Spring is here! With this season we see plenty of wildlife enjoying the beautiful British countryside and the great outdoors. Spring is also a time for new life in most species and so we wanted to give some advice on what to do if you see young wildlife in need. We’ll talk you through general advice below but if you have concerns or need individual advice feel free to contact us at the centre.
It is important to establish what stage you think the baby bird is at. Babies will start as nestlings before progressing to fledglings. Nestlings will tend to have minimal or no feathers and will occasionally fall from nests as they and their siblings grow. Generally once feathered the babies will start to leave the nest or “fledge”.
For nestlings it is important to try and get them back to the nest as soon as possible. Quickly check the baby over for any injuries. If the baby is not injured then locate the nest which is usually overhead from where the baby was found. If you can do safely, replace the baby back to its nest. It is important not to interfere with the nest and act quickly so the parents are not disturbed.
Fledglings will have left the nest of their own accord and most of the time the parents will know exactly where the baby is. The parents will tend to come down to feed the baby on the ground and normally will be seen within an hour. If you replace the baby to the nest it will probably end up on the ground again. If you move the fledgling, sadly they can succumb to the stress and shock of human handling and may not survive. The best advice, as long as the fledgling is not injured, is to leave well alone. That means us and our pets too! You may need to shut in cats for a short period whilst the baby gains strength and learns to fly.
If you find an injured bird or a bird in danger, then it will need to be moved to a safe location and checked by a vet. You can use a shoebox or tub with air holes placed in it. Minimise direct handling of the bird and place them in a quiet but warm environment in the box. A hot water bottle can be wrapped in a towel for warming the bird too. It is difficult to provide food for the bird as they can have varied diets. Contact your vet or the centre for advice on what to do next.
Most baby animals will be out of sight unless pets or other animals have disturbed nesting places. Take care if you find an injured baby animal as these will be scared and may bite or scratch in self-defence. It is often best to phone for advice first before attempting to intervene, as it will depend on the species as to the best course of action. Occasionally we will stumble across a nest when we ourselves are exploring the great outdoors. If you find a nest of baby animals, do not disturb. The parents are usually not far away and will probably be watching! The quicker we move away, the sooner they can return. One thing to keep in mind is these are wild animals. Whilst it may be tempting to try and hand-rear these animals and keep them, this is not natural for them and we cannot provide all they need in a domesticated environment.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal and only come out at night. Generally any hedgehog out during the day is probably in trouble and should be taken to a wildlife centre or your local vets, who will be able to advise and assist you. However, during the summer months female hedgehogs may come out in late afternoons to forage for nesting material and extra food for her young. She will be active and should appear bright and healthy, instantly rolling up into a ball, using their spines to protect them from predators. These hedgehogs should be left well alone.
A hedgehogs young are called urchins and a typical litter size is 4 to 6 babies. The mother will usually only have one litter a year, normally born early to late summer. Like with other animals if you uncover a nest with urchins in it, do not disturb it, but cover it over again and leave it. The mum will usually return but not if human scent is on the babies. Baby urchins are born after a 35 day pregnancy, the male hedgehog takes no part in rearing them. Mum will have made a maternity nest as a nursery. This can be under a hedge, in a pile of leaves or maybe under a shed or outbuilding. As soon as the babies are born, the spines start to come through. At birth the urchin’s eyes and ears are closed, these open at about 14 days and their teeth start to come through after 21 days. After 8 weeks they leave the nest and it’s time for them to fend for themselves.
Hedgehogs are insectivores, so the best diet for them are the bugs and grubs in your garden. Leaving a small corner of your garden a bit wild, creating log piles and putting in bug hotels will encourage more insects. You can leave a small dish of any flavour dog or cat food out, plus a handful of cat biscuits to keep their teeth healthy. Feeding hedgehogs in your garden should only be a supplement to their natural diet, or to help them during the harder winter months. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant so milk can make them very ill and should never be offered. Instead, put out a dish of fresh water each night.
Hedgehog fleas are host specific, so don’t survive for very long on other species. Ticks on hedgehogs are not usually a problem unless there are dozens, which can lead to anaemia. Removal of ticks should be avoided as it is very easy to leave the mouth parts behind which may lead to painful inflammation around the area.
A healthy adult hedgehog can walk up to two miles of an evening, in their natural environment. During the day, and during winter hibernation, the hedgehog will sleep in a specially built nest in thick undergrowth, under a shed or just in piles of leaves. They will never hibernate outside a nest. Hedgehog homes are a great way to help hedgehogs visit your garden more often, also providing a safe haven and an ideal ‘cat-proof’ feeding station.
We will always try to provide advice or if needed we can refer to specialist centres for wildlife enquiries. We hope this provides a starting point for what to do when it comes to wildlife but contact us if you need more specific advice. We hope you all enjoy the Spring season!