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NESTS / BURROWS / SHELTERS - Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment (Editorial Overview Text Replicated on Overall Species page - Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog)

Hedgehogs require nests throughout the year for concealment and for protection from the weather. Three different nests may be identified: day nests used during the summer when this nocturnal animal is sleeping, breeding nests used by sows and their litters, and winter nests or hibernacula. Winter nests are generally the most solid in construction. Nests are generally constructed in concealing and supporting vegetation but burrows (e.g. rabbit burrows) are sometimes used.

Further information on reproduction is provided in West European hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus - Life Stages (Literature Reports)

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Nests / Burrows / Shelters

Source Information
  • Hedgehogs rely on nests of a variety of types throughout the year to achieve concealment and protection from the weather. (B228.5.w5)
  • Three types of nests are made: sleeping nests (summer nests), nursery nests and hibernacula. (B255.2.w2)
  • Nests may be sited in thick undergrowth, cavities under buttress roots of trees, under hedges, in heaps of old straw or dead leaves, in manure or compost heaps or in holes of old stone walls. (B255.2.w2)
  • Availability of suitable nest site locations and of construction materials are likely to be key factors affecting winter survival of hedgehogs. (B228.5.w5, B262.6.w6)
  • Hedgehog nests have been located in a wide variety of locations including " an amazing variety of natural and anthropogenic places; hidden spots in hedgerows; amongst almost any kind of dense ground vegetation; rock crevices; hollow tree trunks; piles of leaves; logs or brushwood; areas under raised floors of garden and agricultural out-buildings; a disused coal cellar and even barn attics and a thatched roof!" (B228.5.w5)
  • Studies in the Mackensie Basin, New Zealand, have found that most hedgehog nests are located under shrubs or tussocks. (J190.31.w1)
  • In the Manawatu sand country of New Zealand (coastal sand dunes and adjacent farmland) hedgehog nests were found mainly (26/30) in marram tussocks on the sand dunes, with 19 nests being on slopes and seven on dune crests; the slopes of the dunes tended to have taller denser vegetation than the crests, with less grazing and trampling by stock. It was noted that no nests were in either waterlogged or sparsely vegetated areas. It was noted that the openings of nests did not face in any particular direction and that nests were not always placed to have shelter from the prevailing wind. The four nests not on the dunes were "all on flat, well-drained sites with good protective cover from fallen logs or overhanging vegetation." Some of the nests were found during the winter but none were substantial and in general hedgehogs at this location did not appear to hibernate. The nests were described as being made from materials available at the construction site, with nests on dunes being made entirely from dead marram grass stems. The nests were spherical with walls 0.5-5.0 cm thick and a diameter of 20-30 cm. (J194.6.w1)
  • 'Summer nests' and 'winter nests' for hedgehogs are generally positioned above ground under the cover of vegetation.(B228.5.w5)
  • Observations of hedgehogs in captivity showed that nests were not built until the temperature dropped below 16C. (J46.141.w1)
    • Nesting materials such as leaves are gathered into a pile using the mouth. (J46.141.w1)
    • Leaves may be added to the pile by being scraped towards it with a foot while the hedgehog stands on the pile, and by additional leaves being carried by mouth into the centre of the pile. (J46.141.w1)
    • The hedgehog may scratch down into the earth below a leaf pile. (J46.141.w1)
    • When the pile is sufficient, the hedgehog turns in circles inside the pile, thereby trampling and packing down the leaves. (J46.141.w1)
  • It has been inferred that in the wild siting of nests e.g. under brambles, or within other constraining structures, ensures that once the pile of leaves has been gathered, movement of the hedgehog within the pile, pushing against the restraining branches, causes the leaves to lie flat against each other in the characteristic laminated structure. (J185.11.w1)
  • Nests which are constructed without good external support (e.g. within leaf litter) break up faster than those built with good support (e.g. within brambles); those built without support may not last the whole winter and a hedgehog using such a nest is required to wake and construct a new nest before the end of winter. (J185.11.w1)
