not really that they’re short on sleep.

Hibernating is all about preserving energy during the winter months when food is scarce.

They’ll stop moving, roll into a tight little ball, their heart rate will decrease and their breathing will really slow down.

Their fat stores should allow their bodies to keep them going until it’s time to get back to business in spring.

Only very small hedgehogs (weighing under 600g) will struggle to hibernate, as they usually don’t have enough fat stores to see them through the winter.

What to do if you see a hibernating hedgehog

Don’t panic if you see a hibernating hedgehog hidden away in your garden. Chances are, it’s totally okay.

It should have a nice, thick nest built to hibernate in – not out in the open –and it’ll look like it’s really curled up into a ball. You may even hear a very soft snore.

If you accidentally stumble across one, leave it be. Cover it with some dry leaves from the garden, and allow the hibernation to continue.

You may also want to leave some dog food or some water beside it, incase you’ve accidentally woken it, says Gloucestershire-based volunteer group Hedgehog Rescue.

Keep in mind though that hedgehogs do not hibernate out in the open – so it would be unusual to see one not moving in the middle of your lawn in, say, January.

Hedgehogs are back in action by March or April (Picture: Getty)

And that very, very small hedgehogs – baby hoglets – weighing under 600g aren’t equipped to hibernate due to their low weight.

So, if you’re concerned about a hedgehog in trouble, you can call the British Hedgehog Preservation Society for advice (01584 8090 801) – and they can direct you to your local rescue group.

They also have plenty of advice on their website, including how to safely pick up a hedgehog.

That said, don’t be alarmed if you see a grown-up hedgehog moseying about during a winter’s night, either.

Chances are it has naturally arisen, just for a day or two, and may decide it needs to build a better habitat to see out the cold.

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