Occasionally in the winter when it’s grey and cold and summer seems a long way off – like this year – I wonder what the hell we are doing here in la France profonde. Then something happens that makes you appreciate living in the countryside. This week, I noticed purely by chance that we had unexpected tenants under the cistus bush by the kitchen door.
One morning I wandered outside for some fresh air. I heard squealing behind me and turned around to come face to face with this little hedgehog. Its first reaction was to try to wedge itself into a crack in the wall. Once it realised that it was too big, it hid in the thyme bush instead.
I counted three in all: young ones but not tiny babies. They were well concealed under the cistus but I stationed myself on the steps above and saw them moving about, prospecting for worms and slugs, squeaking at each other and then falling asleep in a patch of sunlight. But there was no sign of a parent.
In the afternoon, they became quite active and even ventured out onto the gravel, quite oblivious to our presence. They must have been there for a while. This explained furtive rustlings in the bush that we had thought were lizards or mice. And, since the weather was so awful, we have not had the kitchen door open or gone in and out as much as normal. So they have gone undisturbed.
Felix the cat had obviously made their acquaintance already. During one of their sorties, he came quite close and lay down, fixing one with his gaze. But he did not attempt to touch it and the little hedgehog seemed unconcerned about his presence. Presumably, he had already experienced their spines at close quarters.
But where was their mother? We were concerned that she had abandoned them. We would have to act in loco parentis. So, as dusk fell, the SF dug up some juicy worms from the compost heap, which he placed temptingly within easy reach. We discussed how we should feed them – not bread and milk, which doesn’t agree with them; perhaps cat food.
We needn’t have worried. The next morning, I carefully parted the stems of the cistus and saw them snuggled up to a much larger version in a carefully excavated nest. Their mother was probably dug in out of the sun while they explored and bickered.
We don’t often see hedgehogs here, except as roadkill, unfortunately. The last time we saw them in any number was in the canicule (heatwave) of 2003, when they came out at dusk and gorged on the windfalls of plums.
I consulted my book of French fauna. A hedgehog can give birth to two litters per year of between two and 10 hoglets (the word has been in use only for about 20 years, apparently). A hedgehog is un hérisson in French. It has given its name to a verb, hérisser, which means to bristle. Hérisser quelqu’un is to get someone’s back up. I couldn’t find a specific word for a young hedgehog in French. If you know, please leave a comment below.
This week, “our” hoglets have been getting increasingly active, venturing outside onto the lawn and the gravel. Today, we think they have gone. They have probably gone their separate ways or perhaps the family does not stay long in one place. So they were only very short-term tenants. It was magical to see them, nonetheless.
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