  • Nests built with good external support survived on average seven months and up to 18 months or longer. (J185.11.w1)
  • Winter nests may be constructed throughout the winter from September through to April however most (more than 80% in this study) are built in October to February, with maximum building (22.6%) in November. (J185.11.w1)
  • Nests are generally sited at ground level but recorded sites include within a hollow tree, in a thatched roof and in rabbit burrows. (J185.11.w1)
  • The main material used for building nests appears to be leaves from deciduous trees, with very large leaves used less than smaller leaves. Nests in this study (in Bushy Park, UK) were rarely constructed entirely from grass and it was noted that the nests which were so constructed were never found occupied. (J185.11.w1)
  • As may be expected with a nocturnal animal, winter nests were not observed to be sited with any regard to the sun or shelter from it. (J185.11.w1)
  • Nests are carefully constructed into compact domed structures (approximately 30-60 cm in size (B228.5.w5); 50 cm in diameter (B254.27.w27)) with an organised internal architecture. 
    • The nest walls are made of layers of densely packed dry broad leaves which may be up to 20 cm thick.(B228.5.w5)
    • Other nesting materials include bracken and grass but these are less weatherproof than leaves. (B254.27.w27, B260.5.w5)
  • External structural support for nests are often used to increase their durability. Supports include strong vegetation (e.g. brambles) or spaces below tree stumps or fallen logs etc. (B228.5.w5, B255.2.w2)
  • Studies do not suggest that hedgehogs orientate their nest in a particular direction with respect to the sun. (B228.5.w5)
  • Nesting material is gathered by hedgehogs using their mouths. (B228.5.w5, B254.27.w27, B255.2.w2)
  • Individuals have been reported to take between one and three days to gather sufficient nesting material depending on local availability. (B228.5.w5)
  • To create the internal nest chamber, hedgehogs burrow and roll into the pile of leaves which they have collected and compact them into tight layers using their paws and spines. The leaves are kept together through nest location with external support. (B228.5.w5, B254.27.w27, B255.2.w2)
  • Nest wall dimensions are approximately 10 cm thick. (B254.27.w27)
  • Additional leaves and softer nesting material (e.g. moss, hay) can be added from inside the nest to compact its walls and provide a comfortable lining. (B228.5.w5)
  • The laminated compact structure of the hedgehog nest reduces the rate of its decomposition in comparison with free leaf litter; well constructed nests may last for a year or more. (J185.11.w1, B228.5.w5,  B260.5.w5)
  • Leaf litter used for nest construction provides insulation from the cold and small fluctuations in external temperature which may cause the hedgehog to arouse unnecessarily, thereby using valuable energy reserves. (J185.11.w1, B260.5.w5)
  • The interior of the hedgehog nest is small and closely fits around the hedgehog in a curled posture. (B228.5.w5)
  • Nest entrances may be hidden or consist of a short tunnel of leaves. (B228.5.w5)
  • Hedgehogs may abandon nests after brief periods of use only; the nest may be re-occupied at a later date. (B228.5.w5)
  • Materials used for nest construction vary with the country and habitat type e.g. marram grass stems in New Zealand sand dunes, ferns and pine needles in Italy. (B228.5.w5)
  • Hedgehogs may use burrows to accommodate their nests. Simple blind-ending burrows with a nest at the base may be constructed by hedgehogs themselves or old rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit) warrens may be used. (B142, B228.5.w5)
  • Rabbit burrows may be used by hedgehogs for hibernation sites. (J82.18.w1)
  • Hedgehog populations within continental Europe are reported to build more elaborate burrows that have been observed in the UK. (B228.5.w5)
  • Burrows about 1.4 feet long (0.4 m) may be dug by hedgehogs occasionally; they may also "dig in" under leaf litter, or a hollow stump of a tree. (B255.2.w2)
  • Hedgehog species which inhabit arid regions (e.g. Hemiechinus auritus - Long-eared hedgehog) more commonly construct burrows than the Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog. (B285.w1)
  • Hedgehogs generally nest as solitary individuals (B228.5.w5); simultaneous nest sharing is rare.(B254.18.w18)
  • Non-simultaneous use of 'summer nests' has been observed during radio-tracking studies; individual hedgehogs are seen to use the nests constructed by other individuals when they are not occupied. The frequency of this behaviour in the wild is uncertain but could potentially play an important role in disease transmission between conspecifics e.g. ectoparasites, ringworm.(B228.5.w5, B254.18.w18)

