Hedgehogs are a common sight in many British gardens, both in the town and the countryside. Indeed, they have been a popular part of the country’s history for centuries, getting mentions in several of Shakespeare’s plays. Primarily nocturnal, hedgehogs can wander up to two kilometres each night in search of food, and their diet is a varied, carnivorous one.
Insects form the largest proportion of the hedgehog’s diet. The hedgehog roots through undergrowth – the fact that its spines point backwards helps it move easily – using its powerful sense of smell to root out beetles, earthworms, centipedes, caterpillars, snails and slugs.
Hedgehogs also eat birds' eggs. They will raid the nests of ground-nesting birds (hedgehogs can’t climb trees), break the shells and eat the liquid contents of the egg. Hedgehogs most often eat the eggs of wading birds, such as the corncrake, or those of gulls, such as the kittiwake. Located near water, these nests are easy for hedgehogs to find. There have been incidents of bird flesh being found in the stomachs of hedgehogs, but there is not enough evidence to suggest that this is the result of deliberate attack rather than scavenging carrion.
Frogs are an occasional item on the hedgehog’s menu. A comparative lack of speed means that the hedgehog does not actively hunt frogs but would eat one if it took it by surprise or in the form of carrion. The same applies to lizards.
Hedgehogs are immune to adder venom, meaning that, should the chance arise, they can happily munch on the only venomous snake in the British Isles. Adders, however, prefer open countryside to hedgerows, so encounters between the two animals are not common.
Hedgehogs are noisy eaters. When both hunting and consuming their prey they emit a series of grunts and grumbles. It is these pig-like noises that led to their common name.
Many people put food out to attract hedgehogs to their garden. If you choose to, provide a plate of meat-based pet food. Fortunately, the hedgehog does not rely on this food, treating it as an addition to itsnormal diet. It is a good idea to provide a saucer of water as well, particularly during the summer months. Do not put out cow’s milk, as this causes diarrhoea in hedgehogs. If you do choose to tempt hedgehogs into your garden, ensure potential dangers are minimized. Do not lay slug pellets as these can be poisonous to hedgehogs (who will eat your slugs, anyway) and make sure swimming pools are covered, as hedgehogs can drown in them.