Hedgehogs in the Bush

What's lurking in here?

What’s lurking in here?

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.

New tenant

New tenant

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.

Trying to beat a retreat

Trying to beat a retreat

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.

Curled up together

Curled up together in the thyme

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.

Snuggled up with their mother

Snuggled up with their mother

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.

Copyright © 2013 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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20 Responses to Hedgehogs in the Bush

  1. We had some hoglets in the garden last year for a day or two before they disappeared. During the winter we find them sleeping in odd corners of our stables and hay barn. It’s the snoring that always give them away!

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    • nessafrance says:

      I’ve never found them in winter, although there are plenty of undisturbed corners of our garden where they probably hibernate. They are surprisingly noisy – lots of grunts and squeals.

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  2. pfornari says:

    What wonderful tenants to have, and what brilliant photos! I am envious…lovely to have something like that to brighten things up…we hear the weather in europe has been foul.

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    • nessafrance says:

      As soon as I saw the little one I rushed in for my camera, thinking it would disappear. But there were plenty of photo opportunities since I soon discovered there were three of them. It certainly made my day. The weather has been awful but this week it was back to normal temperatures for June, thankfully.

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  3. Anita says:

    How lovely and lucky for you. I have never seen any in our garden, although I could do with some to eat the slugs that are devouring my lettuce plants! You are right, it is the simple things that make one appreciate life in the countryside.

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    • nessafrance says:

      We’ll send ours over! They are very good at eliminating some of the less welcome elements, such as slugs and snails. Ours have gone now, probably dispersed their separate ways, but it was lovely to have them there briefly.

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  4. Maggie says:

    It is good to see the coexistence of the wildlife… They must see our structures and gardens as just more great habitat!

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  5. amelie88 says:

    These little critters are so cute! My grandmother up in Normandy has said on occasion she has found a hedgehog wandering around her backyard too. I’m not sure whether we have any wild hedgehogs native to the northeast of the US. The cutest animals in our backyard would have to be the woodchuck and the chipmunks (oh and the bunnies but haven’t seen much of them yet so far). I only ever see the woodchuck in warm weather so I’m assuming it hibernates in winter. As soon as he sees us, he bounds away into the bushes.

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    • nessafrance says:

      We don’t see them often here, although I’m sure they are around, so we were amazed that they chose to dig in right by our kitchen door. I don’t think I know what a woodchuck looks like – I’ll have to look it up.

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      • amelie88 says:

        They also go by the name of groundhog I think. 🙂

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      • nessafrance says:

        I looked them up and they are very cute to look at – but quite aggressive, apparently, so not easy to tame as pets even if they look cuddly. They are also called whistle-pig or land beaver (according to Wikipedia).

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  6. Sue Whatmough says:

    How absolutely lovely – lucky you!

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  7. Sara Ellen Ben-Eliahu (Garvin) in Castellar says:

    For this kind of “primitive” pleasure I have tended to seek out my own abodes as near to natural, still “alive” Nature as possible. For the past 8 years it has been this medieval village on top of a mountain — and daily enjoyment of everything from fine proud hunting dogs – to the swooping swifts teaching their babies to fly – to randy frogs and the soft cooing of pairs of doves. Even the donkey and sheep herders visit our village for group occasions. We suffer the rains and snow, but emerge even more appreciative of Spring-Summer wonders full of life still surviving. It is ideal for the writers among us, and, as the world descends into madness, it will suffice to keep a tiny spark of humanity glowing.

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  8. What a treat. They look so lovely, and babies too…wonderful. Hope the weather has cheered up for you. J.

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    • nessafrance says:

      It was a lovely surprise to find them. They didn’t stay long and have no doubt gone their separate ways. Fortunately, the weather has perked up considerably and I had my first swim of the year yesterday.

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  9. Lucky you! I’ve never seen hedgehogs around here though Clapham was full of them, they’d clip along up the pavement at a tremendous rate.

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    • nessafrance says:

      I’m sure they adapt well to all sorts of environments. Although in Clapham, I’d have thought they would be in danger from the traffic. Mind you, it probably moves so slowly these days that they can toddle across quite safely.

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