'Summer Nests':

  • Hedgehogs use 'summer nests' or 'day nests' for refuge within the day during the active season.(B228.5.w5)
  • Hedgehogs usually return to a particular 'summer nest' during the day but they may also move between a number of alternative 'summer nests', sometimes returning to former nest sites at a later date in the season.(B254.18.w18)
  • Hedgehogs radio-tracked in New Zealand were found to reuse nests both on consecutive days and after an interval. (J194.6.w1)
  • 'Summer nests' have previously been thought to be less robust or substantial and more commonly abandoned than hibernacula. Whilst this may often be the case (B254.18.w18), 'summer nests' provide shelter throughout the active period (March to November in the UK) while adverse weather conditions occur, making nest design important. (B228.5.w5)
  • Field observations found summer nests to be of similar construction to winter nests in design; summer nests were also adapted for use as hibernacula in some cases.(B228.5.w5).
  • Whilst hedgehogs usually retreat to a covered 'summer nest' during the day of the active season, they may occasionally (B228.5.w5), or even often (B262.6.w6), rest outside close to their nest or within vegetation cover; particularly during warm weather. (B142, B254.18.w18, B260.5.w5)
  • In regions with warm ambient temperatures such as New Zealand, hedgehog summer nests may be less robust ( e.g. pine needles, grass) in contrast with the more substantial nests of cooler climates. (B228.5.w5)
  • Both boar and sow hedgehogs typically use a number of 'summer nests' throughout the active season for highly variable periods of time; transfer between nests occurs quite frequently and individuals may return to former nests later in the season. (B228.5.w5)
  • Studies have shown that adult males occupy a greater number of nests and change them more frequently than non-breeding female hedgehogs. (B142, B228.5.w5)
  • Studies suggest that boars change their nest more frequently than sows which can use the same 'summer nest' for continuous periods of 7-10 days. (B260.3.w3)
  • A radio-tracking study in Italy found that all study hedgehogs used more than one 'summer nest' during the active period and found that most nests were occupied more than one time (62%, n=120). Hedgehogs were observed to return to former nests over a period of between 1 and 169 days. (B228.5.w5)
  • Data show that the 'summer nests' used by sows are less spaced within their home range than those used by boars which are more widely spread. (B228.5.w5)
  • It should be remembered that the frequency with which hedgehogs change nest can be altered by external disturbance; assessment of radio-tracking methods should be made to consider potential for artefactual data. (B228.5.w5)
  • Summer nests found during one study were usually considered to be well constructed, generally (82.9% of 41 nests) "a hummock of naturally fallen leaves", sometimes including small twigs. Only 7.3% were made entirely of grass and 9.8% of leaves and grass. (J187.49.w1)
  • Summer nests were occasionally (4/41) in single-entrance tunnels of length one metre or longer. It was not known whether these had been dug by the hedgehog or were breeding "stops" dug by rabbits; hedgehogs are known to make use of rabbit burrows. (J187.49.w1)
  • Observations on captive hedgehogs found that on one occasion for two hedgehogs which escaped from their nest box overnight (on the same night) each individual had constructed a burrow 0.5 metres long in earth beneath the box. (J46.141.w1)
  • A given hedgehog in consecutive years generally used nest sites in the same general area as previously (e.g. the same copse). (J187.49.w1)
  • In New Zealand summer nests have been found generally to be used only once, although some may be used over several consecutive days or used repeatedly but sporadically. (J190.31.w1)

'Breeding nests':

  • Hedgehog sows use 'breeding nests' for parturition and rearing of their litter. (B142, B228.5.w5, B260.5.w5)
  • Sows construct a breeding nest from vegetation including leaves and grass with other supplementary materials e.g. paper, rubbish. (B254.15.w15)
  • The structure of breeding nests is similar to other nests although they are larger to provide sufficient room for the nursing mother and litter. (B228.5.w5)
  • Sows may construct and use more than one 'breeding nest' during the period of lactation; disturbance may lead to nest abandonment and transfer of nestlings to a new structure. (B228.5.w5)

'Winter nests' or 'hibernacula':

  • Hedgehogs construct 'winter nests' or 'hibernacula' for hibernation in winter (or aestivation in summer). (B228.5.w5)
  • Hedgehogs build a winter nest or hibernaculum from vegetation including leaves, bushes and logs. Layers of leaves packed around the hedgehog act as insulation to prevent excessive cooling or warming which can disturb hibernation. Nest construction is such that its centre remains dry. (B262.6.w6)
  • Hibernacula have been observed to be constructed in areas of bramble, scrub land, under sheds or fallen logs. (B254.27.w27, B260.5.w5)
  • Experimental work on hibernacula has shown that internal air temperatures range between 1 and 5oC for more than three-quarters of the time whilst external ambient temperatures are -8 to +10oC. (B254.27.w27, B262.6.w6)
  • Simultaneous sharing of 'winter nests' has been reported occasionally in the literature; it has been suggested that individuals may be mother and sibling, or sibling pairs from the previous breeding season. Sharing of nests in regions with cold ambient temperature may confer some advantage in terms of thermoregulation. (B228.5.w5)
  • A field study found that only young hedgehogs simultaneously shared a hibernaculum and that this was for a short period of time only. (B254.27.w27)
  • Whilst hedgehogs usually hibernate alone, in favourable habitats hibernacula may be found in reasonably close proximity. (B260.5.w5)
  • A field study found that whenever a hedgehog changed its 'winter nest' following a period of arousal, it always constructed a new nest and did not occupy a previously constructed hibernaculum. (B254.27.w27)
  • Authors suggest that it is unusual for a hedgehog to remain within a single 'winter nest' for the duration of hibernation. (B142, B260.5.w5, B262.8.w8)
  • Hedgehogs do not store or cache food stores within their hibernacula for over winter.(B142, B262.8.w8)

(B142, B228.5.w5, B254.15.w15, B254.18.w18, B254.27.w27, B260.3.w3, B260.5.w5, B262.6.w6, B262.8.w8, B285.w1, J46.141.w1, J185.11.w1, J187.49.w1)

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Authors & Referees

Authors Becki Lawson (V.w26)
Referee Suzanne I. Boardman (V.w6); Debra Bourne (V.w5); Nigel Reeve (V.w57)

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