Feeding hedgehogs

Hedgehogs need our help and we should encourage them into our gardens and cherish them.  Lots of people are now starting to realise this and are beginning to feed hedgehogs in their gardens.  Hedgehogs particularly need food and water in the Autumn to build up their weight ready for hibernation and in the Spring when they come out of hibernation; but they also need it during hot, dry spells in the summer when their natural prey is in short supply.

The first and most important thing to mention is:

Never give them bread or milk.

But what do you feed hedgehogs?  Is special hedgehog food a marketing gimmick or does it provide a perfect supplement to their natural diet?

Hedgehogs will happily munch their way through a variety of garden pests such as; slugs, snails, centipedes, beetles and other little creatures.  The garden is a great place for them to find natural food and in turn they are helping gardeners manage the slimy slug population. (Watch Grumpy the hedgehog looking for bugs here)

We are lucky to have a quite a few hedgehogs living in the garden as there are lots of wild areas, log piles, compost heaps, and hedges. – The perfect hoggy habitat.

I normally see the hedgehogs about 3 times a night on my wildlife camera and I try to guess which ones they are by subtle distinguishing features but its not always that easy.  They are hungry little hoggies and they munch their way through quite a bit of bought food.

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Dried hedgehog food is a firm favourite in the garden.  The large bag we have contains; Rice, Poultry Meal, Maize, Poultry Fat, Vitamins and Minerals.  Our hedgehogs are spoilt though as they also have a variety of other food on their plate each night too. They like sunflower hearts and mealworms, nibbled nuts (not whole nuts as they can get stuck in their teeth) and sometimes dried bananas.

I have had my camera pointing at the plates of food a number of times and have found that the dried food gets mainly eaten by the hedgehogs. (only the mealworms and sunflowers we mix in attract the occasional cute wood mouse)  To be honest, no other creatures get a look in as the hedgehogs find it so tasty and don’t like sharing.  I have noted that Foxes will have a nibble of food if some is spilt on the floor, but they don’t like eating off the plate, and cats don’t seem interested in the dried food which is good.  By the end of the night every bit has been eaten so there is never any waste.

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(Check out my video here to see what happens when 2 hedgehogs find the food in a small mammal tunnel I had put in the garden)

I would definitely recommend getting a bag of dried hedgehog food as it’s an easy way to feed your hedgehogs and provide them with a nutritious well balanced meal.  I am sure the crunchy consistency means it helps keep their teeth in good condition too, and is a nice supplement to slimy slugs. (You can see how much Prickles the hedgehog is enjoying the food here)

So what are you waiting for – Make your garden hedgehog friendly, place a CD sized hole at the bottom of your fence and encourage these beautiful creatures to visit your garden.  In return for your kindness, they will help get rid of your garden pests.

Important Reminder:

Always leave a basin of water out with the food as all that chewing is thirsty work. (As you can see in my video here)

hedgehog drinking

 

Elephant Hawk Moth Larvae

I remember the very first time I saw an elephant hawk moth larva.  It was in a woodland clearing under some Rosebay willowherb and I was totally amazed by it.  I had never seen anything like it before and was completely mesmerised by it size and beauty.

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Imagine my surprise when I realised that we had them in our garden!  It was at this point I decided that i’d better learn all about them.  I have discovered lots of interesting facts about them since then, so I decided it was about time I wrote a blog about them.

 

Why is it called an Elephant hawk moth?

Well, the name actually comes from the larvae that have a snout which can extend so it looks something like an elephant’s trunk.

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Where are they found?

Elephant hawk moths are found widely in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  They appear in a variety of habitats (especially where Rosebay Willowherb is present) such as; rough grassland, waste ground, hedgerows, heathland, woodland clearings and gardens.

They love my garden as it has many different varieties of fuchsia.  The larvae love to gorge themselves on fuchsia stems and leaves but they tend to be seen towards the end of August when they are fully grown and become more obvious.

What do they eat?

The larvae can munch their way through a fair amount of foliage and their preferred food plants are rosebay willowherb and bedstraw, though in gardens they feed on fuchsias.
The adult moths fly by night and enjoy feeding on the nectar of honeysuckle, rhododendrons and willowherbs flowers.

I love to sit out in the evenings and watch the different moths dance around the honeysuckle.  I once saw a hummingbird moth but unfortunately didn’t have my camera with me.

 

The Life Cycle of an Elephant Hawk Moth

Larvae

(Interestingly, I have just learnt that they are referred to as caterpillars if butterflies and larvae if moths.)

The larvae are seen from July to September and are about 70mm long.  They can be green but are more frequently grey-brown with a net pattern along their body, as well as four large eye markings on the head.  They have a characteristic trunk behind their head which can be retracted when they feel threatened.  This shields the head from danger but also makes the head and eye spots appear much larger.  They also have a backward curving tail spike to make them look much fiercer than they are.
Although larvae feed at night you may start to notice them in August on the stems of fuchsias from the late afternoon onwards.
I saw one in my garden the other day wandering towards some leaf litter getting ready to pupate.

The only time the larvae really leave their food plant is when they are fully grown and ready to pupate.  At this stage they move down to the ground where they will overwinter hidden amongst low vegetation or leaf litter until the following spring when they emerge as adult moths.

Now I know that they are in the garden, I will be careful whilst walking around at dusk and keep my eye out for more larvae.

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Moths

Elephant hawk moths have a wing span of about 30 mm and are brightly coloured with khaki and pink colours.  Adult moths live for up to 5 weeks and can be found flying around throughout the summer (May to July) at dusk.
The females lay eggs on the leaves of the larvae food plants. (Rosebay willowherb, fuchsia and bedstraws)  These eggs will hatch in roughly 7-10 days, though being Britain that could depend alot on the temperature.
When the larva is young it is difficult to spot amongst the leaves feeding at night, and remaining low down near the base of plants during the day.  They are small, pale green and have a noticeable tail spike.  At about 10 days old they start to show the first signs of eye markings before finally becoming the beautiful elephant hawk moth larva thats normally shown in photos.
I always wondered what munched away at my fuchsia plants, but now I know, I will definitely look out for the beautiful moths as they emerge next year.

I’m so happy to have discovered these lovely creatures living in my garden and I have so many fuchsias I don’t mind sharing them.

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Grass snake

The grass snake is Britain’s largest reptile and can reach up to 4ft long, and is the only UK snake that lays eggs too.  This snake is typically olive-green, with dark marks on its side, and yellowish with dark rectangular markings on the underside.  The grass snake has a characteristic black and yellow collar behind the head although the light part can be missing sometimes in older snkaes.  Male and female grass snakes are generally similar in appearance, although females are often larger; males can be identified by the presence of a swelling at the base of the tail and by the fact that they have longer tails relative to females.  The  juveniles are like mini adults and I was lucky to find 3 juveniles a couple weeks ago whilst monitoring reptiles in Flintshire.

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They can sometimes be confused with the adders which have a thicker body and a distinct zigzag down their back, as well as having vertically slit pupils. The adder is of course venomous, whereas the grass snake is not. The grass snake has a distinct collar that looks like the letter M and also has round pupils.

The grass snake often pretends to be dead when threatened or move away very fast. When caught, the grass snake can hiss loudly and releases a foul-smelling substance from the anal gland. They can coil up, thrash about and pretend to strike, though they do not bite. Recently while on a reptile survey I was covered in this smelly substance…it wasn’t too unpleasant but it was extremely potent and I couldn’t wait to have a shower and wash all my clothes when I got home.

Grass snake are fast-moving, alert and very wary creatures. They bask in the sun after emerging in the morning in order to reach a high enough body temperatures so they are able to function efficiently and digest prey. During winter, the temperatures are too low and the grass snakes will find frost-free places such as deep leaf litter or rock piles in which to hibernate between October and  April. You will also found them under man made refugia too. These man made refugia of either corrugated metal or felt are usually put on nature reserves so both reptiles and amphibians can be monitored easily and populations assessed.

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Courtship and mating takes place from April to June and around June-July about 20 eggs are laid in compost or manure heaps where the rotting vegetation creates warm conditions, acting like a natural incubator.  Hatching usually occurs 10 weeks after egg-laying, and the snakes escape from their eggs by chipping at the shell with an egg tooth, which is lost shortly after hatching.  Males can shed their skin twice a year, whereas females slough their skin once a year just before egg-laying.  I managed to find a sloughed grass snake skin recently and have put it in a display box with other nature items for reference. The detail on the sloughed skin is amazing. You can see the patterns of the skin and even where their eye was.

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The grass snake is an active predator of frogs, toads and newts, although fish, small mammals and young birds may also be taken. They search for prey by sight and by smelling with their tongue, then grab their prey and swallow it alive. They are also strong swimmers.

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Grass snakes are normally found in wetland habitats, where they have access to sunny basking areas and plenty of shelter. They may also be found in open woodland, rough grassland, gardens, parks and hedgerows too.

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There are a variety of places in gardens were you could find grass snakes. Compost heaps are often used to lay eggs in due to their warmth. Garden ponds are used as foraging grounds, as are any streams or ditches that may run through or close to your garden. Log and rubble piles are used as areas to bask on, as well as act as hibernation sites. Areas of interspersed short and long grass will often be used for foraging (long grass) and basking (short grass).

Across Britain, snakes are disappearing because of a loss of reptile-friendly habitats, so in some areas, gardens are becoming an important habitat for grass snakes, particularly those with ponds and amphibians. As their natural habitat is lost and modified, the snakes are relying increasingly on gardens with favourable habitat to forage for food and for nesting sites. Snakes don’t damage your garden and they are not venomous and do not bite, so please don’t discourage them. You may not even realise you have them in your garden as they are shy, wary creatures.

Snakes have undergone widespread declines in the last century, and they are now protected by law against intentional killing and injury. I like to go out when possible to monitor and survey them on selected sites and help create reptile friendly habitats for them.  They are such beautiful creatures and all though there are no reported sighting in my local area for grass snakes I may still put a man made refugia out just to see; at the very least, the newts and toads will like hiding underneath it.

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SPC Wildlife -Bird Feed Review

SPC Wildlife have a passion for wildlife and nature. They are based in Sussex and stock an excellent variety of wild bird seed and other wildlife products.  They also support a growing number of registered charities so that every time you shop with them, 5% of the value of your transaction can be donated to a charity.

A large number of birds visit our Cheshire garden which means an awful lot of bird food is eaten, so I was grateful to receive a selection of their wild bird seed mixes. I couldn’t wait to see what the birds thought about them.

SPC Wildlife provide their own recipe seed mixes in zip lock bags which are clearly and informatively labelled. As soon as I put my hand in the bag I noticed the clean and excellent quality seed straight away.

Now to see what the birds think of them. Though the birds love all the seed selections I have decided to review the birds 3 favourites.

In 1st place was:

Suet & Mealworm Mix

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These high energy suet pellets are made from berries, mealworms and insects. They are soft so can be easily nibbled from a nut feeder and don’t produce mess so can also be used on a tray feeder or on the ground.

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Within minutes of putting them out, the robins, blue tits, great tits, crows and jays all came down to investigate and have a nibble.

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The only problem is that the birds love it so much it doesn’t last long. Most of the birds were so quick at taking the pellets it was hard to get a photo.

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I think you would go through lots if used on their own so I suggest mixing small amount of suet pellets with other things like peanuts etc.. so they are just a treat for the birds. That way the birds don’t get too spoilt.

(check out video footage of the blue tits eating the yummy suet pellet- https://youtu.be/9npPhVXOWuY )

2nd place goes to:

Ground Mix

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This mix is packed with juicy sultanas, sunflower hearts and peanut granules and hardly creates any dust.

As soon as I turned my back, the first to hop along and investigate were the blackbird, which were quickly followed by many house sparrows, then dunnocks and robins. It was suddenly a feeding frenzy as the birds gobbled up what they could.
I don’t think they were sure about the sultanas at first, not really knowing what to do with them; but this could be because they are used to eating soft fresh fruit in the garden. By the end of the day however there was no waste and every bit had gone from the floor.

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(check out the video footage of the blackbirds and sparrows gobbling up the ground mix- https://youtu.be/nrWvqCvK1po )

And finally 3rd place goes to:

Premium Mix

I was amazed at the quality, and variety of seed in this mix, and how clean it was. It contains black sunflower seed, wheat, cut maize, red dari, naked oats, white millet, canary seed, black rape seed, small striped sunflower seed and linseed.

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Within minutes of filling the feeder, it was alive with activity. Blue tit, sparrows and greenfinches were the first to sample the mix, but word must have got round quick as goldfinches flew into the garden shortly after to see what the fuss was about.

The birds are certainly enjoying their new menu and would definitely recommend the bird food mixes from SPC Wildlife.

As well as selling a variety of excellent bird food and other wildlife products; their website has wildlife facts and guests blogs packed with useful and interesting information.
Do take a look at their website https://www.spcwildlife.co.uk/

and remember to check out my nature blogs too here https://ljaynature.wordpress.com/